Korach: Leadership, Accountability and Responsibility

Rabbi Chaim Kanterovich, OTS Senior International Educator and Director of the OMEK program

At one point or other in our lives, we all feel victimized. We feel taken advantage of, wronged by another person, or perhaps that life is simply not fair. The victim state of mind is extremely potent, and to some it becomes a perpetual condition. The victim always believes that he or she is morally right, is not responsible or accountable for their actions or the consequences, and is entitled to sympathy from everyone else.

The victim mentality is maintained by the individual because ultimately, they are afraid of taking responsibility for their own actions and desires, and they fear failure. Therefore, they blame others or even institutions for their lack of achievement.

If this is true on the individual level, then it is even more so on the national level – as is evident from Korach’s party and their claim:

“They gathered together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, “It is too great for you! For the entire Assembly-all of them-are holy and Hashem is amongst them; why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of Hashem?” (Bamidbar 16:3)

Based on these verses, the great Chassidic master Rav Kalonymus Kalman Shapira (known as the Piaseczno Rebbe and later as the Rav of the Warsaw Ghetto) writes in the year 1930 what I view as a chilling indictment of the pre-war Jewish community.

The greatness of the leadership, Korach says, is completely interdependent on the congregation’s level of holiness. Meaning that if the leaders are holy, then the people shall be so too. Holiness is from the top down. However, if we are rebelling and sinning in doing so, the responsibility lies with you Moshe, the leadership. It is a sign that you are not leading as you should! (Derech Hamelech pg. 221)

Not so, argues the Piaseczno Rebbe. To throw responsibility of actions onto the leaders, as if to say that the people have no ability to think for themselves or lack independent decision making skills, is a fundamental error. Korach sinned and he did so all by himself. He and his men must take the consequences and bear responsibility of their actions.

As the saying goes, freedom of speech or action does not mean freedom from consequences. Blaming leadership for the behavior of a person or persons is toxic to achieving holiness. 

Yet in his classic “Kol Dodi Dofek,” Rav Soloveitchik writes about shared responsibility in describing what he calls the “covenant of fate,” and prolifically states: “The identification of the activities of the individual with the deeds of the nation is a fundamental truth of the history of our people” (Pg. 60)

The complex relationship of leaders and followers and who influences whom shall continue throughout history. Yet in this instance at least, Korach fails to take responsibility and in doing so, sets a very dangerous trend. A trend which is seen as not only contagious, but which can be caught by the entirety of the Jewish people.

The accusation towards Moshe that “our failure is your fault” is seen as so severe that Korach and his men shall be remembered throughout time as the cause of strife and dissent.

It is only upon entrance into Eretz Yisrael and the manifestation of the Jewish people as a nation in our homeland, attaching ourselves to the holiness of Eretz Yisrael and in doing so to Hashem, that our shared destiny begins to become a reality. The first steps to be taken are apparent from Korach himself. Accountability and responsibility for our national identity in addition to our own individual one.


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