The Gift of Individuality

Friday, 15 June, 2018 - 1:45 pm

K.jpgThe Gift of Individuality 

Korach, a prominent member of the tribe of Levi and a cousin of Moses and Aaron, led a rebellion against Moses.

He instigated others and together they claimed that the Jewish people were all holy and therefore there was no need for Moses and Aaron to lead the people, as the Torah tells us:

They assembled against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, "You take too much upon yourselves, for the entire congregation are all holy, and the Lord is in their midst. So why do you raise yourselves above the Lord's assembly?"[1]  

The rebellion had a tragic ending. G-d intervened, punished Korach and his camp, and reiterated that G-d himself was the one who chose Moses and Aaron as leaders.

Perhaps the part of the story which is most difficult to understand is, not why Korach rebelled or why he was punished so severely, but rather, what was wrong with his claim? Korach put forth a convincing argument; all Jews are holy. The entire Jewish nation heard G-d speak to them at Sinai. All Jews have a soul that is part of G-d. So why are there differences between people? Korach argued that if indeed we all have the same source, if we are all part of the same G-d, then why is the priesthood reserved for only a small group of Jews? Why can’t all Jews be equal?

Rashi quotes the Midrash which refers to Korach as an astute, wise person (as the Midrash asks: “But what did Korah, who was astute, see to commit this folly?”). The wise person has the ability to see not just the reality as it presents itself but also the source and energy of the phenomenon. Thus, when Korach looked at the Jewish people he saw them as they were within their source above, complete oneness with no distinctions between them.     

Yet Korach was wrong. His desire to blur the differences between them, his claim that all Jews are equally holy and therefore there is no need for a leader, is misguided and dangerous. We live in a world of limitations, definitions and distinctions. This world cannot be a vessel to receive the full potency of Divine unity. In this world, the Divine unity is revealed  when the multiplicity of creation joins together to express unity. Divine unity is expressed, not by eradicating the differences between people but rather by each individual celebrating their own individuality, recognizing that specifically because he or she is unique, different and distinct from the billions of human beings living on the planet, he or she is indispensable to G-d. Only when each individual expresses their own unique perspective and talents, contributing a critical, vital  detail to the overall purpose of creation, is a true and lasting unity achieved.

At the conclusion of the story of Korach’s rebellion the Torah tells us that Moses collected one staff from each of the twelve tribes of Israel, the staff of the tribe of Levi was inscribed with Aaron’s name. Miraculously Aaron’s staff blossomed and produced almonds, which was a sign that G-d chose Aaron as the high priest. As the Torah[2] describes:

Moses spoke to the children of Israel, and all their chieftains gave him a staff for each chieftain according to their fathers' houses, [a total of] twelve staffs, and Aaron's staff was amidst their staffs.

Moses placed the staffs before the Lord in the Tent of the Testimony.

And on the following day Moses came to the Tent of Testimony, and behold, Aaron's staff for the house of Levi had blossomed! It gave forth blossoms, sprouted buds, and produced ripe almonds.

When the Staff of Aaron blossomed, the story continues:

Moses took out all the staffs from before the Lord, to the children of Israel; they saw and they took, each man his staff.

The Torah emphasizes that, after Aaron’s staff blossomed, the leader of each tribe took his own staff back. This captures the purpose of the story. You may not be a Kohen, you may not have the gifts that someone else has, yet you must know that you do have your own staff, your own path, your own mission, your own gifts. Moses teaches each of us, that after our staff is placed next to Aaron’s staff, after we are inspired by Aaron’s leadership, we must each take our own staff and pursue that which we alone can achieve.


This Shabbat, the third of Tammuz, is the twenty fourth Yohrtzeit of the Rebbe. The Rebbe saw the unique beauty within every person. The Rebbe inspired each person he met to express the Divine soul that is within them, by illuminating their surroundings with the light of Torah and Mitzvot. May we each continue to live the Rebbe’s legacy until we merit the coming of Moshiach, speedily in our days.[3]


[1] Numbers 16:13. 

[2] Ibid. 17:21-24 

[3] Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos Korch vol. 18 sicha 3, and Parshas Korach 5749.


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