In this week’s parsha, Korach leads the first rebellion against the authority of Moshe and Aharon. The Torah (16:3) describes how Korach gathers followers and confronts Moshe and Aharon, arguing, “The entire assembly—all of them—are Holy and Hashem is among them, so why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of Hashem?!”
The meforshim vary in how to understand Korach’s challenge against Moshe. The simple reading of the text, however, indicates Korach’s argument to be a populist one: If we all are holy and have a special relationship with Hashem, Korach fundamentally argues, then we are equal—no one of us is better than the other. What, then, gives you both the right to place yourself in a leadership position over us?!
While at first glance Korach’s argument seems to have merit—as it’s true that every member of Bnei Yisrael is holy—his mistake lies in failing to understand an important distinction regarding equality within Jewish tradition.
When it comes to our relationship with Hashem and the value of our own personal mission in this world, we are all equal. Every person can develop a personal and meaningful relationship with God—and each of us has a particular purpose for which God placed us in this world. No one mission is more important than another—and if we each achieve our potential and accomplish what we are meant to, then we are all equal in the eyes of God.
At the same time, when it comes to the specific details of our position in life, we are certainly not all the same. Each person is created with different strengths and limitations and at birth receives a set of realities that impact what he can accomplish. Some are born athletic; others are born bright. Some individuals are born with characteristics and opportunities for leadership, others are simply not afforded those characteristics or opportunities. No two people are the same, and therefore their roles in the world cannot be the same, either. Nevertheless, Yahadut beautifully recognizes that no matter the circumstances given to an individual, he can connect with Hashem and accomplish great things.
It is this distinction that Korach failed to understand by claiming that each person’s inherent holiness implies equality across the board. True, every person is holy, but that doesn’t mean that they are therefore equal in other areas of life as well. The Jewish nation needs leaders—and not everyone can be that leader.
One of the most challenging areas of parenting is that of treating our kids equally. We strive to ensure that no child feels less loved than the other—and we therefore try to give them a sense of equality. I distinctly remember a relative of mine, about to give birth to her second child, declare that she was going to treat both of her children completely equally. She was determined to give the second child the same things that she gave her first—so that both would feel that they were treated the same.
However, as we gain more experience as parents, it quickly becomes clear that such logic is unrealistic and even mistaken. Every child is different—with varying personalities and needs and born under different circumstances—and therefore each must be treated and raised differently. Treating two children the same way ultimately does a disservice to both. Instead, the distinction we outlined above should be applied here as well. We must ensure that each child experiences a loving parental relationship and feels deep parental care and pride. This doesn’t mean, however, that we need to treat each child the same way under all circumstances; each situation requires its own course of action appropriate to that situation and child. This is something we must realize—and help our children understand as well.
In “Siblings Without Rivalry,” Faber and Mazlish discuss this issue and make the following insightful comment: “Children don’t need to be treated equally. They need to be treated uniquely.” Rather than focusing on everything being equal, parents should focus instead on the individual needs of each child. To give two practical examples that they share:
1) Two children receive a piece of cake and one claims that his brother received a bigger piece. Rather than arguing or getting involved in a never-ending cycle of trying to give equally, focus instead specifically on the needs of the complainant: “Oh, are you still hungry? Would you like more?”
2) A child asks a parent “who do you love most?” Rather than stressing equality by answering “I love you all the same,” instead stress uniqueness by answering “you are the only ‘you’ in the whole world. No one could ever take your place.”
Korach’s rebellion was based on a fundamental mistake regarding the concept of equality in Judaism. By suggesting that our inherent holiness means we are equal in all areas of Yahadut, Korach failed to recognize the important distinction between our relationship with Hashem and our life roles. As parents, we are sometimes tempted to make a similar mistake by trying to treat our kids equally. We must strive to realize that while each child must be made to feel cherished, that does not mean that we should treat them all in the same manner. Unique personalities and circumstances call for unique responses.
Wishing everyone a Shabbat Shalom!
Rav Yossi Goldin is a teacher and administrator who teaches in a number of seminaries and yeshivot across Israel. He currently lives in Shaalvim with his wife and family. He can be reached at [email protected]