Steve Rodan

The Man Who Had Everything

Korach the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi took [himself to one side] along with Datan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, descendants of Reuben. They confronted Moses together with two hundred and fifty men from the children of Israel, chieftains of the congregation, representatives of the assembly, men of repute. [Numbers 16:1-2]

The story of Korach is that of a man who could not be satisfied. He had more money than anybody could count and yet complained that he was not respected by his peers, particularly his cousins Moses and Aaron.

Like many of the superrich, Korach obtained his riches illicitly. In the hours before the Israelites left Egypt, Moses went to the Nile River to collect the bones of Joseph. There, the prophet saw Korah diving into the river to find the vast treasure of Joseph. Both were successful and Korach became the richest man in the world.

“Rabbi Chiya Bar Abba said in the name of Ula: ‘The one who benefits from his labor is greater than somebody who fears heaven.'” [Midrash Tehilim 128]

But after a while, even the gold and silver start to get boring. Korach wanted more: He wanted power. He could buy it. He started a movement that recruited the elite — the tribal princes, the Sanhedrin, the celebrities — and he suddenly turned into a reformer. With his two image consultants Datan and Aviram, Korach accused Moses and Aaron of usurping power. He was particularly vitriolic toward the unassuming Aaron. How dare he become the High Priest? That’s my job!

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?” [Numbers 16:3]

The dominant trait in Korach was anger. Formally, he wanted to be the leader of a tribal family — perhaps the equivalent in rank to that of an inspector-general in the steppes of czarist Russia. In this week’s Torah portion that bears his name, Korach jumps from demand to demand, accusation to accusation. He is rich, but he is also jealous, bitter, resentful and ready to destroy the Jewish people for the sake of his ego.

Psychologists have seen a link between the superrich and their anger. A century ago, there was a little boy in Czechoslovakia named Avraham Leib, who wore sidelocks and a caftan and studied with the Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum. One day as a teenager and as the Germans were taking over his country, Avraham Leib ditched his name, his clothes and his faith. He escaped to Britain and after changing his name three times, settled on Robert Maxwell, the perfect identity for a new gentile. He denied he was Jewish, married a Protestant who bore him nine children. The richer Avraham Leib became the more he terrorized his family, colleagues and underlings.

Years after he died, Maxwell’s wife Elisabeth understood that her husband had become a monster because he was rootless. He spent hundreds of millions of British pounds on needless and overpriced assets because he wanted to compete with an Australian media tycoon.

“…his religion could have helped him overcome some of his worst flaws of character.” [“A Mind of My Own: My Life with Robert Maxwell. Elisabeth Maxwell]

Unlike the mild-mannered Elisabeth, Korach’s wife would nag her husband. “Your cousins are humiliating you! Why aren’t you as tall as Moses? Why didn’t you make the best-dressed list this year? Why can’t I have a mink like your sister? Why can’t you qualify for the Desert Classic?

But thanks to Datan and Aviram, Korach had it all figured out. He would buy the elite and anybody else who could help. He would make promises to everybody: The first-borns would reclaim the priesthood from Aaron; the Israelites would no longer have to walk to the Land of Canaan. Everybody would have the job and respect he deserved.

Did Korach forget about G-d? Here is where his arrogance stood head and shoulders above the rest. He foresaw that he would beget Samuel the Prophet, compared to Moses and Aaron. Was G-d going to punish him and deprive the Jews of one of the greatest leaders in history?

Maxwell, who called himself “Bob the Max,” fashioned his own guarantee. He was helping several intelligence services, including MI6, who had financed his early ventures, and the Mossad. He owned one of the biggest media empires in the West. He might be robbing Paul to pay Peter, but would anybody call him out on this?

Of course, G-d always has the last word. Maxwell, his intelligence connections notwithstanding, found himself at the brink of prosecution for stealing. He owed some $1 billion, and his money had run out. His thousands of powerful friends, including Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan and the Rothschilds, weren’t going to bail him out.

In November 1990, Maxwell boarded his yacht, and near the Canary Islands he disappeared. Days later, his body was found floating in the Atlantic Ocean. Some believed he had slipped into the water; others thought he had been pushed, and others speculated suicide. The eldest son of Mehel and Chanca Hoch left his family penniless, and his sons spent years trying to prove that they hadn’t been involved in their father’s embezzlement.

Korach, too, lost nearly everything. G-d opened the earth and swallowed up all of Korach’s riches and homes. His wife and followers were also swept away. His three sons, however, repented literally at the last moment. As the sons watched their parents, friends and hangers-on die in fire and brimstone they sang praises to G-d.

The earth beneath them opened its mouth and swallowed them and their houses, and all the men who were with Korah and all the property. [Numbers 16:22]

Korach, however, proved to be right, Samuel came into the world hundreds of years later and set the stage for the kingdom of David. But Korach would never see any Yiddishe nachas. With the end of Korach and his henchmen, the catastrophic division in the nation was healed. And peace returned to the Israelite camp.

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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