And Korach, the son of Yitzhor, the son of K’hos, the son of Levi, took …
Rashi explains that the key reason for Korach’s rebellion against Moshe was that he was envious of another relative who received honor while he didn’t.
Envy is destructive. It prevents a person from enjoying what he himself has. When you focus on the success of another person and feel pain because of it, you are likely to do things that are highly counterproductive. Envy is one of the three things that totally destroy a person (Pirke Avos 4:28). The downfall of Korach was because of this trait. Not only did he not get what he wanted but he lost everything he already had.
I mentioned in Part One of this two-part series, that I have many good reasons for being a student and disciple of Yeshua (Jesus) within a Messianic Jewish context. And while the status I have accepted upon myself may make me appear as a “second-class citizen” within the ekkelsia of Messiah and the Kingdom of Heaven, in fact, who I am and where I stand has been defined for me by God. Even if I sometimes chafe at that position based on my personality flaws, that does not change the will of God for my life. Any reaction that leads me to envy of the Jewish people for their distinctiveness and unique role in the plan of the Almighty will also lead to my “destruction” (though I probably won’t be incinerated or fall into a pit).
The blessings of God in my life are great. Far be it from me to cause God to take them all away:
While they were listening to these things, Jesus went on to tell a parable, because He was near Jerusalem, and they supposed that the kingdom of God was going to appear immediately. So He said:
“A nobleman went to a distant country to receive a kingdom for himself, and then return. And he called ten of his slaves, and gave them ten minas and said to them, ‘Do business with this until I come back.’ But his citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, ‘We do not want this man to reign over us.’ When he returned, after receiving the kingdom, he ordered that these slaves, to whom he had given the money, be called to him so that he might know what business they had done. The first appeared, saying, ‘Master, your mina has made ten minas more.’ And he said to him, ‘Well done, good slave, because you have been faithful in a very little thing, you are to be in authority over ten cities.’ The second came, saying, ‘Your mina, master, has made five minas.’ And he said to him also, ‘And you are to be over five cities.’ Another came, saying, ‘Master, here is your mina, which I kept put away in a handkerchief; for I was afraid of you, because you are an exacting man; you take up what you did not lay down and reap what you did not sow.’ He said to him, ‘By your own words I will judge you, you worthless slave. Did you know that I am an exacting man, taking up what I did not lay down and reaping what I did not sow? Then why did you not put my money in the bank, and having come, I would have collected it with interest?’ Then he said to the bystanders, ‘Take the mina away from him and give it to the one who has the ten minas.’ And they said to him, ‘Master, he has ten minas already.’ I tell you that to everyone who has, more shall be given, but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. But these enemies of mine, who did not want me to reign over them, bring them here and slay them in my presence.”
–Luke 19:11-27 (NASB)
Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev (Kdushas Levi) commented that a truly righteous person’s main goal in all that he does is to give pleasure to the Almighty. To such a person there is no difference if he or another righteous person causes that pleasure.
But if a person’s main focus is on his personal reward, he wants to do everything himself. Therefore, our verse states that Korach took. He wanted to take for himself and therefore felt resentment about the attainment of others.
-R. Pliskin, pp 332-33
We not only see the dire consequences of envy leading a person to self-aggrandizement, but that such a person has lost their focus on what is to be the true motivation of a servant of God, to please God rather than their own human desires.
If God has assigned a specific role, function, and purpose for the Jewish people, then it is foolish for we non-Jewish disciples of the Master to seek their place and their role. In having those desires and particularly in acting them out, we are rebelling against God and seeking our own personal pleasure. Not only that, we are actually denying ourselves the pleasure of fulfilling the role God assigned to us, one that really would be pleasing to God.
And they gathered against Moshe and Aharon. And they said to them, “You have taken too much power for yourselves. The entire congregation is Holy, and the Almighty is in their midst. Why do you take leadership over the congregation of the Almighty?”
Remember that the Sages say that when a person finds fault with others he frequently is just mentioning his own faults which he can wrongly assume someone else has. Be very careful not to accept negative information about others as the truth without careful examination.
-R. Pliskin, pg 334
It is not uncommon for people to sometimes project their own worse character traits onto another person and then blame that other person for what they don’t like about themselves. The irony is that this attribution can happen below the level of consciousness. That is, the person may truly not be aware of their negative character trait but attribute it to someone they don’t like or with whom they disagree. It’s as if they are using their adversary as a mirror to reflect their own behavioral and emotional flaws.
So, if I am to take R. Pliskin’s advice and apply it to every time I’m criticized for my stance as a Messianic Gentile, one way to interpret their criticism (though it might not be true in every case) is that the critic may be assigning me traits or motivations they themselves possess. I guess that’s why it’s a good idea for me to always be aware of what I’m doing and why I’m doing it, so I don’t start believing things about who I am and my behavior that are not true. I must also be careful in my assessment of others to make sure I’m not guilty of projecting my own flaws upon them.
That has always been the normative view of Judaism, enunciated in the rabbinic principle that “one who performs a deed because it is commanded is deemed more praiseworthy than one who does it voluntarily” (Bavli Kiddushin 31a). Actions that come instinctively fail to stretch us. Growth results from reaching beyond ourselves.
If one desires or even covets obligation to the full yoke of Torah as a Gentile, where is the “stretch”? How are we participating in growth if we not only are doing what we want, but performing mitzvot that do not belong to us? However, if we recognize the legal structure that defines Gentile inclusion in Messianic Judaism (Acts 15) and obey those commandments, we are not only pleasing God, we are participating in our own spiritual growth and elevation (see the ancient Jewish/Christian document The Didache and D. Thomas Lancaster’s latest book Elementary Principles for more).
Going back to what R. Pliskin said about pleasing God by allowing another righteous person to perform mitzvot that are commanded of them, to encourage Jewish believers to perform mitzvot such as davening with a minyan or observing Shabbos is what fulfills our function as righteous Gentiles in Messiah. For only Jewish Torah observance will bring Messiah’s return nearer, therefore, by encouraging Jewish Torah fidelity within the Messianic community, we are helping others to be righteous, participating in our own growth as disciples, and blessing the heart of God.
At least that’s how I see myself as a Messianic Gentile (in an ideal state, and I can say, that I’m hardly an ideal person).
The arrogant person thinks, “If I honor this person, what will people think of me? Will it raise or lower my stature in the eyes of others?” But the humble person makes no calculations of this kind. He treats each person according to the Torah ideals of how people should be treated. Ultimately this only elevates a person’s true stature regardless of how other people might react.
-R. Pliskin, pg 336
I’ve met very few truly arrogant people, that is people who really think they’re the “greatest thing since the invention of sliced bread.” Most people who appear arrogant and self-assured are actually the opposite. They feel threatened and insecure when others experience success or if put in a situation where they must give deference to another. While I can hardly call myself truly humble, if I strive in that direction as a goal, then acknowledging Jewish “specialness” in covenant relationship with God does not diminish me or reduce my stature in the eyes of others. If someone else believes I am being reduced by recognizing Jewish covenant status, then that is their projection and perhaps their own personal fear.
Imagine how Gentile Christians will react when, upon Messiah’s return, they realize to their chagrin that the Church is not the center of the Kingdom of God, it is Israel. This may be at the core of why many Christians have difficulty with Messianic Judaism and the continuation of Jewish Torah observance within the Jesus-believing Jewish community. It illustrates how, over the long centuries of Church history, Christianity has reversed causality in placing itself above and before God’s covenant people, Israel.
Also your brethren the tribe of Levi, the tribe of your father, shall you draw near with you, and they shall be joined to you and minister to you. You and your sons with you shall be before the Tent of the Testimony. They shall safeguard your charge and the charge of the entire tent…
After the death of Korach and the rebels, the Levites especially among the Children of Israel were demoralized and terrified. They felt their own worth and stature was lower than ever after the failed rebellion. Yet God was kind and reminded the Levites that they had a special status and duty to Hashem above the other Israelites and that they also were of the tribe of Levi, just as were Aaron and his sons, the Kohenim.
That’s what I think is missing every time someone believes that I’ve allowed myself to be put at the back of the bus in the Messianic community; the lack of realization that Messianic Gentiles have a highly important role that cannot be fulfilled by the Jewish people. Messianic Jews and Gentiles are interdependent and the Messianic Jewish ekklesia cannot achieve wholeness unless we join together in our complementary roles. We need each other.
So the next time I find myself missing donning a tallit in prayer or being present at the lighting of the Shabbos candles, I must remind myself of everything I’ve just written. Because the minute I give in to the attitude of I want to be like them” or worse, “I deserve to be like them,” not only have I insulted God and betrayed the Jewish people in Messiah, I’ve lost my way and forgotten my God-assigned purpose in life. A righteous person serves God, not his own desires. May God grant me humility and peace. May He grant this to all of us who call ourselves Messianic Gentiles.
Final note: Last year, I also wrote a two-part series on Korach and what this rebellion tells us about who we are today.