Taking “Ownership”

I always liked the diagrams of icebergs that I saw in elementary school when we studied the Titanic. They showed a tiny person standing next to the iceberg’s tip and, hidden below the surface, the gargantuan chunk of ice water that makes up the vast majority of the many tons of ice that comprise the iceberg. According to Ramban (Nachmanidies, 1194 – 1270), Korach’s rebellion that took place after the incident of the spies, was only the tip of the iceberg; his negativity towards Moshe’s leadership had been festering and gaining momentum for a long time prior. He may have originally resented Moshe back when Elitzaphan son of Uzziel was placed in charge of the Kohathite family, which made Elitzaphan Korach’s superior. Why didn’t Korach rebel much earlier? What made him wait to express his dissenting views, enlist his accomplices, and publicly challenge Moshe?
Ramban concedes that in fact, Korach was prepared and willing to rebel much earlier. He recognized, however, that the people loved Moshe and were totally obedient to him. He knew that if he would have rebelled then, the only attention that they would give him would be negative attention directed back at him – he feared that they would stone him! He therefore patiently waited, while continuing to suffer from what he saw as additional inappropriate behavior on Moshe’s part like appointing Aharon to become the Kohen

Gadol. Finally, when they arrived in the Wilderness of Paran where some perished and then many more died after the incident of the spies, Korach perceived a change in the people’s attitude towards Moshe and decided he could now strike.

It can be very enlightening to recognize the eventual weakness in the people’s attitude towards Moshe that enabled Korach to find a foothold for his rebellion. Imagine a doctor that prescribes medication for a patient with specific dosage instructions. The patient neglects to take the medication as instructed and eventually his condition completely deteriorates. How absurd would it be if the patient would tell the physician that he blames him for his imminent death, because he didn’t give his patient an effective cure?! Rabbi Yeruchom Levovitz (ca. 1873-1936) writes that the nation was punished because of their own sinful choices and behavior. Instead of accepting the blame, they resented Moshe as if it was somehow his fault. Human nature is to point the finger of blame towards another or offer any other sort of justification for their actions rather than implicate oneself and accept responsibility.
In my seventh-grade class this past school year, I felt it was necessary to put particular emphasis on this point. When confronting children for various behaviors or rule infractions, I found that the children would invariably give some type of excuse. The excuses often involved putting the blame on someone else. “I tossed the pen across the room because Shimon told me to!” Or, “I am late because no one told us to come inside from recess.” Upon receiving one of these lines, I tried to help the student rephrase their answer and get in the habit of taking a more mature approach by asking: “Do you mean to say ‘I’m sorry I threw the pen, I won’t do it again?!’” Eventually, they got the message and began talk differently. About half-way through the year, one student declared that our class motto should be “Take ownership!” which was their slang way of expressing this message that people must have the courage to take responsibility for their own errors.
The inability of the nascent Jewish people to “take ownership” during their time in the desert, which enabled Korach to spark his national crisis, reminds us to set an example for our children and others by honestly and maturely taking the blame.

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