Tonight, as my synagogue's service was due to start, my rabbi popped in and asked me to lead it because he was having the being-in-two-places-at-once problem. So I proceeded to do so. (I'd had to bow out of leading the morning service because of some temporary vision problems, but the factors were better tonight. Actually, I'm pretty sure I could lead our service from memory if I had to -- especially as it was mincha, which has less stuff than ma'ariv.)
Tonight there was a board meeting, so there was a large crowd at the service (25-30). It was also the first meeting for one-third of the board. My rabbi always gives a short talk at the evening service, and it's generally longer and a little more formal on board-meeting nights because learning is specifically built into the board job. I of course hadn't had any time to prepare anything, but these people deserved to hear some words of torah.
So I improvised, with my brain running about 30 seconds ahead of my mouth. (I can't usually do that! I can mentally outline and then talk, but I generally can't do that kind of parallel processing.) I got lots of compliments on it; one person told me if that's what I do when I'm not prepared, she wants to hear me when I am. :-) I did point out that some parshiyot are better than others for on-the-fly talks.
I started by giving a quick summary of the Korach story, mentioning his compatriots in passing and saying I'd get back to that. (So I got to use my parsha bit today after all. :-) ) I then said that while we could take from this story the lesson "just do what you're told and don't challenge your leaders", that's not the lesson of this parsha. People challenge leaders -- and God! -- in many places in torah, and Yaakov receives his charter only after wrestling with God's angel directly. Challenging is fine.
No, the problem with Korach is the way he went about it. He had a grievance, but not only did he not bring it to Moshe directly, but he refused to discuss it when Moshe came to him. He'd already decided to have a rebellion rather than a peaceful solution. As leaders of this community (I said to the crowd of mostly board members), we are sometimes in Korach's position and sometimes in Moshe's. There will be things we get upset about and things we want to do differently, and we will be on the receiving end of other people who are upset and want things to be different. Our lesson is to be like Moshe, looking for a solution rather than victory, and not like Korach.
I mentioned earlier that three consipirators were named along with Korach. The torah goes on to talk about two of them; what of the third? The talmud tells us that he was prevented from participating by his wife, who saw the danger and acted to prevent it. While it's easy to be too meddlesome, we have to be mindful of the dangers that await our fellow leaders, and fellow Jews; it's much easier to prevent a problem than to clean up after it most of the time.
The parsha bit (which I had posted separately):
This week's parsha begins by telling us that Korach led a rebellion, together with Datan, Aviram, and On ben Pelet. As the story unfolds, however, On drops out, while we know explicitly that Korach, Datan, and Aviram are punished. What happened to On? In the talmud Rav said that On was saved by his wife: knowing what he planned, she fed him wine until he passed out and then sh sat at the entrance to their tent to prevent Korach from entering. (Sanhedrin 109b)