We listen to their words and can?t help but shake our heads in wonder. Was Egypt ?a land flowing with milk and honey?? It is possible that ancient Egypt was a land blessed with relative abundance since the Nile watered its fields. But that didn?t change the fact that the Jews? state in Egypt was, as we recall, absolutely terrible! Did Dotan and Aviram miss the slavery, the humiliation, the flagellations? Did they miss the Jewish babies being tossed into the river directly into the mouths of crocodiles? Was this the land that Dotan and Aviram were dreaming of?
We can see that this pair of charlatans was taking advantage of the time that had passed since the exodus from Egypt to deceive the nation and reframe the past with an optimism that completely revised history. Or, we can suppose that Datan and Aviram were not lying, and that they actually considered Egypt to be a blessed land. Maybe Datan and Aviram cooperated with the Egyptian rulers against their Jewish brothers, as is suggested by an early commentator, Rabbi Tuvia ben Eliezer (Northern Greece, 11th century) in his commentary ?Lekach Tov?. It would be no wonder, then, that these traitors, who lost their standing and their assets since Moses appeared to liberate the enslaved nation, are accurately expressing what they truly feel. Perhaps they feel that Moses is gouging out their eyes.
Moses? reaction to Datan and Aviram?s incitement does not speak directly to them. He turns to G-d in a short prayer in which he proclaims his integrity and actually positions himself as the polar opposite of Datan and Aviram:
“?I have not taken a donkey from a single one of them, and I have not harmed a single one of them.”
If we search for the polar opposite of a traitor willing to cooperate with his nation?s enemy for money, we would find a leader who is loyal to his nation, incorruptible, who works tirelessly and devotedly and without compensation. The significance of ?I have not taken a donkey from a single one of them? is far-reaching. Moses is declaring that ? in today?s terms ? he has not used public funds for himself. Moses was a volunteer. It was not always easy for him. We have already seen Moses despair from the nation?s complaints, but he recovers and returns to carry the heavy burden of leadership with no compensation.
When we read this story, we can clearly distinguish the ?bad guys? from the ?good guys?. We see money-hungry traitors versus a devoted and incorruptible leader. But when the story was happening, things were not this clear. The biblical story describes good people who followed Korach, Datan, and Aviram.
So how are we to know, in situations we encounter in our lives, how to make the right choices? Parashat Korach teaches us the ultimate test: loyalty and incorruptibility versus treachery and greed. That?s how we?ll know how to choose.