The Korah Within

By Ilana Grinblat

Published June 09, 2010.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Last Friday, my son’s class put on a show to celebrate their completion of kindergarten. The kids sang songs recalling all they had learned in school this year – complete with choreography and props. The evening was just wonderful! My husband and I and both sets of grandparents watched eagerly, kvelling with pride at Jeremy’s enthusiasm. Afterwards of course, we all told Jeremy how proud we were of him and what a great job he had done. One of the relatives told Jeremy, “I think you did the best in your class.”

The comment was well-intentioned, but I wondered: why introduce competition into a situation where it’s not inherently present? Why isn’t it enough to have done a great job? Why do we feel the need to be “the best”? That same night, we also celebrated another accomplishment. I had just received an acceptance from a publisher for a book I’ve written on spirituality and parenthood. My father opened a bottle of champagne and made a toast, saying “May this be the first book of many.” His toast expressed his pride in me. But again I wondered: why isn’t one book enough to celebrate, without the expectation of many to come? Why is it so hard to enjoy an accomplishment without thinking of what’s next?

This week’s Torah portion speaks to these questions. In the parasha, a Levite named Korah instigates a rebellion against the leadership of Aaron and Moses. Korah challenged Moses and Aaron’s authority by asserting the holiness of the congregation and asking: “Why do you raise yourselves above God’s congregation?”

Moses realized that Korah’s real problem was his inability to be content with his responsibilities as a Levite which fueled his impulse to challenge Moses and Aaron for more. Seeing through Korah’s question, Moses responded: “Is it not enough for you that God has set you apart from the community of Israel to bring you close to God to serve in God’s tabernacle and to stand before the congregation to serve them?”

After an elaborate series of confrontations, Korah and his followers are killed (when the earth swallows them up), but later in Numbers we read that “the sons of Korah didn’t die” (Numbers 26:11). Korah’s discontent exists in each generation — indeed perhaps in each one of us. Pirkei Avot (The Chapters of the Ancestors) contains Ben Zoma’s famous dictum: “Who is wealthy? The one who is content with his portion.” He makes it sounds so simple, but finding contentment is one the hardest spiritual challenge in life.

Indeed, Moses’ question haunts me. Why is it so difficult to be content with one’s portion and not always be looking for more? For example, I always wanted two children — a boy and a girl. Now that I have them both, I wonder should I have more? Will I regret it later if I don’t have more children? Whatever I accomplish either professionally or personally, I’m always wondering what’s next. The Korah within is ever eager to load more expectations on me and to compare myself unfavorably with others.

Friday night, as I tucked my son into bed, I told him again how much we enjoyed the celebration. “You did a great job and all your friends did wonderfully too. I am so proud of you and your whole class.” He smiled and gave me a hug. The evening reminded me to stay vigilant against the Korahs within and without.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Yeshiva University's lawyer wanted to know why the dozens of former schoolboys now suing over a sexual abuse cover-up didn't sue decades ago. Read the judge's striking response here.
  • It’s over. The tyranny of the straight-haired, button nosed, tan-skinned girl has ended. Jewesses rejoice!
  • It's really, really, really hard to get kicked out of Hebrew school these days.
  • "If Netanyahu re-opens the settlement floodgates, he will recklessly bolster the argument of Hamas that the only language Israel understands is violence."
  • Would an ultra-Orthodox leader do a better job of running the Met Council?
  • So, who won the war — Israel or Hamas?
  • 300 Holocaust survivors spoke out against Israel. Did they play right into Hitler's hands?
  • Ari Folman's new movie 'The Congress' is a brilliant spectacle, an exhilarating visual extravaganza and a slapdash thought experiment. It's also unlike anything Forward critic Ezra Glinter has ever seen. http://jd.fo/d4unE
  • The eggplant is beloved in Israel. So why do Americans keep giving it a bad rap? With this new recipe, Vered Guttman sets out to defend the honor of her favorite vegetable.
  • “KlezKamp has always been a crazy quilt of gay and straight, religious and nonreligious, Jewish and gentile.” Why is the klezmer festival shutting down now?
  • “You can plagiarize the Bible, can’t you?” Jill Sobule says when asked how she went about writing the lyrics for a new 'Yentl' adaptation. “A couple of the songs I completely stole." Share this with the theater-lovers in your life!
  • Will Americans who served in the Israeli army during the Gaza operation face war crimes charges when they get back home?
  • Talk about a fashion faux pas. What was Zara thinking with the concentration camp look?
  • “The Black community was resistant to the Jewish community coming into the neighborhood — at first.” Watch this video about how a group of gardeners is rebuilding trust between African-Americans and Jews in Detroit.
  • "I am a Jewish woman married to a non-Jewish man who was raised Catholic, but now considers himself a “common-law Jew.” We are raising our two young children as Jews. My husband's parents are still semi-practicing Catholics. When we go over to either of their homes, they bow their heads, often hold hands, and say grace before meals. This is an especially awkward time for me, as I'm uncomfortable participating in a non-Jewish religious ritual, but don't want his family to think I'm ungrateful. It's becoming especially vexing to me now that my oldest son is 7. What's the best way to handle this situation?" http://jd.fo/b4ucX What would you do?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.