Parashat Korach – June 24, 2017 – 30 Sivan 5777

“The entire assembly is holy …. why do you preside over the community?” (Numbers 16:3) Korach frames his rebellion against Moses and Aaron by boldly questioning their leadership qualifications for the group they purport to lead. If everyone is “holy,” how could Moses and Aaron be better than that? What makes them so special that they should lead the rest?

It is commonly assumed that even though leaders can’t be perfect, it would be ideal if they could be. If a group has achieved “holiness,” it seems reasonable to insist its leaders be “extra holy.” The Hasidic leader, Elimelech of Lizhensk, suggests that the opposite is the case: It is crucial that our leaders be flawed. He illustrates this view by citing an earlier rabbinic parable about a young child who loses a clay pitcher at a well. After a time, a princess arrives at the same well with a gold pitcher. To the child’s great joy, the princess drops her pitcher into the well. “Why are you so pleased?” astonished bystanders ask the child. “Because,” goes the answer, “No one cares about a clay pitcher. Now that the princess has lost her gold pitcher, however, the well will certainly be drained, and I shall have my clay pitcher back too.”

“This is the way the world works,” observes the rebbe. Leading entails leading the search to identify and tackle problems. Unless a leader is guilty of error herself, there’s little hope she will have the wherewithal to fully appreciate the right approach called for in addressing the mistakes of others. “A righteous person who is completely separated from human failings has no connection to the world and therefore it is difficult for him to lead others to whom he can’t relate.” (Noam Elimelech)

B’yedidut (w/friendship),

Rabbi Mitch Levine