One of the most tragic characters in the Torah is Moshe – his entire life was defined by conflict. While conflict is part of being a statesman fighting for the freedom and establishment of his people; he repeatedly found himself at odds with his own people countless times, with his family at others; and even with God at certain moments.
It’s interesting to see how Moshe responded each time differently.
When the people complained that they were fed up with the manna and want to eat proper meat, Moshe didn’t fight them; he was utterly overwhelmed and told God he wished he was dead.
When God told him to appoint 70 elders, Moshe was relieved and glad to share the burden. When the two men left out of the new administration, Eldad and Medad, began a prophecy predicting Moshe’s downfall, not only was Moshe not offended, he wished prophecy on all the Jewish People.
R’ Jonathan Sacks notes that the fact that Moshe was no longer alone restored his spirit and confidence entirely because a good leader is not afraid of his students.
The role of a teacher and leader is to raise and empower the influence of those around him. One of Judaism’s most remarkable ideas is that teachers are heroes too – Moshe, R’ Akiva, Hillel, and Ezra.
Leadership isn’t about titles, status, or power; it’s about taking responsibility for those we care about and putting in the work to make their lives better, helping them and challenging them to do better and be better.
R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch writes that the highest achievement for a teacher is to make himself superfluous. When the student outgrows the teacher, it’s the highest achievement, not a failure or threat.
Seventy elders and Eldad and Medad were not a threat, but Korach and his failed coup were, and on that occasion, Moshe responded forcefully.
The episode’s opening gives the game away – Korach attempted a power grab – וַיִּקַּח קֹרַח. R’ Simcha Bunim of Peshischa teaches that you cannot seize power benevolently; you can only cultivate it through public service.
R’ Tzvi Meir Silberberg charges us to be excellent wherever we are. You can make the most of it, or make more of it, but excellence isn’t transferrable. A rebranding doesn’t change the fundamentals.
R’ Shai Held notes that Moshe is only miserable when people won’t accept his help and guidance; the moment he has his seventy elders and Eldad and Medad, he is calm and at peace once again.
Right after this episode, Moshe faces another conflict; his siblings start complaining about the woman he chose to marry. After fighting everyone, his own family turns on him. And immediately after that, the Torah describes Moshe as the most humble man who ever lived.
R’ Shai Held notes that this follows from the way people treated Moshe. When everyone turned on him, and his family betrayed him, he wouldn’t turn on them and, in fact, prayed to help them.
R’ Jonathan Sacks teaches that pain causes humility, but humility can sanctify pain when channeled to public service. Moshe was the most humble man because he could love and care for people who let him down. After aiding the debacle of the formation of the Golden Calf, Ahron defended his failure by blaming the people’s wickedness, but not Moshe. Moshe stood up to them, but critically, stood up for them.
Because it was never about him; he only ever cared about helping them.