by Rabbi Yisrael Kaniel – June 10, 2010

In the Torah section of Korach, the Torah tells us of an unwarranted and baseless assault by Korach, borne by jealousy, on the characters of no less than the great leader of the people of Israel Moses, hand picked by G-d himself, and his illustrious brother Aaron, chosen by G-d to be Kohen Gadol (high priest).  As a result of feeling that he was not given the position due him, Korach, a member of the Levite tribe, chooses to cast aspersions on Moses and Aaron, and, in the process, rallies many people to his side in his ill-fated attempt to turn the people against the man who did so much for them.  Finally, G-d puts an end to this reprehensible behavior, putting an end to Korach and all those who supported him by having the earth miraculously open up and swallow them alive.

During the course of the argument with Korach, Moses rebukes Korach and his levite cohorts: “It is too much for you, O offspring of Levi!” (Bamidbar 16, 7).  In his commentary to this verse, R. Shimshon Pincus points out that after all that Korach did, casting doubt upon the G-d given status of Moses, mocking the holiness that he brought to the nation, and stirring descent against Moses and Aaron to the point that G-d’s anger is ignited saying to Moses and Aaron, “Separate yourselves from amidst this assembly and I shall destroy them in an instant” (Bamidbar 16:20), Moses does not lash out with derogatory verbiage against Korach and his henchmen.  Instead, he reminds them that they are levites, a chosen family lineage, and that it is unbecoming of them to overstep themselves.

It is natural, R. Pincus notes, for someone who has been severely wronged and angered to explode like a volcano spewing fire and brimstone full of insults.  Yet, Moses, in line with the teachings of our Sages, tempers his anger in order to stick to the point, namely a valiant effort at coolly bringing his adversary to his senses (see Babylonian Talmud, Betzah 20a).

G-d tells us “You shall not hate your brother in your heart; you shall reprimand your fellow” (Vayikra 19:17).  R. Isser Zalman Meltzer explains in his Even Ha’Azel that no one can properly reprimand another unless he feels a certain caring for him.  Only if he cares, can he pay attention to the other’s situation and truly look to its improvement, similar to a parent who rebukes his children.  Rebuke coming from caring has more of a chance to influence the other who feels that caring.  On the other hand, if two people hate each other, no rebuke or reprimand has much chance of serving its purpose.  R. Meltzer points out that our Sages say at one point that the Second Temple was destroyed as a result of senseless hatred (Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 9b), while at another point they say that the destruction was due to the people’s not reprimanding each other (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 119b).  These two different stated causes, R. Meltzer notes, go hand in hand.  Since there was baseless animosity among the people, they were unable to rebuke each other properly.

The goal of reprimanding another must be to help the other correct his behavior – not to let off steam.  The goal of rebuking your fellow Jew must be for the good of the other – not to hear oneself talk.  When, like Moses, one lets someone else know of the error of his ways out of a caring concern to improve the other’s life, he has a good chance of reaching that goal.  If one speaks to another with sensitivity for the other’s feelings and station in life, he has a good chance of improving the other’s station in life.  We must remember that it is not just what you say; it is how you say it.  Indeed, the Torah enjoins us to reprimand another when we witness iniquity, but we cannot do it with animosity or indignation.  We must treat the other as a fellow, as an equal, as a brother – whom we care about.  Only then can that reprimand be an accomplishment.  Only then can the wayward individual learn and absorb the message that we want to send.  Only then can more and more of our brethren reach the heights possible to make our lives together on this world a happier and more fulfilling experience for the good of all concerned.  Only then can the lofty goals set down for us by G-d in His Torah be fulfilled.

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