Smaller Is Bigger

They gathered together against Moshe and against Aharon and said to them: “It is too much for you! For the entire assembly — all of them — are holy and Hashem is amidst them; why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of Hashem?” (Bamidbar 16:3)

There is a well-know story about two of the greats of Israel, the Gaon Harav Akiva Eiger and his dear friend the Chavot Daat, Harav Yaakov M’Lisa, who were traveling together in a horse-drawn carriage. The entourage that was escorting them unhooked the carriage from the horses and carried the carriage body on their shoulders; honored to do so because the two giants of the generation were the distinguished passengers. Rav Yaakov saw the crowd accompanying the carriage and slipped out of his seat to join them in carrying, saying,” I too want the merit of transporting the great Harav Akiva Eiger.”

Meanwhile, Rav Akiva exited from his side of the carriage also to take advantage and carry the giant of the generation on his shoulders. When they arrived at the synagogue where the Rabbis were to speak the crowd was amazed to find the chariot empty. They then realized how much each of the greats respected and valued the Torah knowledge of the other AND how little one thought of his own accomplishments.

Korach said to Moshe, “For the entire assembly — all of them — are holy and Hashem is amidst them; why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of Hashem?” (Bamidbar 16:3) His mistake was his assumption that to be a leader one must be haughty above the followers. That is why he said, “Why do you exalt yourselves?” Moshe Rabeinu replied by pointing out “and Aharon what is he?” — in other words saying — on the contrary, a person has to be modest and lowly to be a leader!

One may ask, “How come Moshe spoke of Aharon and didn’t mention himself?” The Torah already has stated, “And the man Moshe is the most humble of all!” Moshe and Aharon were not haughty — they were the opposite. Korach’s poor calculation brought him and his followers down to Gehinnom.

The greatness of a leader is not merely how BIG he is, rather how lowly and humble he can remain in spite of his position of power. The Gadol Hador is not the only leader in any generation; rather, every person serves in the role of leader. Some lead a congregation and others stand over a class of students. The head of a family is the leader of his relatives while the older siblings usually are in charge of the younger children. People serve as role models to others less prestigious or powerful than themselves. How a leader speaks and behaves is copied by those who look up to him. Modesty is the key to being great. Like the Gedolei Hador in our story, one who sees oneself as small is the one who is truly great!

Shabbat Shalom.