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To give or to take



According to our sages, Korach made many valid claims about the worthiness of the Jewish people. Chief among them was that he reckoned that, as all the children of Israel were holy, there ought not be more prominent designations for Moshe and Aharon.

The Torah doesn’t delay in informing us of Korach’s fatal flaw. “Vayikach Korach [and Korach took]”, are the introductory words of this week’s parsha. Korach was a taker!

His motive in inciting the rebellion against Moshe and Aharon was predicated on self-interest. He coveted the title and position of high priest. His political speak, albeit seasoned with the doctrines of democracy and equality, was, at its core, self-serving and self-promoting. In spite of his great wealth and standing in the community, Korach desired a bigger slice of the kavod (glory) pie.

The story of Korach, as with all episodes recounted in the Torah, resonates in our time as well.

Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler posits that at any given moment, a person is either a giver or a taker. In every act, in every word, and in every thought, a person is devoted either to lovingkindness and giving or to selfishness and taking. One is either motivated by the divine tendency to care and share or animated by an animal urge that focuses on the self. Dessler goes one step further. He maintains that one can give when taking, and one can take when giving. He uses the example of an egotistical philanthropist who donates to charities so that his name and benevolence will be broadcast to the world. In this scenario, he actually takes when giving. Conversely, he cites the case of the holy Chofetz Chayim, who opened a bakery to make a livelihood. Once he had earned enough to sustain his family, he immediately closed the shop, as he didn’t want to adversely affect other local bakeries. There, he so clearly gave while taking.

Korach may have, overtly, appeared to be a giver – championing the rights of the masses – but ultimately, he was a taker – effectively campaigning for his own kovod.

This deficiency in Korach’s character disqualified him from a leadership role amongst the Jewish people. In stark contrast, Moshe and Aharon, who epitomised humility, selfless benevolence, the promotion of unity, and the pursuit of peace, were the perfect candidates.

(As an important aside and following the release of the final instalment of the state capture report last week, we should pray that Hashem blesses our country that its leaders follow the Torah’s model of leadership – one of service and giving to the people.)

The next time we act, speak, or even think, let’s pause and consider whether we’re giving or taking and if we’re giving, whether we’re giving wholeheartedly and with a pure motive. Every moment of our lives is an opportunity to promote a more peaceful, wholesome, and kinder world!

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