It is in times of crisis that effective leadership is most important--and the years spent wandering in the desert represented the first major crisis of the Jewish people. Aimlessly wandering with little to look forward to, knowing that they would die in the desert, the hope and excitement of the Exodus was long gone. It is not surprising that, when faced with a crisis, instead of looking inward, people often look to blame others for their predicament. Who better to blame than one's leader?
The initial meeting between Moshe and Pharaoh did not go well. The workload placed on the poor Jewish slaves was increased, and more importantly, the people's morale was shattered. Whereas initially, "the people believed, and they heard that G-d had remembered the people of Israel" (Shemot 4:31), as conditions worsened, "they did not listen to Moshe from shortness of breath and hard work" (Shemot 6:9).
This week's d'var Torah is dedicated in honour of my father Rabbi Joseph Kelman z"l whose yahrzeit is this week. May his memory be for a blessing. --JHK
"Take Aaron, and Elazar his son, and bring them up to Mount Hor; and strip Aaron of his vestments, and dress Elazar his son in them; Aaron shall be gathered in and die there" (20:25-26). It was only after Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden that man had a need for clothing: "then the eyes of both of them [Adam and Eve] were opened and they realized that they were naked" (Breisheet 3:7). Up until the point of sin, the spiritual and physical worlds were in complete harmony; there was no need to cover any parts of our physical being.
It is most difficult to solve a problem if the protagonists will not meet with each other and hear each other out. While there is no guarantee that talking will solve an issue, there is a guarantee that silence will perpetuate the problem.
The survival of the Jewish people in the desert was a direct result and only possible because of Divine intervention: the splitting of the sea; water from a rock; living on manna from heaven; clothes that did not wear out; and snakes and scorpions being kept away. The Jewish people were passive recipients of Divine favour, with no worries about survival.
"Rav Yirmiya ben Elazar said, there are three entrances to Gehenom: one in the desert, one in the sea, and one in Jerusalem" (Eiruvin 19a). The Talmud finds scriptural support for this from the narrative of the earth swallowing up Korach and his supporters in the desert, the description of Yonah crying out to G-d from the depths of the ocean, and from the verse in Isaiah, "Whose fire is in Zion, and His furnace in Jerusalem" (31:9). The exact nature of Gehenom need not concern us; it is the path leading to it that should worry us more.
The name Korach is synonymous with Machloket shelo leshem shamoyim, arguments that are not for the sake of heaven. As we read how Korach and his rebel rousers were killed by G-d, exactly as Moshe had predicted, no doubt many feel gleeful as those "who gathered together against G-d" (16:11) receive their due. Yet Judaism demands a much more nuanced approach. True, we must eradicate evil; but we must never confuse evil with evildoers. All people are created in the image of G-d, and all are deserving of respect; there are no exceptions.