In this week’s Parsha, Moshe’s cousin Korach leads what appears to be the first direct rebellion against the authority of Moshe and Aharon. The Torah (16:3) describes how Korach gathers hundreds of followers and confronts the leaders with the following argument- “the entire assembly- all of them-are Holy and Hashem is among them, so why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of Hashem?!” Rashi explains that Korach was bothered by the fact that Moshe had appointed himself as the leader of Klal Yisrael and his brother as Kohen Gadol- and, in his desire for more power, Korach challenges Moshe’s authority outright.
The meforshim vary in how to understand Korach’s challenge against Moshe. The simple reading of the text, however, indicates that Korach’s argument is a populist one- ‘If all of Am Yisrael are holy, and we all have a personal relationship with God, then what makes you and Aharon better than the rest of us?’ If we all have a special relationship with HaShem, Korach fundamentally argues, then we are equal- no one of us is better than the other. What, then, gives you and Aharon the right to tell the rest of us what to do? No one person is entitled to place himself in a leadership position over others.
While at first glance Korach’s argument seems to have merit- after all, it is true that every member of Bnei Yisrael is holy- his mistake lies in failing to understand a very important distinction regarding equality within Jewish tradition.
When it comes to our relationship with Hashem, and the value of our own personal mission in this world, we are all equal. Every person has the potential to develop a personal, deep, and meaningful relationship with G-d- and each of us has a particular purpose for which G-d has placed us in this world. No one mission or calling is necessarily more important than another- and if we each achieve our full potential and accomplish that we are meant to, then we are all equal in the eyes of G-d.
At the same time, when it comes to the specific details of a person’s position in life, then we are certainly not the same. Each person is created with different strengths, talents, and limitations, and is given at birth a certain set of realities that shape him and what he can accomplish. Some are born athletic; others are born bright. Some individuals are born with both the characteristics and the opportunities for leadership- others are simply not afforded those characteristics or those opportunities. That is the nature of our existence in this world. No two people are exactly the same, and therefore the roles that each will play in the world cannot be the same, either. Nevertheless, yahadut beautifully recognizes that, no matter the circumstances given to an individual, that person has the ability and opportunity to connect with Hashem and accomplish great things in the world.
It is this distinction that Korach failed to understand. By claiming that each person’s inherent holiness implies equality across the board, he misled the masses. True, every person is holy, but that does not mean that they are therefore equal in other areas of life as well. The Jewish nation needs leaders- and by definition, not everyone can be that leader.
One of the most challenging areas of parenting is that of treating our kids equally. We want to make sure that no child feels loved less than the other- and we therefore feel the need to give them a sense of equality. I distinctly remember a relative of mine, when she was about to give birth to her second child, declare that she was going to treat both of her children completely equally. She was determined to give the second child exactly the same things that she gave her first child- so that both children would feel that they were treated exactly the same.
However, as we gain more experience at parents, it quickly becomes clear how unrealistic and mistaken such logic is. Every child in the family is different- with different personalities and needs and often born under different circumstances and realities- and therefore each child must be treated and raised differently. Treating two children the same way ultimately does a disservice to both. Instead, the distinction we outlined above should be applied here as well. We must make sure that each child experiences a loving parental relationship and comes to feel deep and profound parental care and pride. This does not mean, however, that we should treat each child in the same way under all circumstances- each situation and the child involved, requires its own course of action appropriate to that situation and child. This is something we must realize- and help our children understand as well.
In Siblings Without Rivalry, Faber and Mazlish deal with this issue in great detail and they make the following poignant point- “Children don’t need to be treated equally. They need to be treated uniquely.” Rather than focusing on everything being equal, parents should focus instead on the individual needs of each child.. To give two practical examples that they share:
- If two children are given a piece of cake and one claims that his brother received a bigger piece, rather than arguing with him or getting involved in the never-ending cycle of making sure that each child receives exactly the same portion, the parent should focus on the needs of the complainant- “oh, are you still hungry? Would you like more?”
- If a child asks a parent “who do love more, me or Chani”- rather than stressing equality by answering “I love you the same”, the parent should stress uniqueness by answering “you are the only ‘you’ in the whole world. No one could ever take your place.”
Korach’s rebellion was based on a fundamental mistake regarding the concept of equality in Judaism. By suggesting that our inherent holiness means that we are equal in all areas of Yahadut, Korach failed to recognize the important distinction between our relationship with Hashem and our life roles. As parents, we are sometimes tempted to make a similar mistake by trying to treat our kids equally in all areas. We must strive to realize that, while each child must be made to feel loved and cherished, that does not mean that we should treat them all in the same manner. Unique personalities and circumstances call for unique responses.
Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom!