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
We begin a new year of devotional teachings from Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein with a focus on joy, simcha — the joy found in the grateful acceptance and celebration of each day God has given to us. Join us as we explore Rabbi Eckstein’s teachings on the joy found in connecting with God and with others.
We invite you to dig deeper into the Jewish roots of Christianity with Rabbi Eckstein’s monthly teaching series, Limmud. Check it out here.
“Who is wealthy,” the Jewish sages ask in the Talmud. They answer, “He who is happy with his lot.” Our scripture verse today 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. As Moses said to Korah and his family, “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…?” Clearly, it wasn’t enough for Korah. 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.
Check out Rabbi Eckstein’s study on Abraham, the father of our faiths, Abraham, in his Limmud (“study” in Hebrew) teaching, “Abraham: The Patriarch of Loving-kindness.”