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Korach - Critical Criticism

08/10/12 06:12:54


This week's Dvar Torah is in honor of Fred and Elaine Lepow celebrating their 50th Wedding Anniversary.

Too often in life our mistakes are pointed out but our efforts to correct those mistakes are not recognized. If you were to observe behavioral relationships, you would discover that even constructive criticism has its limits. Most of us tend to be quick to point out mistakes in others, but we generally fail to recognize and give due praise when the problem is corrected.

Constructive criticism works well when a person is encouraged, in an appropriate way, to work harder or to do more. Unfortunately, without proper follow- up such as recognizing that the correction has been made, doubts as to the sincerity of the original comments are likely to set in. Typically, a person may intend to proffer comments which are meant to be 'constructive' but may be misconstrued as just plain old criticism.. Simply giving a follow -up comment such as, 'I see you really did much better this time' or 'You look so much better', goes a step beyond, conveying a deeper level of concern for the person.

There is a parallel situation, and I find people myself included whereby the wrong emphasis is placed on a question or a situation. For example, let's say a stranger walks into Shul to daven on a Monday morning. I might ask him, "Are you a Kohein or a Levi?" Most of the time he responds to the negative, stating he is "Just a Yisrael." I think it would be wiser to ask this same question in the positive: "Are you a Yisrael?" Then he could respond in a more positive way by saying yes most of the time. When your children are studying for an upcoming test, focus on giving praise for the correct answers and give encouragement to continue working on the areas which are difficult for them rather than ragging on their mistakes. The heroes and the villains, or the good and the bad guys of our history, guide us as to how to do and not do things in life. The Tzadikim are always looking at the good in every person, situation, and experience while the wicked do the opposite.

In this week's parsha Korach we read of the squaring off between Moshe and his first cousin Korach. The Targum Onkelos translates the very first words of the parsha: 'Vayikach Korach' 'and Korach divided and argued'. The word 'Vayikach' is usually translated as 'he took', but it may also fall under the purview of 'rebellion' by taking something that is not yours and challenging the other for the rights and possession of that which is taken. The Apta Rov in his sefer Oheiv Yisrael gives a beautiful, psychological insight into the personalities of Moshe and Korach. Even a rasha who does everything evil still has a piece of good that can be found within himself. A Tzadik, as near perfect and righteous as he is, still has a small cell in his body that is somewhat bad. Quoting from Shlomo Hamelech: 'Ki Adam ein Tzadik Ba'Aretz Asher Yaaseh Tov V'Lo Yecheta'. Loosely translated, it states: 'There is no man on this earth, even a tzadik, who does only good and does not sin; even a tzadik sometimes sins'. The reverse is true for a rasha, a wicked person. There is some good that can be found in even in the wicked. The difference between the tzadik and the rasha is as follows: The small amount of bad found in a tzadik is considered a foreign substance within that person. Similarly, the good is in a strange place when found in the body of the evil person. A truly evil person doesn't want to have a soft spot in his heart. That would be looked upon as a weakness in his mind. On the other hand, a genuinely good person wants to rid himself of every ounce of bad.

We each have a tendency to draw from others, to see the part of another person which resonates within ourselves. When a wicked person speaks to a righteous person, he looks for and takes the bad which the righteous the person has within him. A tzadik seeks out that little piece of good found within the rasha and gives him the benefit of the doubt. Furthermore, once the tzadik recognizes the good, even in the wicked, and the wicked sees bad, even in the righteous, those pieces of good and evil are drawn towards each other like a magnet. The good and evil are more comfortable in familiar surroundings. From this we can understand how there was a complete separation between Korach and Moshe: they had nothing in common.

My own thoughts on the matter are that Moshe always looked for the good in people, hoping to make the most of that goodness to change the person, thereby causing him to become a better human being. Korach, on the other hand, exploited the negative trying to turn the individual into a completely different person, expanding upon the errors of his ways. As a result of these behaviors, Moshe continued to have patience dealing with Korach because he could see and feel a sliver of good and tried to change him for the better. Moshe simply could not accept the fact that his first cousin created such a rebellion in Klal Yisrael, and ultimately, a rebellion against God. Korach simply attacked Moshe; he worked to expand the negative to take Moshe and all who followed Moshe down.

Finally, if I may take some poetic license, I would explain that the names are the essence of these two individuals. The root of Korach, kuf reish ches, means by chance, haphazard and carelessness. Moshe's name, on the other hand, can be broken down into two parts, Mah Shehu, meaning 'a small something' similar to Moshe's humility in viewing himself as nothing and as not worthy. In addition, the name 'Moshe' means 'that which is him': Moshe viewed everyone as himself. Moshe saw the good in everyone; he took care to reflect on and follow up on the needs of all the people. Korach, on the other hand, did not genuinely focus on anything or anyone; his attitude towards others was both indifference and disdain.

The proof of the profound difference between these two personalities is found in the results. Moshe saved the Jewish people and led them into Eretz Yisrael. Korach took many Jews with him into the abyss. Cousins can start out strongly resembling each other , yet can polarize in their philosophies and outlook of life.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avram Bogopulsky


Sat, August 8 2020 18 Av 5780