A person views the success of his equals as a sign of his own personal failure
“And Korach, the son of Yitzhar, the son of Levi took, and Dassan and Aviram, the sons of Aliav and On ben Peles, the sons of Reuven.” (Bamidbar 16:1)
he Midrash tells us that Korach was a very wise man and was considered to be equal to Aharon. How then did he descend to such a spiritual nadir that he initiated a dispute with Hashem and denied the basic principles of faith?
One of the most potent forces in the human psyche is the inability to tolerate another person’s rise to greatness. A person views the success of his equals as an expression of his own personal failure. This often propels him to do anything, even harm himself, to bring about the downfall of his peer. (Rabbi Dovid Hofsdedter, Doresh Dovid)
I was in my third trimester of what was proving to be a difficult pregnancy. Baruch Hashem, things were progressing nicely, but I decided under the circumstances to consult with a top specialist. Dr. Samson was the head of the obstetrics department in a leading Yerushalayim hospital and was considered the best in his field. He was professional, brilliant, and experienced. He was also a pompous, swell-headed type with an ego the size of his bank account.
“Um, can I fast on Yom Kippur?” I asked the question quietly, knowing I was going to be treated to an exclusive Dr. Samson special. He rose right to the bait.
“Can you fast on Yom Kippur? Absolutely not!” He banged his cuff-linked hand on his desk, causing his Montblanc pen to jump. “Are you out of your mind?” He leaned forward to make sure his words had the proper effect on me. “You tell all your rabbis that I, Dr. Elliot Samson, said you may not fast on Yom Kippur. Period. All the rabbis know me and I know all of them and I am telling you what to do.”
I’m not going to get into which rabbis I asked and what I did on Yom Kippur. But I did idly wonder if Dr. Samson had a family and if they were appropriately appreciative of what a gift he was to humanity.
We see this same concept when Kayin murdered his brother Hevel. Kayin couldn’t tolerate that his younger brother’s korban was accepted while his was not. Kayin’s murderous act wasn’t motivated by any expected gain, but by sheer envy.
This same human tendency was the motivation behind the heinous transgression of Zimri ben Salu, who committed a public act of immorality with a Midianite princess because of his envy for Moshe Rabbbeinu.
Neither Korach, Kayin, nor Zimri would have committed such wicked acts had they possessed even a small modicum of humility. Aharon and Moshe, on the other hand, personified humility.
Dr, Samson’s condescending tone was still on my mind as I remembered a very different incident that had occurred at the beginning of this pregnancy.
My husband and I were in Bnei Brak for Shabbos and decided to go to Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlita to ask the Rav’s opinion about a sonogram. (This was way back, when you could still just pop in to Rav Chaim.)
We came right after hadlakas neiros and the house was still; Rav Chaim was sitting by his shtender learning. The Rebbetzin welcomed me warmly, showering me with brachos. Her presence was so soothing, but I was still nervous to hear the psak we would be given.
This concept is seen as well in Megillas Rus. Orpah initially accompanied Naomi and Rus, planning to follow Naomi back to her homeland and her people. Yet after she parted from them, that same night Orpah sank to the depths of depravity and committed terrible acts of immorality.
Perhaps Orpah’s fall resulted from her powerful feelings of envy that Rus had managed to surmount the obstacles and become a member of Hashem’s nation while she herself had failed to pass the test.
My husband quietly asked the Rav our sh’eilah. There was silence for a few seconds and then Rav Chaim asked him to clarify a detail. A few more seconds of quiet and then Rav Chaim said, “I think you should ask my brother-in-law, Rav Yitzchak Zilberstein. He knows more about these medical procedures than I do.”
It’s years later and that baby has grown to be an adorable, energetic child. I don’t often dwell on the confusion and questions of those nine months, but when I do, I’m awed at the contrast between someone who thinks he’s great — and someone who truly is.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 698)
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