Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Korach
To dedicate this lesson

Not Gaining from the Disgrace of Another

Moshe, in our parasha, and Shmuel, in the haftara, set out important standards for the behavior of public leaders


Rabbi Yossef Carmel

Sivan 5767
Moshe, in our parasha, and Shmuel, in the haftara, set out important standards for the behavior of public leaders. A basic point that is stressed is keeping one’s hand out of the public purse. Moshe declared: "I did not take the donkey of one of them" (Bamidbar 16:15). Similarly, Shmuel asked rhetorically: "Whose ox did I take and whose donkey did I take? Whom did I cheat? Whom did I coerce? From whose hand did I take a bribe and cover my eyes from him, and I will return these to you" (Shmuel I, 12:3). This shows clear honesty.

What needs investigation is the continuation of Moshe’s words: "I did not do evil to one of them (achad mehem)." What injustice was Moshe ruling out that we might have suspected? The Pesikta explains that it just comes to dispute Korach and his entourage’s claim that Moshe and his brother were seeking to rule over the rest of the nation. Along the lines of the Pesikta , the Chizkuni explains these words that even to those who had wronged Moshe and logically deserved punishment or harsh treatment in response, like Datan and Aviram, Moshe did not do evil.

Midrash Rabba has an interesting explanation. Moshe was saying: "I did not obligate the exempt or credit he who was obligated." What is particularly interesting about this explanation is that it assumes correctly that it is a disservice for a litigant who deserves to lose a case to end up winning the case improperly.

The Ramban comments as follows. Although Moshe was considered like a king, he did not force people to work for him, escorting his chariot or otherwise, nor did he favor anyone in judgment or disgrace anyone. The Ramban, who knew the kings of Spain, understood that the standard practice of kings was to cause hardship to others in an effort to elevate their status or place fear in their subjects’ hearts. Moshe and Shmuel informed the people that they avoided such behavior.

Let us end off with the novel idea of the Meshech Chuchma. It is unfortunately a common practice in the world of politics, where people vie for positions of leadership, that candidates besmirch each other and try to gain by means of the disgrace of their rivals. In past times also, it was apparently common that one would burrow into his rival’s past and try to uncover unsightly information. These same candidates would act humble in relation to the populace to try to show their modest side. The Meshech Chuchma says that it is not a big deal to act humble in front of those in whose eyes one is trying to find favor. Rather, one should lower his head in regard to achad mehem, in other words, before the prominent among the nation who are rivals. This is something that Moshe succeeded in, and it is a sign of the true humility that caused Hashem to refer to him as the most humble person on the face of the earth (Bamidbar 12:3).

How important it is to learn even a little from Moshe Rabbeinu’s example!
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