Korach Leadership: Taker or Giver?
This week’s Dvar Torah is taken from Pitchei ha-Levavot (Heart-Openings): Torah Study Through a Middot Lens with Rabbi Pam Wax.
This week's parashah, Korach, begins with the words "Korach took / vayikach Korach."
א וַיִּקַּח קֹרַח בֶּן יִצְהָר בֶּן קְהָת בֶּן לֵוִי וְדָתָן וַאֲבִירָם בְּנֵי אֱלִיאָב וְאוֹן בֶּן פֶּלֶת בְּנֵי רְאוּבֵן
1 Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took
Since the verb is not followed by a direct object, the commentators wonder what it is he took.
Furthermore, Korach did not take alone -- Datan and Abiram are subjects in that sentence, as well; yet the verb וַיִּקַּח is in the singular…
As Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer writes, "Why is the verb took, referring to what Korach, Datan, and Abiram all did, written in the singular and not in the plural? Because each and every one of them was in this battle only for himself."
In other words, Korach and his cohorts were selfish. Other commentaries similarly ascribe an individualistic, rather than a communalistic, perspective to Korach's rebellion.
As we look further at the portion, we will notice that the words "give" and "take" appear numerous times.
It seems that giving and taking is the theme of the entire portion, in many different forms.
The root for the verb "to take," (lakach) appears 12 times in the parashah, while the root for the verb "to give," (natan) appears 18 times.
Additionally, the word for gifts, matanot, from that same root, appears another 4 times, and the words trumah and mincha -- other words for offerings and gifts - also appear several times each.
While some of the verses about giving and taking may seem mundane (in chapter 16, for instance, they refer to the taking of firepans and the giving of fire into them), the stakes are soon raised. In 17:12, Aaron takes the firepan, gives incense into it, and thereby makes expiation for the people: "He stood between the dead and the living until the plague was checked" (17:13).
This act of selfless giving is rewarded... Aaron and his sons are given the duty of overseeing the sacred donations as well as the elevation offerings (18:11) as a due for all time, as well as the best of the new oil, wine and grain (18:12). In 18:19, Aaron and his sons are given "all the sacred gifts that the Israelites set aside" for God. Further on in the chapter, the Levites are given all the tithes in Israel "in return for the services that they perform."
This Torah portion is asking us, I believe, to look at our own balance between giving and taking. The word for take and the word for give appear in the very same verse 7 times (see 16:17, 18, 17:11, 12, 18:6, 26, 28) as if begging us to find the proper balance between the two...
The parashah is ultimately about leadership. It's about leaders, like Aaron, who give, and potential leaders, like Korach, who take.
As Rabbi Shai Held says, this parashah "invites us to explore what it means to be a leader - what it means, in other words, to be given the gift of giving."
Rather than feeling encumbered by responsibility, Aaron and the priests are being asked to understand the priesthood as a "gift I have given you," according to Rashi.
As Rabbi Held says, "From a theological perspective, to be summoned to serve is an immense gift..."
Where each of us is on the spectrum of generosity is a theme that Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler writes about in his well-known Mussar essay on giving and taking:
There is a type of person who takes and lets people take from him...His taking arises from self-love; he wants only to take and would much prefer not to give at all. If anything is taken from him, this is only because he is unable to prevent it.
In contrast is the giver...a person who gives and receives. He is the giver, whose giving flows from the source of pure goodness in his heart, and whose receiving immediately fills his heart with gratitude - in payment for whatever he receives. 
Our Torah portion this week invites us to view Korach as a taker.
His counterpart in this parashah is Aaron, who receives from the Divine Giver in order to be a giver to others…
Spiritual Practices from Korach:
- Consider your expectations about giving and receiving. Are you able to give without an expectation of getting anything back in return? This kind of giving often derives from a place of gratitude and appreciation. Is that the case for you?
- There are many ways to practice generosity. Most important is connecting with an intention to give and to give freely with no strings. Try to do three generous acts this week anonymously, disengaging from ego as best as possible.
- God gives and God takes, blessed be the Name of God" (Job 1:21) is a passage often used at funeral services. Sit with hands out, balancing "God gives" with "God takes." Can you ultimately assert "blessed be the Name of God"?
- If you are in a leadership role, reflect this week on the gifts of this responsibility and understand your role as Giver.
- Reflect on Psalms 145:16, "You open your hand and satisfy the desire of all living things." If you know Shefa Gold's melody for it, you may wish to use that as a chant this week, as her English words reflect that interplay between God's generosity and our response to it: "You open Your hand, I open my heart to this abundance..."
 The verb "take" appears in Numbers 16:1,6,17,18; 17:4, 11, 12, 17, 24; 18:6, 26, 28, and the verb "give" appears in Numbers 16:7,17, 18; 17:11, 12, 21; 18:6, 7, 8 (2x), 11, 12 (2x), 19, 21, 24, 26, and 28. Additionally, the noun for gifts, matanot, from that same root, appears in verses 18:6, 7, 11, and 29.
 Rabbi Eliyahu Dessler, Strive for Truth, v. 1, "The Discourse on Lovingkindness: Giving and Taking," p. 150.