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Jewish World Review
June 18, 2004
/ 29 Sivan, 5764
Quantum leap to evil
Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski
Hidden in the ancient words of this week's Torah (Bible) portion are timeless lessons about reaching human perfection
When one reads the account of Korach's rebellion (Numbers 16:1-35), one
is astounded by the incident. Not only was Moses the one who led the
Jews from Egypt, but all the Israelites were eyewitnesses to the many
miracles that were wrought through him. They saw him wave his staff
over the Reed Sea, causing the waters to divide. There could be no doubt that he
was commissioned by G-d to be the leader. How could anyone question the
authenticity of Moses' leadership? It simply defies all logic.
Rashi, the foremost commentator, quotes the Midrash which raises this question: How could Korach, a wise
and learned person, act so foolishly? The Midrash answers that Moses had appointed
another Levite to be leader of the tribe of Levi, and Korach was envious of
Yet, this does not fully answer the question.
Can envy so deprive a person of
logical thinking that one would deny the evidence of one's own eyes?
Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz (Sichos Mussar 5731:21) helps us understand this. He cites
the Talmudic statement, ''Envy, lust and pursuit of acclaim remove a person from
the world'' (Ethics of the Fathers 4:28). The expression ''remove a person from the
world'' is rather strange. Rabbi Shmulevitz explains that the usual deviation from
proper behavior is a very gradual one. The Talmud says that the tactic of the yetzer
hara (Evil Inclination) is to seduce a person to commit a very minor infraction, then lead him on to progressively more serious transgressions (Shabbos 108b). That is the nature and order of the world. The yetzer hara will not entice a person into doing something patently absurd.
However, if a person is overtaken by envy, one escapes the natural order of the
world. One is no longer bound by logic. The passion of envy can be so great that it
can overwhelm all rational thought, and leave one vulnerable to the yetzer hara's
seduction to behave in the most irrational manner. Envy indeed removes a person
from the natural order of the world.
That is what happened with Korach. Moses understood this, and delayed the trial
until the next day (see Rashi to Numbers 16:5).
The Korach episode conveys a most important teaching. We are all vulnerable to
envy, and envy is not a difficult emotion to identify. If you feel yourself being
envious, do nothing for a while. Envy can suspend all logical thinking and make
one do things that one will regret.
If you feel envious, ventilate your feelings to a friend or write them down. Read
one of the ethical works about envy. This will help you realize that envy is a futile
and destructive feeling. Before doing anything foolish that may be a reaction to
your envy, seek the counsel of a friend or mentor. You may avoid making serious
PURSUIT OF ACCLAIM
In my writings on low self-esteem "Angels Don't Leave Footprints", "Let Us Make Man" ( Sales help fund JWR.) I pointed out a variety of maladaptive behaviors that may result from unwarranted
feelings of inferiority. One reaction is to think of oneself as superior to
others and seek honor and recognition.
I was thrilled to find a confirmation of this
in the writings of Rabbeinu Yonah, who says, ''A vain person seeks to compensate
for his feelings of lack by thinking himself superior to people whom he can
consider to be beneath him'' (Rabbeinu Yonah al HaTorah, p. 156).
Korach was misled by both feelings of envy and pursuit of acclaim, hoping to
depose Moses and replace him as leader. His championing of equality was merely
a ploy, which was recognized by the wife of Ohn ben Peleth (v. supra).
Rabbi Yechezkel Levenstein (Kovetz Inyanim) states that logical thinking will enable
a person to identify those traits that are destructive. Physiological drives are
essential for survival and preservation of the species, but traits such as pursuit of
acclaim contribute nothing to one's survival. These are actually counterproductive,
resulting in frustration and wasteful expenditure of energy. One should, therefore,
recognize them as challenges to be overcome in quest of spirituality.
Ramchal (Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto) says that if it were not for pursuit of acclaim,
a person could get along with the bare necessities of life. One is often motivated to
acquire luxuries in order not to appear inferior to others (Path of the Just, Ch. 11).
Exhausting oneself in attempt to acquire more than the necessities of life may
indeed ''remove a person from the world.''
Korach was physically removed from the world. While we may remain in the
world physically, we must be very cautious about traits that do not contribute to
survival, some of which can figuratively ''remove a person from the world.''
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Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D. is a psychiatrist and ordained rabbi. He is the founder of the Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Pittsburgh, a leading center for addiction treatment. An Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, he is a prolific author, with some 30 books to his credit, including, "Twerski on Chumash" (Bible), from which this was excerpted (Sales of this book help fund JWR).
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© 2004, Mesorah Publications, Ltd.