Parshas Korach (5771)
By Rabbi Zee
With all the recent scandals involved prominent politicians and other people in high places who were caught doing all kinds of things that we would never have suspected them of doing based on the “squeaky-clean” self-image they initially projected to those around them, it makes you wonder how you can ever tell what a public figure – or even the person you wish to marry – is really all about inside.
Maybe an insight from this week’s Torah portion can help ….
Korach, a prominent member of the Levite tribe, gathers together with him a whole group of people and challenges the authority of Moses, accusing him, among other things, of nepotism, in installing his own brother Aaron in the coveted position of High Priest.
Moses defends his actions by telling Korach and his gang that everything he did was instructed to him by G-d, so that challenging his authority was tantamount to rebelling against G-d Himself – and that Aaron was entirely innocent and should not be dragged into the picture. He says to Korach, “Therefore, you and your entire assembly that are joining together are against G-d! And as for Aaron – what is he that you protest against him?” (Numbers 16:11).
The famous Galician Torah scholar, Rabbi Meir Arik (1855-1926), explains the end of this verse in classic Chassidic fashion, based on a well-known ‘jingle’ mentioned in the Talmud in Eruvin 65a:
“Rabbi Ila’i says: ‘Bi’shloshah devarim adam nikar: b’koso, uv’keeso, uv’kaaso. V’amri lei: af b’sachko – [The true nature of] a person is recognized through three things: his ‘cup’ (how he acts after drinking), his ‘wallet’ (his business integrity and how he spends his money), and his ’anger’ (if he controls his temper). And some say: [he is recognized] also through his ‘fun’ (how he spends his leisure time).’ ”
[As an aside, the Maharsh”a – one of the great 16th-century commentators on the Talmud – writes that these three - the cup, the wallet and anger - indicate how a person rates in the three most important relationships he has in life: his relationship to himself, to others, and to G-d, respectively. If he can’t control his liquor, it means that he has not found the proper balance between his physical and spiritual sides, and has no self-control. If he doesn’t share his money with others who are less fortunate, this reflects negatively on his relationship with the world around him. And finally, if he loses his temper too often, he obviously suffers in his relationship with G-d, as he thinks that he is G-d, and everything should go the way he wants it or else he gets mad.]
Rabbi Arik explains that Moses was trying to illustrate to Korach and his followers the true lofty nature of his brother Aaron and why he was worthy of his position as High Priest. However, Aaron could not be ‘tested’ with a cup of wine, as priests who imbibe too much liquor are disqualified from serving in the Temple, so, as a rule, they refrain from drinking any alcoholic beverages. Nor could his true nature be ascertained through money, as the Jewish people were then in the desert, and no one had anything but the little ‘manna’ that fell down for them each day from the sky and sustained them. All that was left was to test Aaron by protesting against him and trying to get him to lose his temper.
Moses thus said to Korach: “And as for Aaron – what is he?” i.e. if you want to know his true nature - “that you protest against him” i.e. try to get him angry. And when you are unsuccessful, you will realize that Aaron is a holy person who is in total control of himself and his anger and is therefore eminently worthy of his position as High Priest.
I think that we need to take a lesson from the Torah when it comes to evaluating who is worthy of being elected to a public position, or, for that matter, who is worthy of being chosen as a marriage partner for life. All too often we’re fooled by the externals, without paying too much attention to the inner person.
We would do well to give the potential office-holder or spouse the Torah’s three-part “personality test” before deciding our course of action: We should try to find out how this person acts when he is ‘under the influence’ and not his usual, guarded self. We should look into how the potential candidate/spouse spends his money and how honest he is in his business dealings. We should also try to see if and how he controls his temper. [And some might add, especially in these technologically advanced times, that we need to explore what this person does in his leisure time, like on Twitter.]
This way, with our own efforts, and with G-d’s help, we will hopefully make better life choices at the outset, sparing us a lot of unnecessary grief later on.