Our Torah portion deals with a fascinating group of people who rebelled against Moses in the wilderness. They were led by Korach, who was the central figure in the uprising. Where did he get his power and what did he use it for? This was the question that our sages speculated upon and here is their answer: They said that of all the people who left Egypt in the Exodus, Korach was the richest.
According to legend, he was secretary of the treasury in Pharaoh’s cabinet and was so wealthy that it took 300 donkeys just to carry the keys to the safes where he kept his money. To this day, if you want to say in Yiddish that someone is really wealthy you can exclaim that he is as rich as Korach.
So, if he was so well off, why did Korach rebel against Moses? The Midrash tells us that it was because he wanted still more. He begrudged whatever Moses had and desired that as well. So it is instructive that Jewish tradition attributes the children of this very Korach as the authors of Psalm 49, which, from start to finish, is a statement against the futility of simply piling up wealth. There is a well-known phrase that comes from this Psalm: “You can’t take it with you!”
A wise person observed, “One makes a living by what he gets but a life by what he gives.” To which we might add a good definition of love: “Love is joy derived by giving.”
The ancient rabbis knew that. Here is their answer to the question, “Who is wealthy? The one who is satisfied with his portion.”
RABBI LESLIE Y. GUTTERMAN (firstname.lastname@example.org, a member of the Greater Rhode Island Board of Rabbis, is rabbi at Temple Beth-El, the Reform synagogue in Providence.