June 10, 2021 at 8:38 pm #4106Anne SendorKeymaster
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Parshat Korach: All the world’s a stage
By Noam Levenson
In Parshat Korach, Korach asks an age-old question: Why you and not me? Korach is a Levite
and he enjoys the applicable honors. However, in this week’s parsha, he looks at the power and
influence of both Moshe and Aaron and grows envious. “You have gone too far! For all the
community are holy, all of them, and Hashem is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves
above Hashem’s congregation?”1 He accuses Moshe of nepotism. He accuses Moshe of taking
more than his fair share. Besides, Korach says, we all have a holy spark within us. Why should
you and Aaron have such a special connection?
There is a philosophical argument underpinning Korach’s words. As Rav Steinsaltz points out,
Korach understands that within the Jews’ relationship to Hashem, there is a meritorious system
in which everyone partakes. But there is also a hierarchical system that comes from shamayim
(heaven).2 This frustrates him. He can accept that wisdom and riches are available to all those
with a spark of wit and a tad of mazal, but what he can’t accept is why some, simply from birth,
are afforded positions of power.
We all encounter this in our lives. Some things are relatively fair. Dedication and
self-actualization can manifest many dreams. But there are things that we have very little choice
over. We are born men or women, fathers or mothers, husbands or wives. We are born Jewish
or not Jewish. We are born with money or without, with height and physical beauty or without.
The choice lies only in whether to rebel or not, to accept the role placed before us or reject it.
Consider this, we were placed in this world for a purpose. Understanding our purpose is not
simple. We are not born with an instruction guide to life. How can we understand our purpose?
One avenue is to look at that which we were born with – our talents, our minds, our passions.
These would not have been given to us were they not critical for our ultimate purpose. Our
happiness depends on us actualizing this purpose. Who wants to spend their life living someone
else’s vision, while their true passions and talents lay rotting in the closet of forgotten dreams?
You weren’t made to live anyone else’s life. When we say, why you and not me, we in essence
are saying, I’m not good enough as I am.
When we find ourselves placed in certain roles, we have a choice. We can realize our true
purpose through the role or we can reinforce our egos. We reinforce our egos when we see our
roles as a chance to prove ourselves, to raise our stature in the eyes of others, to gain power
over others, to fill the emptiness within ourselves. We realize our purpose when we truly accept
that we are simply channels for Hashem into this world. A parent is a channel for Hashem to
give love and compassion, sustenance and safety to children. A child is a channel for Hashem
to give respect and honor and future security to a parent. Take for example a husband and a
wife. They each play different roles, providing differently, caring differently, carrying different
responsibilities. Their relationship will suffer if they both see their roles simply as a way for them
to prove to each other their worthiness, their power, or even their love. “I am doing this so that
she sees me as a loving husband.” No! We do this because we are givers in a world that tries to
teach us only to take. We give because that is what we were created to do. We give because
our true happiness depends on us letting go of the outcomes and simply reveling in the chance
to be a source of goodness in this world. The next time you feel your heart begin to close and
your defenses arise, when a sharp word rests on your tongue, ask yourself, what role is
Hashem asking me to play, and what role am I playing? Are you giving, or are you upset
because you’re trying to take that which isn’t yours? If we are channels for Hashem in this world
then there is nothing anyone can ever do, say, or take, that will ever shake us. We can walk as
free men and women through the world and never be tarnished. If people don’t want to receive
the light we have to give, then that is no reflection of us.
We rebel against our roles when we envy those roles of others. We rebel against our roles when
we make them transactional. We rebel against our roles when we demand that things be “fair.”
How often do we look at the highlight reels of Instagram lives and think, why isn’t my life like
that? The reality is that we never know the price of other people’s roles. We don’t know the cost
to happiness and love that fame takes. We don’t know the responsibility that wealth and
success demands. Their role is their own to carry. Korach was not Moshe and could never play
Moshe’s role. With all the glamour, Moshe’s role was also an enormous burden.
Playing our roles means that we deal with reality on its terms. We wait our turn. Surrendering to
our roles doesn’t mean that we aren’t active. It simply means that we deal entirely with the
moment and leave the outcome up to Hashem. Sometimes Hashem gives us time to rest.
Sometimes, He demands swift action. Ultimately, the moment is always our only place of power.
As a freelance writer, I have become accustomed to periods where work is busy and periods
where it is not. In the beginning, the busy periods were filled with a sense of longing for more
rest and free time while the free periods were filled with anxiety over whether work would return.
Think of how that looks to Hashem. “I give this man work and I give him rest. Yet when he’s
working he’s wishing he wasn’t and when he’s not he’s stressed because he isn’t.” Insanity.
Focus on the moment and simply ask yourself, what am I supposed to do right now? The
answer very well might be to settle the nervous energy that is demanding action and do
“nothing” until your role changes.
We can work towards a specific outcome, but we must still enjoy the process. We must trust that
it will happen as fast as it’s supposed to happen and being anxious or worried won’t help. We
also have to decide how much of our lives we’re willing to spend stressed or unhappy. The more
conditions we add to our happiness, the less happiness we will have. Are we ok with the fact
that during every traffic jam and anytime someone doesn’t meet our expectations we’re
unhappy? That’s a lot of time added up over a lifetime. The time in traffic can be spent in an
anxious state looping about how we will be late, or it can be enjoyed. What defines that stretch
of time as unhappy? Only you and the way you perceive it, the way you have decided to treat it.
The irony is that when we feel negative emotions or sensations, we distance ourselves from
them. We put up walls and we close our hearts and we exit the moment. We go into our
thoughts as a defensive mechanism. Personally, in those states, it feels like I am literally holding
myself back from life. Ironically this disconnect itself is uncomfortable – we aren’t truly alive in
those moments. In essence what we do is that we define reality negatively when we are closed
and positively when we are open, and it is these very definitions that determine whether we
close or not. See the loop that is happening? The only reason we aren’t always calm is because
of ourselves. Decide that you will never close your heart, that you will never exit the moment,
and suddenly even the most annoying, stressful period becomes enjoyable.
Hashem doesn’t ask us to play our roles perfectly. Do you think that He’s not aware of your
limitations, of your biases, of your mental blocks? He is and the role you are playing is perfectly
suited for you and your imperfections. It is only you that has a problem with the fact that you are
not perfect. If you feel confused by a big upcoming decision, simply be confused. Trust that you
won’t be confused forever. Uncertainty is so uncomfortable for us because we think it will last
forever. When there is uncertainty it is so difficult to imagine what certainty could possibly look
like. However, certainty always follows uncertainty, certainly. Before making a big decision, talk
to Hashem and tell Him about why you are planning to decide in a certain way. List out your
concerns and your logic for Him. Ask Him, if you’re not making the right decision, to open your
eyes and heart to what you need to know. And then trust.
Ultimately, we never have to be anyone other than who we are. Who we truly are was built
exactly for the roles we’re supposed to play. It is our egos that twist them around – due to fear,
due to a desire for power or prestige or respect. Ultimately it is never enough. If Hashem made
us Jews we want to be Levi’im. If He made us Levi’im we want to be Kohanim. If He made us
Kohanim, then we want to be the Kogen Gadol. How much longer will we put yourselves down
because we’re not them, not enough? There are no expectations, no fear, no possibility of
failure when we embrace the role Hashem has cast us in. We do not need anyone to validate
our performance, it is enough that we know that Hashem is pleased. Hashem wants us to
succeed and we want to succeed. Fear only comes when we feel that it is on us alone to bear
the burden of our roles. Dissatisfaction comes only when we compare our roles to those of
Notice, when during the day do you close and when during the day do you open? What does it
feel like to be closed to life versus open? Ask yourself whenever you begin to close whether this
situation is worth closing over. Does this situation justify closing yourself off to calmness, joy,
and serenity? When we are in love, nothing in the world can bring us back to earth. If we won
the lottery, for at least a week nothing would possibly disappoint us. So we know that reality is
only bad when we define it as such. Notice how you are the one defining reality negatively and
then closing yourself to it, which in itself makes it negative. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Laugh at
yourself and your neurotic mind. You’re not alone.
1. BaMidbar: 16:3
2. Rav Steinsaltz: Talks on the Parsha: Korach
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