Friday, June 7, 2013

Korach, The Bully

There are a few things that annoy me at the supermarket.

When I´m done unloading my wagon contents onto the checkout counter, and the cashier asks me, ¨Will that be all?¨

No, ma´am, I´d like all this invisible stuff, too.

Then, say, on a rare occasion, like when I run out at 6 am because I have nothing in the house  to send the kids to school with, and I only have a few bottles of milk, bread, snacks, and fruit on the counter, and the cashier asks, ¨Would you like a bag?¨

Nah, that´s ok. I can juggle 10 items...12 is my limit.

And lastly, there´s the friendly ¨Can I help you?¨

Ok, I know what you´re confused about. That kind gesture offering assistance should not be bothering me; It should be reassuring me.

But, I remain suspicious as to whom the sales person hopes to help. 
Do they have my best interest in mind, or their own? Do they need to look busy? Receive commission per costumer?

How many times have they not located what I requested, or they waved me off stating they don´t carry it, only for me to have found it in the next aisle?
The agenda runs interference with our ability to trust.

This week’s Torah reading relates the story and downfall of Korach and his followers in their rebellion against Moshe. The basis of Korach’s complaint was that the entire nation is holy, and therefore there was no need for Moshe to serve as leader and Aaron as the high priest.
Korach was a gifted orator. He was pursuasive, convincing, and charming. He was a leader who was righteous and respected.

But underneath his self-righteous image lies the essence of a manipulator: someone who shrewdly and deviously attempts to control.
A manipulator is someone who has mastered the art of aggression disguised as helpfulness, good intentions, or working "for the good of the people". These people are brilliant at hiding their true motives.
Pretending to pursue the greater good, he adopts the mantra of “people first” with a fervency that inspires admiration and respect, and most people accept his claims of selfless pursuit of noble causes.

The Parsha states, And Korach took…

He took: He seduced the heads of the Sanhedrin with soft speech. (Rashi)

He took …a bad business for himself. (Tactate Sanhedrin 109B)

He took: He assumed the right to himself (Rabbi S.R. Hirsch)

What exactly did Korach take? The verse is purposefully ambiguous about what it was that Korach took perhaps to imply all of the above and more. The Chovos Halevovos offers a prescription on how to be a good neighbor or friend that may help us to understand where Korach went awry and why.

He writes that one must be sincerely concerned about everyone in their lives. That he should endeavor to meet his duties toward them to fulfill their wishes. He should be their steadfast supporter in all their concerns and advise them what is advantageous to them.

He should do this to serve G-d as it written, “Love your neighbor as yourself”, “Do not hate your brother in your heart”. Not because he hopes to be repaid by them, not to make them indebted to him, not because he loves to be honored and praised by them, not to have authority over them, but rather to fulfill the commandment of the Creator and to keep His covenant and His ordinances in their regard.

He continues...If his motive in fulfilling their wishes is one of those ulterior motives mentioned above, he will not obtain what he wants from them in this world, he will labor in vain, and he will lose his reward in the World-to-Come. If, however, he acts solely out of service to G-d, then G-d will help them (his beneficiaries) to repay him in this world and will put his praises in their mouths and will increase his stature in their eyes.

 The Chovos HaLevavos gives a clear “if/then” promise without any qualifications. If one engages personal interactions with a selfish motive then the mission will certainly fail. However, if one acts out of a sense of dutiful concern then success is guaranteed.
Take the seder table, for example. The child who is asked to recite “Mah Nishtana” to impress the guests will also more likely freeze and fail recognizing subconsciously he is being asked to risk humiliation to offer someone else a feeling of success or nachas.

If a parent, teacher, mentor, or anyone in a leadership position can convince a person that they have his or her best interest at heart then they can really begin to work wonders. The relationship becomes inspired with genuine respect. The person’s needs are perceived as an end and not just a means.

Watch out for charismatic leaders or ambitious coworkers. Make sure their hearts are in the right place.

Being a celebrity is a thrilling concept. The world, or parts of it, is in the hands of a celebrity. They can change whatever needs changing, or fix whatever needs fixing. The people soak up their every word, laugh at every joke, and imitate their every action. They have the luxury to do as they so desire without explanation. They can see the world, and be seen by the world. They get to be in the front lines.

But a celebrity doesn´t have to be rich to be famous.

It can be any one of us, or anyone we know.

It starts out with a sincere desire to develop ones talents, and make a difference in the world.  It starts by feeling a genuine desire to educate, inspire, and entertain people with captivating words.

But being a public figure requires more emphasis on the external, which gets rationalized because it´s for the greater good. And being a public figure means getting fan mail, which feels nice, since it means you´re making a difference in peoples´ lives. It also feels nice, because now you´re a celebrity.

When the internal becomes external, we have to stop and question our motives. Are we manipulating our followers? Am I enjoying the attention a bit too much? Are my intentions still as sincere as they were before the spotlight blinded me? And if they are sincere, am I carrying them out in the right way?Am I being creative, or emotionally controlling? Am I hurting as many people as I´m building?

Do I have their best interest in mind, or my own?
Nobody wants to be a mere instrument for somebody else´s aggrandizement, a stepping stool or even a medal on their chest. Even if a person is pleasant and charming the weight of the agenda eventually crushes the relationship.

Imagine seeing a life size cuddly teddy bear running towards you with his arms open wide, inviting you for a hug. So you run in its direction, reciprocating the gesture. Who can reject an endearing, snuggly, soft, warm hug? Well, being blinded by a flaunting or pretentious leader is like realizing that the huggable, loveable bear you´re running towards, is attached to the front of a speeding truck.

Why is it that when we go to a doctor and if we don’t like what we hear we go for second opinion and yet when we get on a plane we trust the first pilot offered? The difference is that the pilot is also getting on the plane with us.
Korach tragically crashed a plane with 250 families and their possessions by convincing them and himself he had their best interest at heart when it was really only about him. Perhaps this profound lesson of caution is all we can take from a taker.

First rule of leadership: Everything is your fault.

Have a beautiful shabbos!