One of the most interesting and challenging portions of Torah confront us this Shabbat. Korach challenges the leadership of Moses. Numbers 16:1 begins the tale of this rebellion. Korach, joined initially by Dathan and Abiram, accuses Moses: “You have gone too far”. Challenging Moses’s leadership and seeming to accuse him of a sense of elitism, he continued to say “All the community are holy, all of them, and God is in their midst. Why do you then raise yourself above the congregation?” Of course, Moses heard this and, to make a long portion short, the rebellion ends on disaster. There is no challenging Moses, and by extension, God, and those who do pay the ultimate price.
Why the rebellion? The reasons continue to this day. envy of power, position and status. The “I could do this better” feeling, often stated without knowledge of facts. Countless rabbis will preach on this, as have centuries of commentators and colleagues, drawing parallels to situations that exist in the contemporary world. As for Boomers, how can we look at this passage?
Let me suggest that one way may be to see the power of perspective that growing older may give us. How often, in previous years, were we quick to judge a situation, a person; when we were not in possession of all the facts? Often, as we get a little older and gain some sense of perspective, we come to realize that before we accuse, we need to know. Likewise, in the midst of a crises may not be the best time to “stir the pot” and incite others. Often that action is a mask for a person’s own insecurities. Often people attack out of a need for validation of their own needs. Sometimes, as we learn from experience, the worst time to engage or demand is in a context of crises or anger. There are times when wisdom demands stepping back from a situation rather than engaging in confrontation. Pirke Avot, the collection of ethical sayings from around 200, has this bit of advice that stands the test of time. Attributed to Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar: “Do not try to placate your friends at the height of their anger; do not attempt to comfort them in the first shock of bereavement; do not question their sincerity at the moment when they make a solemn promise; do not be overeager to visit them in the hour of their disgrace.” (4.23)
Part of the wisdom of aging is, for many, the ability to assess situations in a different manner. Jumping to judgement of someone else without the facts may be destructive and damaging to all concerned and eats away at the fabric of society.
Rabbi Richard F Address