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The Lessons of a Flowery Branch

06/25/2020 04:49:55 PM

Jun25

This weeks’ Torah portion is full of rebellion and revolt, and offers some lessons for us on the power of great and bad leadership. Korach and his followers challenged Moses’s political leadership and the religious leadership of his brother Aaron. There were three stages of God’s response, and each phase had an immediate effect and left a permanent sign. The first two stages established that the rebels were wrong. One group of rebels was swallowed by the earth, and according to tradition, their faint cries could still be heard at the smoking hole many years later. Another group of 250 brought their firepans to offer incense in the tabernacle. They were consumed by fire, and the firepans were made into a covering for the altar so that all who saw the altar would remember the story.

However, merely pushing aside the rebels was not sufficient. God also offered a trial to show that the current leadership was, in fact, well-chosen. Representatives of each tribe placed a staff in the tent of meeting. The next day, the other staves remained as sticks, but Aaron’s staff had sprouted almond blossoms and buds. On a simple level, this miracle showed that Aaron had rightful authority. Great leadership is not about having a tool to hit our enemies with - it is about encouraging blossoming and growth.

Our midrashic tradition offers a deeper insight. According to legend, some of the blossoms fell off, and produced almonds. Others remained as blossoms for the time being, only to bear fruit later. This reminds us that the catastrophes caused by bad leadership may not be recognized right away. It may take time before all realize that they have sown the seeds for future disaster. Conversely, effective leadership is that which not only provides sustenance or results in the current time, but is also forward-thinking about what is to come, and brings about continued fruitfulness going forward.

Sun, May 9 2021 27 Iyyar 5781