Parashat Korach presents a collection of stories, including a notable rebellion led by Korach, Datan, Aviram, and 250 elders against Moses and Aaron. While it is important to acknowledge the destructive nature of Korach’s rebellion, there are valuable lessons we can extract from his story regarding effective leadership, especially the ability to influence others as a defining characteristic of leadership. While we must exercise caution and adhere to moral principles, understanding effective leadership can help us inspire and bring positive change to our communities.
Effective leadership is not solely determined by the moral character of individuals, but by their ability to influence others. It is important to distinguish between the moral implications of leadership and the pursuit of ideals, whether they pertain to politics, family, truth, or love. Ethical effective leadership entails staying within moral boundaries while successfully reaching people and rallying them around a common cause.
Korach, despite witnessing numerous miracles and battles won under Moses’ leadership, managed to garner power and influence within the Israelite community. In the midst of the desert, where manna fell daily from heaven and Moses had encountered the divine, Korach stood firm in his beliefs. Though we should not admire Korach’s character, his ability to tap into the community’s discontent and rally them around his cause demonstrates the power of effective leadership and is worthy of our attention.
Charismatic leadership is a complex and multifaceted approach to mobilizing communities. While caution must be exercised to prevent manipulation and harm, charismatic leadership has the potential to foster a sense of pride, belonging, and magnetism within a community. If utilized for the benefit of the community and held accountable by its members, charismatic leadership can bring about significant positive change.
A personal story: Concerned about how my style of rabbinic leadership might affect a community I hoped to serve, a community that embraced a culture of radical egalitarianism, I sought guidance from a mentor. My mentor reassured me that being true to oneself is not inherently harmful, as long as leaders hold themselves accountable and prioritize the community’s well-being. Leadership that serves a greater purpose can bring immense benefits if approached with mindfulness and accountability.
Leadership is not a straightforward endeavor, primarily because it involves the power to influence others. Just as medical professionals adhere to the Hippocratic Oath, leaders must strive to “do no harm” and exercise their influence responsibly. However, leaders must also acknowledge that they possess a fraction of God’s infinite power (as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel put it) and should embrace their role as servants of the divine. This demands bravery, effort, and the willingness to show up fully, giving their all for the betterment of others.
Leadership is a complex and demanding responsibility that requires an understanding of the power of influence. Parashat Korach offers lessons in effective leadership, despite the destructive nature of Korach’s rebellion. By tapping into the discontent of the community and effectively rallying people, leaders can inspire and bring about positive change. However, leaders must exercise caution, stay within ethical boundaries, and be accountable to the communities they serve. By embracing the power of leadership and utilizing it for the benefit of others, we can contribute to a better tomorrow.