In last week's Torah portion the Jewish people are deceived by a group of spies sent to scout out the Land of Israel. The spies convince the rest of the nation that the land is too strong to be conquered, thereby causing frantic cries to return to Egypt and a mass rebellion against Moshe. God punishes the spies and decrees that the Jews will wander in the Paran desert for another 40 years.
In this week's Torah portion we read about more problems, this time a mini-rebellion led by Moshe's very own cousin, a fellow named Korach. Once again Moshe finds himself under attack for hogging too much of the power and taking too strong of a leadership role over the Jewish people.
The Midrash fills us in on some of the behind-the-scenes action of the story of Korach. Korach was a greedy man, one of the elders of the Tribe of Levi, who was able to accrue much wealth and vast treasures even while the Jews were in Egypt. Now, in the desert, he was hoping to snag some more of the limelight by landing one of the well respected spiritual positions such as High Priest or Head of Tribe. But Moshe had assigned these positions to others and Korach was not a happy camper.
The question we must ask, though, is the following: If Korach was so mad about these spiritual appointments that had happened months prior, why did he only speak up now? Shouldn't he have said something at the time?
As we read through the Torah portions, though, the answer becomes self-evident. When Korach was initially insulted, the Jewish people were on a high. They were inaugurating the Mishkan. They were basking in the kindness and forgiveness that God had showed them after the sin of the Golden calf. They were thrilled just to be alive, let alone being invited to participate in the celebration of welcoming the Divine Presence back into the encampment. At that time, if Korach had brought in his negativity, who would have listened?
But now, the Jews are devastated. They are embarrassed at their behavior. They are demoralized by the news that they will not enter the Holy Land. They are scared that their children might make similar mistakes and bring more problems to the table. At that low point, Korach knew that the Jewish people were vulnerable enough for his voice to be heard.
The Torah is once again teaching us a lesson that couldn't be more relevant to our lives. How often do we harbor negative feelings towards a coworker, employer, family member or friend but don't share them with others because we don't want to be perceived as judgmental or a gossiper? But when that person is the subject of conversation and we see that other people are down on this individual, we use the opportunity to add fuel to the fire by sharing our grievances. And how often do we allow ourselves to be on the receiving end of negativity about others only because deep down we, ourselves, are harboring our own negativity?
Evil speech comes in droves. When someone opens up a can of worms, things can very quickly spiral out of control. We must make sure that our contributions to such conversations change the energy of the room and set things back in order, never adding more fuel to the fire.