June 30, 2005
The Greenest Grass
Parshat Korach (Numbers 16:1-18:32)
A rabbinical colleague of mine tells me that he's had extensive contact with one of the most popular and renowned entertainment celebrities of our time. This star is not only hugely famous, wealthy and successful, but has been acclaimed around the globe for his rare talent and genius. Hundreds of thousands of fans wish they could have his life; that they could be him.
In the course of their conversations, the rabbi asked this man what it is that he constantly wishes for in life. His answer: Obscurity. His dream is to fade from the limelight, and lead a simple, anonymous, man-on-the-street, white-picket-fence existence.
In this week's Torah portion, Korach, we meet a man who, by all accounts, was a very intelligent, affluent and gifted individual. A Levite by birth, he already occupied a position of prominence and prestige within the community of Israel. Yet, he rallies together a band of fellow Levites to challenge the leadership of Moses and the priesthood of Aaron.
"The entire community -- all of them -- are holy, and God is among them," Korach protests, "why do you [Moses and Aaron] exalt yourselves over the congregation of the Lord?"
How virtuous. How egalitarian. After all, every soul, bar none, is a spark of God. How then can distinctions be drawn between Jews -- whereby this one is a tribal prince, this one a Levite, this one a priest and yet another a high priest? Let us all stand as one without separation or distinction.
Righteous indignation is often nothing more than envy with a halo. Indeed, for all of his "man of the people" posturing, Korach was not nearly as unselfish and altruistic as his words might suggest. The man felt rebuffed in that Aaron, and not he, was granted the high priesthood, and could not abide this perceived snub to his own standing and stature.
In responding to Korach, Moses says: "It is too much for you, o offspring of Levi."
In other words, can you not recognize the beauty and uniqueness of the gifts you do have? You are a member of the chosen people. As a Levite, you are a keeper of the sanctuary. You are a respected dignitary. You have so much going for yourself. How could you possibly be discontent? Why must you seek the priesthood when God clearly gave that to somebody else?
Korach's begrudging spirit gave him no peace and, ultimately, led to a fatally disastrous end for him and his group.
The sages teach us: "There is no man who does not have his place."
If that's the case, the commentaries ask, why is it that there are so many people who are so unhappy with their lot? The answer is that instead of savoring their own special place, and flourishing therein, they futilely crave the place that belongs to somebody else.
The reason God created man as a single unit rather than as an entire species (as He did with the animal kingdom) is to show you that one man equals the world, says the Talmud. Every individual is unique. You were handpicked to fulfill a specific mission; a mission that only you can perform. That mission is to enhance and perfect your world. And what is "your world"? It's whatever you wake up to in the morning: Your life, your family, your community, your personality, your problems, your circumstances -- that's your world. That's the life you were put into, and that's where your purpose can be found.
We don't sit around saying "if only." "If only I had kids like those.... If only my mother wouldn't have married my father.... If only I was better-looking, more intelligent, more talented.... If only I was Donald Trump...."
It makes for nice fantasy perhaps, but a total waste of time and energy when it invades reality.
When you live with a sense of Divine purpose, you recognize that you are who you are; your life is what it is, because that's what it's meant to be. And it is within your own life that you are called upon to serve your Creator and fulfill your very distinctive mission and purpose.
Korach would have done well (as would we all) to heed the profound words of the serenity prayer. The key to living a good and happy life is to have the courage to change those things which can be changed, the serenity to accept those things which cannot be changed and the wisdom to know the difference.
When Tevye the Milkman demands of God: "Would it spoil some vast eternal plan if I were a wealthy man?" The answer is: of course not! In fact, your being a wealthy man is very much part of the vast eternal plan. Now as to the definition of wealth,
"Who is rich?" say the sages. "He who is happy with his lot."
The Chasidic master, Rabbi Zushe of Hanipoli, once said, "If I was offered a deal wherein I could trade places with the Patriarch Abraham, so that he would be Zushe and I would be Abraham, I would not take it. For although I would benefit by being Abraham, what gain would there be for the Almighty? He would still have one Abraham and one Zushe."
A person who sees the essence of life as serving the will of His Creator does not expend useless energy craving places where the grass is greener. He finds meaning, purpose, joy and fulfillment in the place where the grass is greenest of all: His own.
Rabbi Moshe D. Bryski serves as the executive director of Chabad of the Conejo and dean of the Conejo Jewish Day School.