Friday, June 15, 2018

A Trap of Wealth

If I were a rich man...The most important men in town will come to fawn on me...When you’re rich they think you really know...

The now classic words from the Broadway show Fiddler on the Roof speak a sad truth -- people often convolute having wealth with having wisdom or deserving of leadership status. In many ways, this was the case of Korach, a cousin of Aaron, Miriam and Moses, who led a rebellion against their leadership.

The Aggadah and Midrash (extra biblical texts containing further narrative, part of the oral tradition) add some critical information about Korach that help explain why the sages state “Which [dispute] was not for the sake of Heaven? The dispute of Korach” (Pirkei Avot/Ethics of the Fathers 5:17).

Korach was used to being in charge and respected. He was not your average Israelite or even an average Levi. The Talmud maintains that Korach was a fabulously wealthy individual and records that “The keys to Korach’s treasury were a load for 300 white mules. They even declared that the verse in Ecclesiastes 5:12, ‘Riches hoarded by their owner, to his misfortune,’ refers to the wealth of Korach” (Talmud Pesachim 119a). Furthermore, according to the Midrash, Korach acquired his wealth as “overseer of Pharaoh’s house, and the keys to [Pharaoh’s] treasuries were in his hands” (Numbers Rabbah 18:15).

One of the many underlying themes in Jewish life is to remember that all of one’s blessings come from God. And yet, the more successful one is, the more easily one believes that success is solely a product of one’s own efforts, which is an attitude that leads a person to seek out honor. The Midrash states about Korach: “Two men of wealth arose in the world - Korach of Israel and Haman of the nations of the world, both of whom perished from the world. Why? Because their gifts were not from the Holy One Blessed is He, rather, He allowed them to grab them for themselves” (Numbers Rabbah 12:7).

A wealthy person may be wise, or a wealthy person may be a lucky fool blessed with good fortune. It is prudent to always judge leaders not by their apparent success, but by their words, actions and wisdom.

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