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Parshas Korach – Who Are Our Influencers?

 

By: Chaya Sora Jungreis-Gertzulin

 

We live in the age of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok. A world where through social media we are exposed to the power of influencers, ordinary people who build up “followers”, potentially reaching countless listeners. Their enthusiastic audience follows their lead from the choice of clothes to wear, products to purchase and destinations to travel. Their followers

become “theirs”.

 

What is alarming about some influencers is how they try to affect their audiences’ beliefs and values, their politics and their principles. Their words and opinions may be unsubstantiated, yet they find their way into peoples’ hearts and minds, insidiously making an impact.

 

Influencers are not new to society. This week’s parshah tells us the story of Korach, an “influencer” in his time.

 

“Vayikach Korach – and Korach took”

(Bamidbar 16:1)

 

Rashi explains that Korach had the power of speech, and with his persuasive words was able to “take” people with him. He was charismatic, able to captivate and sway two hundred and fifty people, amongst them members of the Sanhedrin, elders of the official Jewish courts. They joined his cause and became his followers.

 

Korach was a first cousin to Moshe and Aaron. He was a prominent figure, possessing much wealth and prestige, a member of the tribe of Levi. But for Korach, that wasn’t enough. He was totally consumed with a craving for power, and feelings of jealousy towards Moshe and Aaron. He questioned their leadership… why them and not he? Korach was power-hungry, and pined for a position of glory.

 

Jealousy is real. It’s not for naught that we recite every day in the Amidah, “May it be Your will HaShem, that others not be jealous of me, nor shall I be jealous of others…”

 

Pirkei Avos, Ethics of the Fathers teaches, “Jealousy, lust and a desire for honor remove one from this world” (Ethics 4:28). Strong emotions that can bring a person to his downfall. Feelings that can cause one to think irrationally and make poor, even harmful decisions. Emotions that are so powerful and all consuming, “removing him from this world”, preventing one from functioning normally with others. An all-encompassing state of mind that can even make one physically ill, creating unnecessary stress and anxiety, even bringing on an untimely death, literally being removed from this world.

 

Korach created machlokes. Machlokes, from word l’chalek – to divide. To sow discord and division among people. How agonizing it is for parents to see their children not getting along, to witness the poison of jealousy and envy create sibling rivalry. Imagine the pain that HaShem, our Father in Heaven, feels upon seeing brother against brother, division amongst His beloved children.

 

Korach’s influence spread beyond his own tribe of Levi, to the neighboring tribe of Reuven. Here too, we turn to Ethics for a teaching. “Nittai of Arbel, says: Distance yourself from a bad neighbor” (Ethics 1:8). The Tiferes Yisroel expounds on these words, and tells us “to stay away from an angry, arrogant or jealous neighbor, for one is bound to be hurt by such company”. Earlier on in Bamidbar, in detailing the location of the tents of the various tribes, Rashi comments “Oy l’rashah, oy lish’chay’noh – Woe to the wicked one, and woe to his neighbor”. That is why, says Rashi, Dosson and Aviram of the tribe of Reuven along with 250 other men were stricken with Korach, for they were drawn into the dispute by their arrogant and misguided neighbor, Korach.

 

“Distance yourself from a bad neighbor.”

 

Rabbi Moshe Grylak writes that a neighbor doesn’t necessarily mean the house next door or the apartment down the hall. Our neighbors encompass the environment we surround ourselves with, our milieu.

 

In today’s world, “neighbors” includes technology and social media, forces which are inundating us with values and beliefs that are very often negative and destructive. Unwittingly, the electronic world has become our influencers. The message we need to internalize is to be wary of who our influencers are, for like Korach, their posts can be convincing, and at times damaging as well.

 

Influencers often know when to prey upon a vulnerable audience. Korach’s rebellion was not attempted when Moshe guided the Jewish people in crossing the sea, led them through the desert and brought them to Mount Sinai. It was only after the meraglim, the scouts created negativity amongst the nation, that Korach saw an opening. The moment was right, enabling him to take advantage of their despair and depressed state to make divisive inroads and create discord.

 

In just the past few days, we have all witnessed how “political influencers” have rallied a willing population to openly defy our Supreme Court, because they were not content with a ruling that they disagreed with. Whatever one’s opinion on any particular matter may be, instead of exercising their responsibility to preach tolerance and acceptance of our democratic institutions, they have used the power of their “bully pulpit” – including language not becoming one who regards himself or herself a “leader” – to advocate disobedience and defiance. And like Korach, they have found a willing audience to impact with their negative messaging.

 

Korach’s life came to a tragic end. Just as he opened his mouth, and persuaded others to join him, so too did the earth “open its mouth” creating a giant sinkhole, swallowing him and his followers, together with their possessions.

 

We are living with message overload, sometimes with the lines blurred between what is real and what is fake. We have to be extra vigilant to not blindly accept all that we hear, see and read. To not fall into the trap of peer pressure, becoming part of “everyone is doing it.” To know that we are part of Am Yisroel, and strive to live our lives according to the higher values of the Torah. To appreciate that we have an opportunity and an obligation to be influencers by living a moral, honest and holy life. A life where we are followers of HaShem, the greatest Infuencer.

 

Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov!

Chaya Sora

 

Chaya Sora can be reached at sgertzulin@gmail.com

 

By: Chaya Sora Jungreis-Gertzulin

 

We live in the age of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and TikTok. A world where through social media we are exposed to the power of influencers, ordinary people who build up “followers”, potentially reaching countless listeners. Their enthusiastic audience follows their lead from the choice of clothes to wear, products to purchase and destinations to travel. Their followers

become “theirs”.

 

What is alarming about some influencers is how they try to affect their audiences’ beliefs and values, their politics and their principles. Their words and opinions may be unsubstantiated, yet they find their way into peoples’ hearts and minds, insidiously making an impact.

 

Influencers are not new to society. This week’s parshah tells us the story of Korach, an “influencer” in his time.

 

“Vayikach Korach – and Korach took”

(Bamidbar 16:1)

 

Rashi explains that Korach had the power of speech, and with his persuasive words was able to “take” people with him. He was charismatic, able to captivate and sway two hundred and fifty people, amongst them members of the Sanhedrin, elders of the official Jewish courts. They joined his cause and became his followers.

 

Korach was a first cousin to Moshe and Aaron. He was a prominent figure, possessing much wealth and prestige, a member of the tribe of Levi. But for Korach, that wasn’t enough. He was totally consumed with a craving for power, and feelings of jealousy towards Moshe and Aaron. He questioned their leadership… why them and not he? Korach was power-hungry, and pined for a position of glory.

 

Jealousy is real. It’s not for naught that we recite every day in the Amidah, “May it be Your will HaShem, that others not be jealous of me, nor shall I be jealous of others…”

 

Pirkei Avos, Ethics of the Fathers teaches, “Jealousy, lust and a desire for honor remove one from this world” (Ethics 4:28). Strong emotions that can bring a person to his downfall. Feelings that can cause one to think irrationally and make poor, even harmful decisions. Emotions that are so powerful and all consuming, “removing him from this world”, preventing one from functioning normally with others. An all-encompassing state of mind that can even make one physically ill, creating unnecessary stress and anxiety, even bringing on an untimely death, literally being removed from this world.

 

Korach created machlokes. Machlokes, from word l’chalek – to divide. To sow discord and division among people. How agonizing it is for parents to see their children not getting along, to witness the poison of jealousy and envy create sibling rivalry. Imagine the pain that HaShem, our Father in Heaven, feels upon seeing brother against brother, division amongst His beloved children.

 

Korach’s influence spread beyond his own tribe of Levi, to the neighboring tribe of Reuven. Here too, we turn to Ethics for a teaching. “Nittai of Arbel, says: Distance yourself from a bad neighbor” (Ethics 1:8). The Tiferes Yisroel expounds on these words, and tells us “to stay away from an angry, arrogant or jealous neighbor, for one is bound to be hurt by such company”. Earlier on in Bamidbar, in detailing the location of the tents of the various tribes, Rashi comments “Oy l’rashah, oy lish’chay’noh – Woe to the wicked one, and woe to his neighbor”. That is why, says Rashi, Dosson and Aviram of the tribe of Reuven along with 250 other men were stricken with Korach, for they were drawn into the dispute by their arrogant and misguided neighbor, Korach.

 

“Distance yourself from a bad neighbor.”

 

Rabbi Moshe Grylak writes that a neighbor doesn’t necessarily mean the house next door or the apartment down the hall. Our neighbors encompass the environment we surround ourselves with, our milieu.

 

In today’s world, “neighbors” includes technology and social media, forces which are inundating us with values and beliefs that are very often negative and destructive. Unwittingly, the electronic world has become our influencers. The message we need to internalize is to be wary of who our influencers are, for like Korach, their posts can be convincing, and at times damaging as well.

 

Influencers often know when to prey upon a vulnerable audience. Korach’s rebellion was not attempted when Moshe guided the Jewish people in crossing the sea, led them through the desert and brought them to Mount Sinai. It was only after the meraglim, the scouts created negativity amongst the nation, that Korach saw an opening. The moment was right, enabling him to take advantage of their despair and depressed state to make divisive inroads and create discord.

 

In just the past few days, we have all witnessed how “political influencers” have rallied a willing population to openly defy our Supreme Court, because they were not content with a ruling that they disagreed with. Whatever one’s opinion on any particular matter may be, instead of exercising their responsibility to preach tolerance and acceptance of our democratic institutions, they have used the power of their “bully pulpit” – including language not becoming one who regards himself or herself a “leader” – to advocate disobedience and defiance. And like Korach, they have found a willing audience to impact with their negative messaging.

 

Korach’s life came to a tragic end. Just as he opened his mouth, and persuaded others to join him, so too did the earth “open its mouth” creating a giant sinkhole, swallowing him and his followers, together with their possessions.

 

We are living with message overload, sometimes with the lines blurred between what is real and what is fake. We have to be extra vigilant to not blindly accept all that we hear, see and read. To not fall into the trap of peer pressure, becoming part of “everyone is doing it.” To know that we are part of Am Yisroel, and strive to live our lives according to the higher values of the Torah. To appreciate that we have an opportunity and an obligation to be influencers by living a moral, honest and holy life. A life where we are followers of HaShem, the greatest Infuencer.

 

Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov!

Chaya Sora

 

Chaya Sora can be reached at sgertzulin@gmail.com

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