Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Longing for Leadership: a lesson from a bat mitzvah

In my blog entry "Wrestling with Rebels," I showed some of the different ways that interpreters have treated Korach's rebellion against Moses and Aaron.  Here is the way my student Abby K made sense of it at her bat mitzvah: through an interpretive story, or midrash.

Abby said: As I studied this story, I wondered if we were really seeing an overly biased account. When you think about it, history is written by the victors, and the story of Korah seems to be told as pro-Moses, showing Korah as a villain.  
There are two sides to every story, and I wondered about Korahs side. Suppose things had turned out differently, or that it was one of Korahs followers rather than one of Moses followers who would have written the account.

The rabbis often filled in gaps in the text of the Torah by writing their commentary or stories known as midrash. And so, I decided to write this midrash, trying to explain why Korah revolted against Moses:

Once, in the land of Egypt, there was a young boy named Korah.  He had the difficult life of an Israelite slave.  One hot, sunny day, he saw the taskmaster beating a slave, which was not uncommon.  Suddenly, a peculiar thing happened.  While Korah watched from the shadows, a young man ran up to the slave and the taskmaster, and killed the taskmaster. The young man happened to be Moses.
Korah was in awe.  If only I had that power, that control, Korah thought.  Having no authority as a slave made him fume.  After the Israelites escaped Egypt, his hunger for power only grew stronger. He was seen as noble in the community, but that wasnt enough. He decided to gather followers, and rebel against Moses and Aaron.  He blamed them for acting too holy.  Very soon after, he and the other rebels died.
Some said that slavery made him bitter.  After the difficult life of labor, he wanted some respect, some power.  Others said he was envious of Moses and Aarons authority.  But in one thing the community was certain:  he wanted leadership.

Abby concluded: In the Biblical story, Moses was right and Korah was wrong.  But by writing this midrash, I can see Korah's point of view. Even sometimes when there is a definitive right or wrong answer, always try to see the story in a fair way. Also, it is important to understand why a person does what he does. That's why I wrote this midrash, to understand why.

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