Parshat Korah: Fear of independence

Worshipers at Western Wall for priestly blessing‏ (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Worshipers at Western Wall for priestly blessing‏
In this week’s Torah portion, we come across a blatant rebellion against Moshe Rabbeinu’s leadership and authority. The heads of the revolt were three men, as the Torah states: Korah, Datan and Aviram. At the beginning of the rebellion there was another man as well, On ben Pelet, but he left early on and the three others remained as leaders of the rebellion.
Korah does not dispute the actual authority of the nation’s leadership, but rather he demands that the leadership post be passed on to him. Korah even comes to Moshe to discuss this with him. However, Datan and Aviram are not prepared to talk to Moshe at all. They contest the actual concept of leadership. They are not interested in replacing Moshe, as is Korah, but in creating a nation without a leader.
Our sages of blessed memory identified Datan and Aviram as belonging to those same people who previously contested the entire plan: those who from the first moment tried to keep the nation in Egypt and tried at every opportunity to get the nation to go back to Egypt rather than continue in its journey toward Eretz Yisrael. Thus, for example, our sages identify them as partners in the attempted murder of Moshe back in Egypt by informing Pharaoh that Moshe is inciting the nation to leave Egypt. Later on as well, when the nation reached a dead-end at the edge of the Red Sea, it was Datan and Aviram who said, “We were better off being slaves in Egypt than dying in the desert.” They are also the ones who during the sin of the spies that we read about last week said, “Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt.”
It is easy to understand Korah’s motives. We all recognize the aspiration to lead others. Korah desired a respected position that would allow him to rule the nation. But how can we understand the motives of Datan and Aviram? Did they fall in love with slavery? Why would they repeatedly try to cause the failure of the great plan of taking the nation out of Egypt and bringing it to the Land of Israel? It seems that what motivated Datan and Aviram was the fear of independence. There is a well-known phenomenon of people preferring to be salaried workers rather than independent ones. Sometimes it is the right path for certain people, either because they do not have the financial ability to take risks or because of their personal skills. But sometimes this stems from fear of being independent in the face of reality, the lack of desire to take on all the responsibility.
When Datan and Aviram were slaves of Egypt’s oppressive regime, their lives were not the least bit comfortable, but they had one advantage: They did not have to be responsible for themselves. If Moshe’s plan would pan out and the nation would leave Egypt and go to Eretz Yisrael to establish an independent state, it would be required to run the state according to the eternal values of Torah and taking responsibility for oneself.
This is what they were afraid of. They did not want to take on the responsibility of an independent person – something they had run from at every opportunity.
This phenomenon can happen with anyone, nationally or personally. In the national realm, independently dealing with dangers and threats demands patience, an ability to think long-term, and national resilience. This can be frightening and threatening. We could even reach Datan’s and Aviram’s emotional state who preferred slavery in a foreign land over independence in their own land.
In the personal realm, the same phenomenon exists.
How easy it is to escape responsibility, pass it on others – our wife, our husband, our parents, neighbors or employers. Anyone but me. But to succeed, I must look at reality as subject to my personal responsibility. I am responsible for repairing reality; it is my responsibility to create good relationships with family members; it is up to me to improve the atmosphere at my workplace.
This is how Moshe Rabbeinu, who was not afraid of leadership, behaved when he took on responsibilities.
This is how anyone who wants to succeed should behave.
The writer is rabbi of the Western Wall and holy sites.