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The Systems of the Jewish Year

Whose Fault Is It?

By Rabbi Yaacov Haber

This week’s parsha tells an earth-shattering tale (grin). It is a favorite with rabbis for their droshas, since it describes the dire consequences of rebelling against the rabbinical authority.

I would just like to make a little contribution to our understanding of this story. In the secular culture, and among other religions, there are a number of maxims or cliches related to the concept of hypocrisy—for example, “People in glass houses should not throw stones.”

In the Gemara itself there is such a slogan, which seems to have made it, via one route or another, into the popular culture: “Do you condemn the speck in my eye [or: tooth]? What about the beam in your own eye?”

I want to talk about a slightly different sentiment, also found in the Gemara “The blemish which you have do not project on to someone else.” The idea here is NOT simply: “How dare you condemn me for such-and-such? You are just as bad, if not worse!” It is rather that the REASON for finding fault with the other person was because of the speaker’s own defect in that area.

And, I suggest, it is here that we should look for an explanation of Korach’s behavior. Korach was looking for things to criticize about Moses and Aaron. Now most of us are quite skilled in finding fault with people.

Suppose you wanted to criticize Moses in public. What defects would you try to bring up? That he was not a good speaker, perhaps. Or that he used to be a shepherd in Midian, so that he didn’t have the right social or educational background for the job of leader. Or that he hadn’t really wanted the job in the first place.

But one thing you could hardly condemn him for was pride, or haughtiness, or love of honor. The Torah says, explicitly: “The man Moses was very humble, more than any man on the face of the earth” (Num.12:3), and gives many examples of this.

And yet haughtiness is just what Korach condemned him and Aaron for! “You take too much upon yourselves! (Korach says to them) For the whole congregation is holy, and the L-rd is among them. Why then do you lift yourselves up, above the assembly of the L-rd?” (Num. 16:3) How can we understand this?

The point is that Korach was the most arrogant person around, and he tried to pin his own defect on to Moses! Rashi quotes an even stronger statement in the Gemara: “He who condemns others, condemns with his own blemish!” This seems to mean that that is the ONLY factor used in condemning someone.

What could be the reason for this? I am not a professional psychologist, but I would like to suggest the following: When we have a defect, and realize that someone else does not, we feel uncomfortable in his presence.

The only way we feel we can come to terms with this is by accusing the other person of having the same defect, even more strongly than we do. So it was with Korach, and his arrogance. He could only feel good about himself by accusing Moses and Aaron (and indeed all the Kohanim) of arrogance with their special privileges, which was nonsense. What can we learn from this?

When we find ourselves attacking someone, and finding fault , it behooves us to step back for a moment and search ourselves. For apart from the sin of lashon hara, which is serious enough, perhaps we are merely holding a mirror up to our own weaknesses.

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