Have you ever seen a five-year-old stamp her foot and declare, “No! I will not”?
Whether it is parents in a family, political heads of a country, executive officers in a business enterprise or captains of ships like the Bounty, challenges to leadership come with the territory. Part of effective parenting is to help your children understand that you hear their challenges and may even sympathize with aspects of their mini-rebellions and then to restore calmness and order. Similarly, even statesmen like Winston Churchill engaged in saving their countries have to divert energy to deflect political assaults meant to unseat them. Likewise, business professionals who have risen to success are accustomed to boardroom battles during which they are baselessly charged with every imaginable offense. As Captain Bligh discovered, sometimes one has no alternative but to split the enterprise and lead the loyalists to survival. Experienced leaders expect these kinds of challenges and respond to them calmly and decisively.
It is thus no surprise at all that the Israelites rebelled against Moses. They did so frequently. Consider this particular occasion:
And Korach…took upon himself to rise up against Moses, together with two hundred and fifty Israelites…They ganged up against Moses and Aaron
and said to them, “You have gone too far…”
What is surprising is that in the very next verse Moses reacts with such evident agony.
Moses heard and fell on his face.
As he did in most of his confrontations with the people, Moses could merely have responded, as indeed he eventually does in verse 5.
What is verse 4 doing there? In other words, what exactly did Moses hear and why did it make him throw himself onto the ground in despair?
Happily for us, King David answered this question in one of the chapters of Psalms. Referring to precisely this incident, King David explained:
They beamed zealous jealousy at Moses in the camp, and of Aaron, the holy one of the Lord.
The Hebrew word I have translated as ‘zealous jealousy’ is KiNAh. Its usage is rather particular. For instance, when a man suspects his wife of infidelity, the feeling of zealous jealousy he feels is known in Hebrew as KiNAh. In fact, in the relevant verse it appears no fewer than four times.
And a fit of zealous jealousy [KiNAh] comes over him and he is zealously jealous [KiNAh] about his wife who has defiled herself; or if zealous jealousy [KiNAh] comes over one and he is zealously jealous [KiNAh] about his wife although she has not defiled herself.
Amazingly, we now know why Moses didn’t merely respond with calm words to Korach and his mutineers. Ancient Jewish wisdom explains that Korach and his gang accused Moses of seducing other men’s wives. Moses was accustomed to the people challenging his leadership but this preposterous accusation simply took his breath away. This is why when he heard this aspect of the mutiny, he fell on his face. Only after gathering himself was he able to respond to them.
As we well know from our own times, prominent men are quickly brought down by charges of inappropriate behavior or conversation with or about women.
Why did the repugnant Harvey Weinstein not simply respond to his accusers, “Yes, of course I sought intimacy with you. You knew that. And in exchange you wanted fame and fortune. That’s why you came to my hotel room late at night”?
Matt Lauer, Roy Price, Charlie Rose and many other degenerates collapsed at the accusations and faded out of public life. I am not comparing these often-depraved entertainers to the mighty Moses, of course. They were indulging the appetites they had spent their careers stoking in others.
The widely loathed former governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer resigned when the press revealed that he had dallied with a professional lady of the night. On some level, he intuitively knew that he could not respond, “This is nobody’s business. I committed adultery. So what? Do you want to stone me? We long ago ceased censuring adultery. Stop scolding me like a prudish spinster aunt and get back to your work!” He too vanished from public life.
The accusation of abusing the force which attracts men to women is so incendiary that even innocent men like Justices Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh cannot treat it lightly. They would both easily relate to the intense reaction suffered by Moses.
It’s a paradox. Decades ago elite opinion makers decided that there is nothing sacred about marital relations and that regardless of how bizarre anyone’s behavior, anything at all that willing adults choose to do with or to one another’s bodies is quite ordinary and certainly undeserving of critical comment. Yet, powerful men are seldom accused of gluttony and bad table manners. They are seldom targeted for their pride or sloth or any other of the seven deadly sins. Instead, the focus is on only one human failing – lust.
Here is one explanation to this paradox. Deep in their subconscious hearts even men of reprehensible conduct suspect that they debased something sacred and splendid. Gluttony, sloth, and even pride can be explained or even laughed away but the distance between depravity and the divine design of conjugality is just too great. The accusation penetrates to shatter the very core of even bad men’s self-identity. If one is guilty, there is no comeback. If, like Moses, one is innocent, the charge is breathtakingly debilitating. It is impossible to answer calmly without first taking a moment to mourn.