|When Mayor Bloomberg’s mother, Charlotte Rubens Bloomberg, died earlier this week, we read how little her son’s immense wealth and fame changed her personality and values. She was happy to remain in her modest house in Medford, MA. When he sent limousines to pick her up, she reimbursed him. She was proud of him, but shunned the perks that came with being mother to a star.
Mrs. Bloomberg’s humility in spite of great family wealth came to mind this week while studying Parshat Korah. Moshe is the subject of intense criticism yet again, this time from those who wonder why he gets all the glory and then refuse to come when summoned to a public confrontation. Moshe is clearly insulted by this snub, as he says to God (Numbers 16:15), “Pay no regard to their oblation. I have not taken the ass of any one of them, nor have I wronged any one of them.” On the surface, Moshe is insisting that he never pulled rank, that he never confiscated anyone’s property to use as a proverbial “company car.”
The Talmud records that Rabbi Yohanan infers from these words that Moshe was a wealthy man. Does this mean that he drew no salary as “mayor” of the People Israel? No, because why then would his respect for people’s property be a source of pride? Rather, in spite of the fact that Moshe did make a nice living as leader of the Israelites, he didn’t let his wealth go to his head. As JTS’ Chancellor Emeritus Ismar Schorsch once wrote, “His financial independence rendered him immune to corruption, He was not in public service to amass a private fortune.”
Rabbi Yohanan goes on to say that God’s spirit of leadership only falls on people with certain characteristics: physical strength, wealth, wisdom and humility. The latter quality makes most sense, since two weeks ago, we read that Moshe was the most humble man ever. So consider this question: why does Rabbi Yohanan think that a leader need the other traits as well?
On Shabbat morning in shul, we will continue the conversation. See you there!