Follow leaders who advocate for just causes

It is ironic that we read Parashat Korah this week, the week of July 4. On July 4 we celebrate a rebellion against unjust rule and our hard won independence. Parashat Korah details an unjust rebellion against legitimate leadership.
Korah, Moses’ cousin, organizes a rebellion against Moses and Aaron, accusing them of self-aggrandizement: “You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and the Eternal is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the Eternal’s congregation?” (Numbers 16:3) In reality, this is a plain and simple power grab from people who feel slighted, that feel they should have top leadership positions.
Moses defends himself to God in Numbers 16:15: “Moses was much aggrieved and he said to the Eternal, ‘Pay no regard to their oblation. I have not taken the ass of any one of them, nor have I wronged any one of them.’” Moses’ response implies that Korah also accused him of theft or misappropriation of wealth for himself, but none of the charges are legitimate.
There are three ways that God confirms that Moses and Aaron are the legitimate leaders of the Jewish people. First, God destroys Korah and the leaders of the rebellion through divine fire. Second, Aaron stops a divine plague from spreading throughout the Jewish people. Third, when representatives of every tribe put their staffs into the Tent of the Pact, only Aaron’s staff miraculously sprouted blossoms and almonds. After all of these miracles, God wants the rebellion to be put to rest (Numbers 17:25): “The Eternal said to Moses, ‘Put Aaron’s staff back before the Pact, to be kept as a lesson to rebels, so that their mutterings against Me may cease, lest they die.’”
During the American Revolution, there were no divine miracles to confirm the justice of the Revolution, so in the Declaration of Independence our Founding Fathers enumerated the legitimate reasons for overthrowing English rule. “…let Facts be submitted to a candid world,” they declared. Korah had nothing more than vague accusations and personal grievances. I would like to think that it was the legitimacy of the Founding Fathers’ grievances that led to their ultimate success and the illegitimacy of Korah’s grievances that led to his failure, but that would be wrong. We see too often people with legitimate grievances lose their cases, while self-aggrandizing dissemblers succeed.
What we can see is that when we follow people like Korah, it ultimately leads to our own ruin. Good causes don’t always win, but bad causes inevitably lead to ruin. It was true at the time of Korah, it was true at the time of the American Revolution, and it continues to be true today. We must be careful, for our own sake, to follow only leaders who are true and advocate for just causes.
Rabbi Benjamin Sternman is the spiritual leader of Adat Chaverim in Plano and vice president of the Rabbinic Association of Greater Dallas.

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