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Korach and what constitutes moral leadership

06/14/2018 11:28:14 AM


Rabbi Laura J. Abrasley

This week’s Torah portion, Korach, and its corresponding haftarah portion share stories of moral leadership. In the Torah portion, we learn of Korach, a man who challenges God’s choice of leaders. Korach decides he knows best and leads a rebellion against Moses and Aaron. Korach sees leadership in terms of status. He understands leadership as something higher than the rest of the community, the one to whom others defer. Korach desires this status and so orchestrates a takeover that ironically accuses Moses and Aaron of being the ones who put themselves above the people.
In the haftarah, we read about the prophet Samuel as he anoints Israel’s first king, Saul. The story recounts a moment of reflection for Samuel as he defends his vision of leadership, a vision in clear tension with the people who recklessly desire what they see in other nations. Samuel warns the people that this hierarchical vision of leadership is not what God intends for the Israelites. Samuel’s action could be interpreted as ironic as well given that his speech comes after he has participated in helping to establish the Israelite monarchy.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks argues that Judaism’s vision of leadership is “not a matter of status, but [rather] of function.” We are inheritors of a tradition that teaches that all of us are part of “a community of priests and a holy nation.”
The best leaders are those who display humility and willingness to be of service. They do not hold themselves higher than those they lead. They create space, invite conversation and understand that leadership is not about their own egos, but in finding ways to lift others up. May we all strive to be moral leaders together – lifting one another up in pursuit of justice, love and holiness.

Sun, November 17 2019 19 Cheshvan 5780