Posted on June 26, 2020 by Rabbi Arnold S. Gluck
The great Chassidic Rebbe Zusya of Anipol is known for this saying:
“When I die and meet my maker, I will not be asked, ‘Why were you not Moses?’ I will be asked, ‘Why were you not Zusya?'”
In this week’s Torah portion, Moses asks a similar question of Korach, who led a rebellion against him and Aaron.
Korach exploits a moment of great vulnerability. The generation of the Exodus has just been condemned to wander the wilderness for 40 years. Their dream of reaching the Promised Land has been shattered.
Korach harnesses this discontent and turns it against Moses for his own purposes. Backed by a mob of 250 Levites whose passions he has inflamed, Korach challenges the leadership of Moses and Aaron, saying: “All God’s people are holy, so why do you lift yourself above them?”
Moses’ response is brilliant, multifaceted, and effective in thwarting the rebellion. Refusing to be baited or defensive, he submits the controversy to the will of God. They will all come before God, and God will choose their leader.
This might have sufficed to resolve the conflict, but Moses sees a deeper meaning in this moment, one that speaks to the human condition over the ages and speaks to us in the spirit of Rebbe Zusya.
Speaking to Korach and the rebels, Moses asks this poignant question:
“Is it not enough for you that God has elevated” you to serve as Priests and Levites? He suggests that all they can see is what they are not, and that this is the source of their malaise. Look instead, he counsels, at the significance of who and what you are and see the value and dignity of your role.
Be who you are, says Moses. Do not seek to be me or Aaron. Be yourself. Be yourself because you matter. You are important. See this, understand it, and embrace the opportunity you have been given to serve your community and God.
The rabbis of the Talmud expressed this same sentiment in a beautiful saying from tractate Berachot 17a:
“A favorite saying of the Rabbis of Yavneh was: ‘I am G-d’s creature and my fellow is G-d’s creature. My work is in the town and his work is in the countryside. I rise early for my work and he rises early for his work [physical labor]. Just as he does not presume to do my work, so I do not presume to do his work. Will you say, I do much and he does little?'”
Each of us must serve G-d in our own way. Each of us has something to contribute to the world. The trick is for each of us to discover our own authentic path, and to be given the opportunity to pursue it. Korach got it partly right. “All God’s people are holy.” What he failed to understand is that we don’t have to displace Moses to be fulfilled. We have only to be ourselves and be blessed to live in a world where none will be denied that opportunity.
Rabbi Arnie Gluck