Are you a spectator or a participant? Do you only watch the soccer World Cup, or do you sometimes kick a ball yourself?
The Parshah this week is named after Korach, cousin of Moses, and a revolutionary who attempted to usurp the authority of Moses and Aaron. His ill-fated rebellion came to a bitter end when the earth opened and swallowed Korach and his followers, demonstrating to all that Moses and Aaron were truly chosen by G-d.
But why name a Parshah after a villain? Korach was a sinner, and is surely not a role model for us to emulate.
My saintly teacher and mentor, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, offered a novel approach. There is one area where Korach can indeed be a good role model. What was Korach’s burning desire in life? It was to be a kohen gadol, high priest. He coveted Aaron’s position of honor.
Now, being a high priest meant much more than just fame, fortune, glory and privilege. Many sacred responsibilities came with the job. It was no easy task to be a kohen gadol. There were numerous restrictions: where he could go, what kind of activities he could be involved in, whom he could marry, etc. Yet Korach was absolutely single-minded in his aspiration to become the high priest.
Said the Rebbe: this is something we can all learn from Korach-the yearning to serve G-d in the holiest capacity, the craving to be a kohen gadol. Would that all of us shared similar aspirations to holiness. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if each one of us longed for a life of sanctity, dedicated to the service of G-d?
How often we are only too happy to allow others to handle the sacred stuff. “You can put on tefillin for me, Rabbi.” And your bobba (grandmother) can keep kosher for you, and the ADL can fight anti-Semitism for you, and the Lubavitchers will save the world for you. And what will you yourself do? Watch them?
It is interesting that in many parts of the world, much of the financial support for religious institutions comes from people who themselves are not religious. It has, in fact, been suggested that this phenomenon may well be a form of vicarious Judaism. These are fine people, who really do believe in the truth of Judaism, but they haven’t got sufficient commitment to practice it themselves. Nor do they believe that their own children will do it. Who, then, will defend the faith, and perpetuate Judaism and the Jewish people? So they sponsor a religious institution to do it for them.
I recall hearing a pertinent story from Professor Velvl Greene of Ben Gurion University. A young man signed up to join the paratroopers. On his first training flight, the instructor has him in his parachute, huddled at the door of the airplane, and starts counting down. 5 . . . 4 . . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . . “JUMP!” The candidate is paralyzed with fear, and doesn’t move. “Okay, it happens to the best of us,” says the instructor sympathetically. “We’ll try again.” The second attempt, however, is no better, nor the third or the fourth. The would-be paratrooper is simply too petrified to jump. Exasperated, the instructor asks him, “Tell me, son, if you are so scared to jump, why on earth do you want to join the paratroopers?” The young man answers, “It’s true, I am scared out of my wits. But I just love to be around people who are not afraid.”
It is wonderful to support and encourage the activists among us. But let us learn from Korach, who wanted so badly to be a high priest himself. Let’s not be content with being spectators as others do it for us. Let each of us participate in the Jewish idea. And let us do it personally.