Thursday, June 10, 2010

Authority Issues

In the last perek of Sanhedrin the Gemara tells us some very surprising stories. Many stories concern the most wicked kings in our people's history. In fact the Talmud tells us that both Menashe and Achav, were greatly knowledgable in Torah. Yet they were devoted to pagan worship. Still more surprising is to find that both these and other kings were not motivated to idolatry because they did not believe in G-d, nor even because of the desire for 'avoda zara', a desire the Talmud tells us was strong in those times. No, these kings pursued idolatry because they wanted to rebel against the G-d they believed in. They knew Hashem and wanted to offend Him.

In modern psychology we might say these kings had authority issues. They simply could not bear to be accept the authority of another, even to their own harm.

This weeks parsha that of Korach tells us a similar story. No, I am not referring to the revolt of Korach himself. We might argue, his challenge to the leadership of Moshe was not motivated by authority issues but rather by his own desire to be the 'leader'. His ego led him.

I am referring to a later development in the Korach story. The Torah tells us after the revolt and the miraculous death of Korach and his band of 250 men,a calamity with greater consquence occurred. "On the next day, the people complained against Moshe and Aharon saying 'You caused the death of the people of Hashem'". That inappropriate complaint brought Hashem's wrath that manifest itself in a plague that killed near 15,000 people and, were it not for Moshe's intervention, likely far more.

The Ramban understood the people's complaint against Moshe in a rather intriguing way. The People, he argued, accepted that Aharon was the true kohain, designated to serve in the Mishkan. They had no sympathy with the revolt of Korach. They had seen at the dedication ceremony of the Mishkan how the fire came down from heaven to consume the offerings Aharon had brought.

But the people did have sympathy for the 250 men with Korach. Those 250 were not arguing for the right to be priests. They were, in tradition, first born,as the Torah tells us, all men of distinction. They wanted only to be restored to their place with the Levites, assisting in the Sanctuary, a role formerly reserved for the first born. The people who complained to Moshe argued that he unfairly brought about their death. The 250 were consumed with fire when they brought the 'ketoret'. The people argued that was a set-up. The 250 never saw themselves as worthy to be 'kohanim'. Why were they challenged to confront Aharon with bringing the incense? Of course, the people argued, that would be against G-d's will. And not surprisingly it brought about their death. But it was Moshe who designed that 'test'. And he unfairly set them up to fail and die.

The Ramban's explanation seems to present a compelling argument. We might well wonder what was then was wrong with the People's complaint. Moshe seems vulnerable here.

On reflection we can see that the People's complaint, while seemingly having a point, was not motivated by compassion for the killed nor even by a search for truth. If that had been the motivation the People would have come to Moshe and Aharon and asked their Rebbe and Teacher to help them understand why he did what he did. They did not. Instead they criticized Moshe. And their criticism was most personal, "You killed the people of G-d".

Even if the issue they raised warranted a response, the way they brought it clearly indicated they had an 'authority issue' with Moshe that trancended the current incident. They challenged Moshe's right to lead. Sadly, they too, like the kings discussed in the Gemara we brought earlier, paid a heavy price for their struggle to accept authority.

What about you and me in relationship to authority. Most of us as teenagers had our moments of rebellion against authority, usually our parents. Does it remain an issue for us.

I would not be so quick to say we have out-grown it as an operating concern. Look at how we will often jump to lambast an authority figuire said to have done something wrong. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, as soon as we suspect someone in a position of authority relative to us, has done something we deem wrong we not only challenge what they did. We challenge their motivations, and even their goodness or right to lead.

We pay a price for our issues with authority. Perhaps not as severe a price as our ancestors, but our resistance to authority causes us to often throw out the baby with the bath water. We miss the message we need to hear because we dismiss the messenger.Too often we kill off the 'good' leader prematurely, and worse still, embrace a 'bad' leader in his/her stead. Those indeed are tragedies, even if hidden.

We need to look at the stories of the past not as history but as life lessons, relavent as much to us today and to those who acted in the dramas of yesteryear.
Authority issues and their stories must be our teachers.

Shabbat Shalom

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