KORACH: Anatomy of a Moral Psychotic

A trenchant observation by renowned author and psychiatrist Rabbi Professor Abraham Twerski may help us to better comprehend the most vicious of all the uprisings in the midbar, the revolt of Korach, Datan and Aviram that pervades most of this week’s sidra.   He draws attention to a phenomenon of which some of us may have been a victim – or maybe even an unwitting perpetrator – namely that of a beneficiary of an act of special kindness estranging himself from his benefactor.   Twerski explains it in psychological terms: quite simply, the beneficiary cannot cope with the enormity of the debt of gratitude he owes his benefactor and so he takes the “easy way out” – he distances himself.  A contemporary rabbi is reputed to have once wryly observed: “I can’t think why that man won’t have anything to do with me.  I’ve never done him any favours!”

The sidra’s opening words (Num. 16:1) vayyikakh Korach “and Korach took” (used here intransitively) suddenly takes on startling new meaning.  We know from the Midrash that thanks to Moses’ early intervention, the Levites were exempted from the rigours of the enslavement (Shemot Raba 5:16)  As a result of this dispensation, Korach was free to ‘apply for’ and obtain (also according to the Midrash) the post of Pharaoh’s finance minister (yes even in those early days world leaders appreciated Jewish business acumen!) and thereby amass his own legendary wealth.and prestige. Korach had a lot for which to thank Moses! But having “taken” advantage of his first-cousin’s position in the royal court,  Korach proceeds to “take” it out on his protector.

The appreciation owed Moses by Datan was even greater.  Datan (see Me’am Lo’ez on Ex. 2:11) was the man whose life Moses saved in Egypt from the brutal blows of a murderous taskmaster. Almost unbelievably, it is this same Datan (Shemot Raba 1:31) who, together with his brother Aviram, subsequently informs against Moses to Pharaoh. Such were the perfidious lengths to which Datan was prepared to go in order to avoid coming to terms with his immeasurable debt of gratitude to Moses.

Now, confederate with Korach in an alliance of convenience, Datan and Aviram assume a behaviour which I can only describe as morally psychotic.  Again psychologists and psychiatrists would have a field day analysing this phenomenon. Turning the celebrated Biblical description of Erets Yisrael on its head, the pernicious pair malevolently declare “Isn’t it enough that you brought us out of a land flowing with milk and honey (meaning Egypt) in order to kill us off in the desert –  you also seek to totally dominate us into the bargain!

Note the perversity of their strategy. The “fact” that Egypt, not Israel, is the land of milk and honey and the “fact” that Moses has no endgame beyond the desert (180-degree revisionism) are presented as a given.  Now the “new” factor is that Moses is a manipulative control-freak.

How does one deal with such inverted and perverted argument?  Moses provides us with the model for how to respond –  disengagement.  Do not reply!  Where a person is arguing irrationally due to a perverse antipathy borne of a chronic inability to deal with a debt of gratitude, normal dialogue is simply impossible.

Today’s Datans and Avirams are the self-loathers among our brethren who dare to liken Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian Arabs to Nazi treatment of Jews. Some now go further, Datan-style, and treat this as a given!  For those deluded souls for whom Pharaoh’s Egypt can be a Jewish land of milk and honey, Jews can just as easily be Nazis. No amount of rational argument will convince them otherwise. Perhaps some Jew did them a massive favour some time somewhere!

Moses pointedly does not respond to Datan and Aviram’s barbs. Instead uniquely this defender-supreme of Israel denounces them.. We can do no better than to learn from our greatest leader. While normally we should not eschew dialogue with those with whom we vehemently disagree, that pertains only when there is a rational basis to the disagreement.  Dealing with moral psychotics – provided their barbs remain strictly verbal – must be left to the psychiatrists and psycho-analysts.

About the Author
Rabbi Chaim Ingram is the author of five books on Judaism. He is a senior tutor for the Sydney Beth Din and the non-resident rabbi of the Adelaide Hebrew Congregation

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