Many of us are getting used to wearing a mask, we’ve finally found a comfortable fit, we’ve figured out how to prevent our glasses from fogging-up, and we have adapted to having less fresh air for longer stretches. There is, however, one thing that we won’t ever get used to, that is the inability to see each other’s facial expressions. We take for granted the tremendous amount of communication that happens through seeing each other. It is a powerful way to communicate a mood and add tone to a statement. Being able to “see the look on his/her face”, creates an automatic human connection and sense of understanding. When we encounter new acquaintances while masked, we do not know if they are smiling or frowning, and we are left to wonder what is behind the mask. This experience serves as a powerful metaphor for a lesson that we can learn from this week’s parsha.
In this week’s parsha, we learn the story of Korach’s revolt. Korach is one of the most difficult characters in the Torah to understand. He was a righteous man of great stature and yet he fell so low, even challenging Moshe Rabbeinu himself. What is even more perplexing is reconciling Korach’s motivation and campaign slogan.
Korach and his followers project a message of equality, that there is no need for specific individuals to hold higher positions than the rest of the Jewish people.
“They gathered together against Moshe and against Aharon and said to them, ‘It is too much for you! For the entire assembly – all of them – are holy and Hashem is among them; why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of Hashem?’” (Bamidbar 16:3)
Yet, in Korach’s motives we find quite the opposite. Rashi’s commentary follows the Midrash Tanchuma. The Midrash Tanchuma explains, what angered Korach was the appointment of Elitzaphan ben Uziel, who was appointed as the chief over the Levite family of Kehas, of which Korach was a member. Korach reasoned as follows: Kehas had four sons, the oldest was Amram, second was Yitzhar, third was Chevron, and fourth was Uziel. Moshe and Aharon were the sons of Amram, Moshe took the position as the primary leader and Aharon as Kohen Gadol, the High Priest. Korach who was the son of the second of Kehas’ children should be next in line, and receive the position as chief over the Levites of Kehas. But instead, Moshe appointed Elitzaphan, who was the son of Uziel, the fourth of Kehas’ sons.
If we examine Korach’s reasoning carefully it becomes apparent that he was only entitled to any position at all within the structure that Moshe (according to Hashem’s instruction) had created. Only if the children of Amram deserve special status does it follow that the son of Yitzhar should also hold a position of prominence. When Korach challenges Moshe and Aharon taking their respective positions, he is undermining any argument that he deserves a higher status as well!
The development of Korach’s initial upset to the resulting revolt is fascinating. A personal issue regarding a somewhat minor position as chief of the family of Kehas, snowballs into a full-out attack on the entire established structure of leadership and priesthood, targeting Moshe and Aharon as public enemy number one! A social revolution which would prevent Korach himself from staking a claim to any prestige!
Digging deeper into Korach’s story, I wonder if Korach himself ever realized that his motives were insincere. Korach was not a lowly deceitful person, he earned the respect and following of many great Jewish leaders. It is very possible, and perhaps likely, that Korach himself did not interpret his outrage at the appointment of Elitzaphan ben Uziel as jealousy at all. Rather, Korach felt that he had discovered a glaring inconsistency in Moshe Rabbeinu’s hierarchy, proving the point that this must not be divine structure, but rather human corruption.
The lesson we can learn from Korach is that we, human beings, wear many masks. There are many layers between our outward actions and appearance and our deeper inner workings. This is important to remember when we deal with others that have caused us upset. We have to consider that maybe there is something behind the mask that we don’t see. Perhaps, they are struggling with something in their personal lives that is making it very difficult for them to treat us properly.
We have to also consider this in our own behavior and development. We need to work on developing strong self-awareness skills, to properly understand where our feelings and drives are truly rooted. Our opposition to certain leaders, institutions, or establishments, may not be as sincere as we think.
May Hashem help us to judge others with patience and understanding, and judge ourselves with thoughtfulness and self-awareness, and may we always be able to discover what is hiding behind the mask.