After the calamity of the ‘spies’ in last week’s Sedra, this week we read about another terrible event in the desert – the rebellion by Korach against Moses and Aaron. This is an orchestrated attempt to challenge both the leadership of Moses and also the priesthood of Aaron. Korach was a Levi (so already involved in temple service) and a cousin of Moses and Aaron, but he wanted the ‘top job’. He gathers 250 men “chieftains of the congregation, representatives of the assembly, men of repute”. They complain to Moses and Aaron, saying. “Why should you two be the leader and the Kohen (High Priest)? Isn’t every Jew special? Why do you think you’re better than everybody else?”
Moses challenges the mutineers to offer incense to prove their worthiness for the priesthood. Aaron also prepares an offering, and they all stand outside the Mishkan (portable temple) holding their pans. The earth opens up and swallows the mutineers.
Despite this there is still a challenge to Aaron’s priesthood and a plague destroys many others as a result until Aaron offers incense. As a further sign – HaShem instructs Moses to take a staff from each tribe and write the name of the leader on each staff. Only the name of Aaron’s is inscribed on the staff of the tribe of Levi. The staffs are then placed in the Mishkan. The next day only Aaron’s staff has sprouted blossoms, buds and ripe almonds for all to see. There are many interpretations of this episode.
Rashi comments that almonds tend to blossom very early and quickly. So by using almonds HaShem is suggesting that anyone who challenges the leadership will be punished quickly. However, although they blossom early, they ripen very late. Almonds represent beginning early, and ending late – diligence and hard work. Perhaps this hints towards the traits of a leader – hard working, slow and steady, consistent. Every leader should have almond-like qualities. Korach wanted a speedy elevation to leadership, and sought power for himself, not the people.
Over the last few weeks we have seen modern day evidence of disastrous leadership and power plays in our media. Leadership requires honesty, integrity, trust, consistency, respect for others, vision, service, selflessness and perhaps above all humility. Moses was said to be the most humble man to walk the earth. As C.S.Lewis says ‘humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less’. May we be blessed with great leaders.