Moses also said to Korah, “Now listen, you Levites! Isn’t it enough for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the rest of the Israelite community and brought you near himself to do the work at the LORD’s tabernacle and to stand before the community and minister to them?” – Numbers 16:8–9
The Torah portion for this week is Korach, which means “Korah,” from Numbers 16:1–18:32, and the Haftorah is from 1 Samuel 11:14–12:22.
“Who is wealthy?” the Jewish sages ask in the Talmud. They answer, “He who is happy with his lot.” This week’s Torah portion recalls the rebellion of Korah against Moses and Aaron. If wealth were defined by how much a person has, then Korah was one of the wealthiest men to ever live. However, if you gauge a person’s wealth by the definition of the sages, there could be no poorer man. Korah had everything in the world, but still was not happy.
Korah was a Levite from the family of Kohath, who had been given one of the most important roles among the people. They were assigned the great task of carrying the holy vessels of the Temple whenever the Israelites traveled. They personally carried the Holy Ark, the lampstand, and other holy items. What a privilege! Yet, that privilege also had a boundary. While the Levites carried the holiest items in the world, they were forbidden to look at them.
This was the root of Korah’s unhappiness. He was so close and so important, yet not as important and close as the priests who could see and do things that were forbidden to him. Plain and simple, Korah was jealous. For all that he had, he felt he still was lacking.
I heard a story from a Jerusalem rabbi which gives us more perspective. The rabbi recalled being a little boy when the first man set foot on the moon. He watched the television broadcast with his older brother, and both sat glued to the television in awe of the astronauts. The rabbi remembered saying to his brother, “I feel bad for the guy who has to sit in the shuttle while the other astronauts got to land and walk on the moon! He was so close to the moon, and yet he couldn’t walk on the moon.” His older brother replied, “I’m sure he was fine. The astronaut in the shuttle understood that if he left, both men would be stranded on the moon forever! He knew how important his role was, and so he wasn’t jealous of the other two.”
Therein lies the antidote to the jealousy that Korah felt — and to be honest, how we might feel from time to time. We have to know that our God-given role is so important that we shouldn’t be jealous of someone else’s job in the world. We have a place in our family and in our community and perhaps a job in the workplace. Understand that the role you were given couldn’t be fulfilled by anyone else. When we are joyful with our lot, we will lack nothing at all.