Parashat Korah Torah Reading: Numbers 16:1-18:32
The catalyst for a very dramatic passage in this week's Torah reading is the challenge to Moshe's authority by Korach, a man from Moshe's own tribe of Levi. Korach and his followers contend that Moshe has elevated himself inappropriately over the rest of the people because all of Israel is considered a holy people. Moshe's response is unexpected: he throws himself face down on the ground.
Scholars tell us that this gesture of Moshe's is ancient middle-eastern body language for submission. In effect, Moshe is removing himself from the confrontation and letting God and Korah "duke it out."
Another way of looking at Moshe's response is to posit that he is taking a "time out" to consider his response to Korach in order to avoid an ill-judged response that is fueled by anger or self-defensiveness instead of wisdom and perspective.
Rabbi Shneur Zalman (also known as the Ba'al HaTanya after his most important book) challenges us to follow Moshe's example by first reflecting on our own actions in any situation of conflict or anger. In effect, this midrash says to us: even Moshe had to consider the possibility that Korah had a valid point, or at least that his accusations contained some kernel of truth.
While we may, none of us, wish to resort to Moshe's dramatic body language, we can still learn much from his methodology. When someone approaches us with anger, or confrontation, we can seize the opportunity to learn something valuable and grow in spirit by asking ourselves first, "what has happened, what has this person experienced, that is driving this person to express such anger or hostility? Have I made a mistake, or has something I've said or done been been misunderstood?" A few moment's reflection may open us up to offering an unexpected response that will bring healing and mutual regard to everyone concerned.
Rabbi Amy Levin
has been Torat Yisrael's rabbi since the summer of 2004 and serves as President of the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island.