Even the Superrich Can’t Buy G-d

Korach was an extremely rich man who believed he could buy his way to leadership. He could buy the tribal princes; he could buy the judges; he could buy anybody in his quest to usurp rule from Moses and Aaron. And he nearly made it.

In this week’s Torah portion that bears his name, Korach used all the tools of modern politics. He used his vast wealth to win friends and dominate the elite. Then, he retained two public relations men to defame Moses and Aaron and portray himself as a man of the people. In contrast, Moses and Aaron were tarred as power-hungry.

They assembled against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, “You take too much upon yourselves, for the entire congregation are all holy, and the Lord is in their midst. So why do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?”

The name Korach can be replaced by many in today’s world — termed plutocrats. Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, Warren Buffett, George Soros would all describe themselves as self-made men, entrepreneurs, organizers who built an empire from virtually nothing. They identified a need — whether Zuckerberg’s instant communications network 20 years ago to Rockefeller’s decision to use kerosene for lamps in the 1860s.

With the exception of Bloomberg, almost all of them showed no interest in public office. Why spend $1 billion to become U.S. president for at most eight years? For that kind of money, you can control the White House and Congress for decades. Why concern yourself with dying cities when you control vast holdings the size of small countries? Who cares about police when you have a private force the size of an army? Why bother with political appointments when you have a staff that will cater to your every whim 24 hours a day? Why vote for legislation when you and your superrich allies can write the laws instead?

Korach was also a self-made man. Like the superrich throughout history, he seized an opportunity and never looked back. The Midrash says that on the morning of the departure of the Children of Israel from Egypt two men met at the Nile. Moses arrived to extricate the bones of Joseph, the viceroy of Pharaoh buried some 150 years earlier. Moses’ cousin Korach sought to find Joseph’s massive wealth.

Both were successful. Moses fulfilled a promise made to Joseph to reinter him in the Land of Israel. Once Korach found his treasure, he became the Bill Gates of the Jewish people.

For a while, Korach was content to count his money: He watched from afar the crises of the Jews while refusing to intervene. He did nothing while the Jews were tempted to worship the Golden Calf, demand an endless supply of meat and finally send the spies into Canaan, which resulted in a mobilization to return to Egypt.

Korach’s opportunity came at a low point for the Jewish people. G-d decreed that Korach’s generation would die in the desert. Now, Korach would be able to manipulate a demoralized people and blame all their woes on Moses and Aaron. With the Jews destined to remain in the desert for nearly 40 more years, public office meant a lifetime career for Korach.

The architects of Korach’s strategy were Dotan and Aviram, long critical of the leaders chosen by G-d to liberate the Jews from Egypt and bring them to the promised land. Like the best of PR men, Dotan and Aviram were masters of word and image — able to make bad look good and vice versa. Here’s one of their most quoted slings to Moses and Aaron:

Is it not enough that you have brought us out of a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the desert, that you should also exercise authority over us?

The combination of Korach’s riches with Dotan and Aviram’s campaign nearly worked. Korach bought the loyalty of 250 members of the elite, men who could persuade the Jewish people that his quest was just and that Moses and Aaron were at best obsolete and at worst corrupt. Thousands of others cheered Korach in hope for some reward.

Korach even believed that G-d was on his side. He foresaw that his progeny would include the greatest men in Jewish history, particularly Samuel, the prophet compared to Moses and Aaron. With such a bright future, Korach surely felt that no divine force would stop him. As for his defamation campaign, well, perhaps the ends do justify the means?

And that was Korach’s mistake. Yes, his children and grandchildren would be hailed as prophets. But G-d would not allow family ties to stop justice. G-d had specifically passed over Korach for office because the last thing the Jewish people needed was a power-hungry man with a pocketful of cash. In the last scene of Korach’s fame, G-d warned the Jews to move away from the false reformer.

“Dissociate yourselves from this congregation, and I will consume them in an instant.

Korach was given a chance to repent. His sons did so at the last moment and were saved. Then, Korach and his cohorts were swallowed up in the desert and vaporized in a ball of fire. His wealth followed. Thousands cried: Their promise of riches was over. Another power-hungry man and his sycophants were gone.

In Psalms 131, King David outlines the most important attributes of leadership. It is not brains or brawn. It is humility and kindness. It is a lesson for the superrich and their friends.

My heart was not raised; my eyes were not set on high.”

My heart is not proud, Lord; My eyes are not haughty.

I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have calmed and quieted myself,

I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content. Israel, put your hope in the Lord — both now and forevermore.

About the Author
Steve Rodan has been a journalist for some 40 years and worked for major media outlets in Israel, Europe and the United States. For 18 years, he directed Middle East Newsline, an online daily news service that focused on defense, security and energy. Along with Elly Sinclair, he has just released his first book: In Jewish Blood: The Zionist Alliance With Germany, 1933-1963 and available on Amazon.

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