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Shabbat Parashat Korach 5772

Parashat Hashavuah: The Time and the Reason to Change Leadership

Harav Yosef Carmel

The question of initiating a monarchy, which arose at the time of Shmuel, raises two sets of issues when we read this week’s parasha and haftara.

One issue has to do with the question of strong leadership in the first place. Korach and his followers claimed: “You have too much, for the entire congregation is holy, and Hashem is amongst them, and why should you raise yourselves (hitnasut) over the congregation of Hashem?” (Bamidbar 16:3). From Moshe’s response, we can see that it wasn’t that the protestors rejected Moshe’s leadership in general but that they were looking for a bigger portion of the leadership pie for themselves (see ibid. 10). However, when Datan and Aviram entered the picture, we see that they objected to Moshe’s dominion (serara) over the people, in general.

Let us move on to the next issue: the request of Shmuel’s generation for a king. The people introduced the request with a claim to Shmuel that he was old and that his sons did not follow their father’s path (Shmuel I, 8:5). They then asked for a king “to judge us like all the nations.” It is interesting that the period of close to 400 years from the entry of Bnei Yisrael into Eretz Yisrael until the time of Shmuel was known as the Period of the Shoftim (usually translated, judges). There are many proofs that the term in this context refers more to leaders than to judges. Throughout Sefer Shoftim, we find no cases of judgments, just signs of leadership, prominent among them being waging war. What, then, is the big difference between the shoftim and subsequent kings? The answer is the matter of inheritance of the leadership. The only judge who was followed by his son was Gidon, and his son actually assumed leadership by force.

The term serara, which Datan and Aviram referred to, is used in other contexts regarding kingship and other forms of power (see Rambam, Melachim 1:4, regarding who is allowed to adopt such positions.) According to our mentor, Harav Shaul Yisraeli (Amud Hay’mini 12:5), there is a direct correlation between serara and the idea of inheritance of the position. Datan and Aviram, descendants of Yaakov’s firstborn, Reuven, claimed that they should have inherited leadership, as Reuven had also deserved. They warned Moshe that he should not try to have his leadership transferred to his sons.

Shmuel was the first of the Shoftim who contemplated passing over his leadership to his sons, which the people rejected. The people said to Shmuel that if he was thinking in the direction of inherited leadership, then apparently the time had come for the related system of monarchy. Employing inheritance in leadership has plusses and minuses. If there is a lack of fear of Heaven and accountability, the system can be grossly abused. The proper time for monarchy came when David came on the scene, as he is the one who taught the crucial ability to seek repentance. Otherwise, monarchy should not be used.

We pray that the idea of readiness to seek repentance will be strengthened and, along with it, the whole idea of proper leadership will flourish.

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