Jealousy digs its own pit, says this weeks parashah


Numbers 16:1-18:32

I Samuel 11:14-12:22

Rabbi Elazar HaKappar says in the Ethics of the Fathers 4:28 that "jealousy, lust and thirst for honor drive a man from this world."

Although this is generally not understood in a literal manner, in this week's parashah, Korach and his supporters, motivated by jealousy, rebelled against the authority of Moses and his brother, Aaron, and were literally swallowed up by the ground and removed from the world.

The story of Korach reveals to us an amazing glimpse of the pathology of jealousy and how difficult an emotion it is to eradicate.

In stirring up negative feelings toward Moses and Aaron, Korach appealed to people's most base nature. No matter how overwhelming and supernatural and miraculous were the signs brought by G-d to prove that Moses and Aaron were indeed chosen by G-d Himself, jealousy and doubt repeatedly overcame what should have been obvious and real.

"They gathered together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, 'It is too much for you! The entire assembly — all of them — are holy and G-d is among them; why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of G-d?'" (Numbers 16:3).

Moses then attempted to reason with Korach by pointing out that notwithstanding Korach's appeal that all the people shared his holiness, Korach certainly knew that Moses and Aaron had not unilaterally taken the authority for themselves and that his argument was in fact against the Almighty who had appointed Moses to be the leader and Aaron to be the High Priest. Sadly, his jealousy and that of his supporters precluded any chance to respond positively to the logic of Moses' plea.

Then "the ground that was under them split open. The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households and all the people who were with Korach and their entire wealth. They and all that was theirs descended alive into the pit. The earth covered over them and they were lost from among the congregation" (Numbers 16:31-33).

"A flame came forth from G-d and consumed the two hundred and fifty men…" (Numbers 16:35). One might think that witnessing such incredible events, such an undeniable testament to G-d's support of his chosen leaders would tend to minimize, if not undo, any residual jealousy or rebellious feelings.

Yet in Numbers 17:6 we read, "The entire assembly of the children of Israel complained on the morrow against Moses and Aaron saying, 'You have killed the people of G-d.'"

The new rebellion had consequences: "And behold! The plague had begun among the people" (Numbers 17:12). "Those who died in the plague were fourteen thousand seven hundred aside from those who died because of the affair of Korach" (Numbers 17:15).

Surely this would be a reality check for the nation; surely their envy would not be checked. According to Ramban, however, they had by now been convinced that Aaron was the true high priest and that there was no nepotism involved. Still they felt that the firstborn and not the Levites should perform the service in the Tabernacle so that all the tribes could have a share in this honor.

Now G-d called for a new test to firmly convince the nation once and for all that He, not Moses, had made the choice of who would serve Him.

"Moses spoke to the children of Israel and all their leaders gave him a staff for each leader according to their father's house, twelve staffs; Aaron's staff was among their staffs.

"Moses laid their staffs before G-d in the Tent of Testimony. On the next day Moses came to the Tent of Testimony and behold the staff of Aaron of the house of Levi had blossomed; it brought forth a blossom, sprouted a bud and almonds ripened…G-d said to Moses, 'Bring back the staff of Aaron before the Testimony as a safekeeping, as a sign for rebellious ones; let their complaints cease from me that they not die'" (Numbers 17:21-25).

We see the extent to which G-d went to help the people to guard against their own jealousy.

May reading this week's parashah be a reminder for us to guard against the dangerous feelings of envy or jealousy which may creep into our own lives. May we never, G-d forbid, allow jealousy to cause us to lose touch with reality thereby "removing ourselves from this world."