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Korah 5772

Haftarah Parshat Korach
(1 Samuel 11:14-12:22)
June 23, 2012
3 Tammuz 5772

Both Moses and Samuel faced serious challenges to their leadership. Moses was forced to quash the challenge of Korah and his cohorts who felt that he had co-opted too much power. Samuel felt compelled to justify his leadership to those who wanted to replace him with a king. In both instances, these leaders assumed that the pretext to the challenge against them was fueled by their presumed lack of integrity. Moses articulated his pain when he pleaded with God: “Pay no attention to their (Korah’s) sacrifices. I have not taken the ass of any one of them, nor have I wronged any one of them.” (Numbers 16:15) Samuel made a similar argument in attempting to fend off the people’s demand to appoint a king over them in his stead: “Hear I am! Testify against me, in the presence of the Lord and in the presence of His anointed one: Whose ox have I taken, or whose ass have I taken? Whom have I defrauded or whom have I robbed? From whom have I taken a bribe to look the other way?” (1 Samuel 12:4)

The following midrash further reinforces the probity of these two leaders: “Said Rabbi Aba bar Kahana: Theft is a very serious offence for two leaders were forced to defend themselves against it, Moses and Samuel. Rabbi Hanina bar Shilah and Rabbi Joshua of Sikhnin in the name of Rabbi Levi: ‘Is it possible that Moses could be among the thieves? Rather, Moses meant here, that when Israel was wandering from place to place, he never asked anyone to carry his things for him, or for them to take his things on their asses. Said Rabbi Yudan: ‘When the leader is involved in caring for the needs of the community, shouldn’t the community be responsible for carrying the things of the leader? Still, Moses took care of these needs on his own.” (Adapted from Midrash Shmuel 14:8 Lipshitz ed. pp. 52-3)

Leadership is an intangible quality. Both Moses and Samuel were impeccably honest, yet both of them pinned the people’s disillusionment with their leadership on the false presumption of their dishonesty. What had escaped each of these exceptional leaders was that the needs of their communities had changed and that the qualities that made them great leaders in one generation were not those needed for the exigencies of another generation. This was especially difficult for Samuel to fathom and to come to terms with. Honesty and integrity are sometimes just not enough. Sometimes it is that unnamed something that makes a leader. We can only hope that those other two qualities are there as well.

About This Commentary

This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in  Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva.  He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

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