After the rebellion of Korah, the people turn against Moshe and Aharon, blaming them for the deaths of Korach and his followers. God’s response is to tell Moshe and Aharon, “remove yourselves from this community, that I might annihilate them in an instant.” (Bemidbar 17:10) Upon hearing this, Moshe and Aharon fall on their faces, which one might read as an expression of submission to God’s decree, except that the story continues “Then Moshe said to Aharon, ‘Take the fire pan, and put on it fire from the altar. Add incense and take it quickly to the community and make expiation for them. For wrath has gone forth from Hashem: the plague has begun!’ Aharon took it, as Moshe had ordered, and ran to the midst of the congregation, where the plague had begun among the people. He put on the incense and made expiation for the people; he stood between the dead and the living until the plague was checked.” (Ibid vs. 11-13) In other words, Moshe and Aharon openly disobey God’s explicit order to them to separate themselves from the community, instead placing themselves in the midst of the community to prevent the plague. Here was a community that had rebelled against God multiple times, and attacked Moshe and Aharon personally, but when God was ready to destroy them, Moshe and Aharon disobeyed Him, to prevent their destruction. God was punishing this people for their sins, and had given Moshe and Aharon not only permission, but an order to stay out of it. Instead they got involved, seeking to prevent harm to the sinful and rebellious people.
Sometimes when I see someone who is suffering or in crisis, my instinct is to try and imagine how they might have brought the trouble upon themselves. I think this is a common reaction to witnessing the suffering of others. If we can figure out why this person deserves their suffering, then we feel justified not getting involved. Moshe and Aharon are teaching us not to do that. They were willing to put their lives on the line and even disobey God in order to save people who, moments earlier, were berating them and preparing to mutiny against them, people who had brought punishment upon themselves. With every reason in the world to leave the people to their punishment, Moshe and Aharon got in the middle to protect them.
Let us be like Moshe and Aharon. When we see a news story about someone who has been killed or attacked, let’s not ask, “What did they do to deserve that? What should they have done differently to avoid that fate?” Instead, I invite us to ask, “What could we be doing to help? How can we make this situation better?” As human beings, it is not our place to justify the suffering we see in the world, but to help relieve it.
Rabbi Garth Silberstein