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Korach(Numbers 16-18)

All In the Same Boat

In praying to God on behalf of the Jewish people, Moses asks how it can be that one man (Korach) transgresses and God becomes upset with the entire nation. Does one man really affect the whole nation?

The answer in Jewish thinking is, of course, yes. From God's point of view it's easy to see - we are responsible for one another, and if one person is doing something wrong then we all share the blame.

This can also be understood from a practical perspective. The Sages give a lovely analogy. They say it is similar to a person who is sitting in a boat full of people and drilling a hole under his own seat. The people scream at him to stop, but he cannot understand why they are upset - after all, he's only drilling under his own seat, not theirs!

It's easy to see that people chopping down rainforests in Brazil ultimately affect people in Australia. And how if China is filling the atmosphere with greenhouse gasses, we may get ourselves a few more deserts. However, the boat analogy works on a spiritual level, too.

We all live together on a boat and that boat is our society. If it sinks, we all sink. If it gets somewhere, we all get there. If a person is immoral in his own home with no one watching, he is still drilling a hole under his seat. Because by lowering his own standards of morality, he affects those he interacts with. Like it or not, we respond to each other. Good and decent people lift us, and lowly people drag us down. People are pulled after their environment and each of us is part of each other's environment. We affect each other by who we are and how we live.

One man's transgression does affect the whole nation - albeit in a small way. But lots of small decisions can create a spiritual "butterfly effect." Our decisions and our actions count - not only for our own lives and for those immediately around us, but ultimately, the effects are felt by our whole society.

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Visitor Comments: 6

(6) Anonymous, June 18, 2015 11:38 AM

Great one! Thanks for posting!

(5) Anonymous, June 17, 2014 10:58 AM


This is excellent and so true! Thank you so much for posting it!

(4) Ian Scott, June 23, 2012 1:07 AM

This connects me

Reflecting on my week past, and my week forward, the challenges I'm confronting are summed up well in this commentary bringing me peace on the sabbath. Todah rabah.

(3) shells, June 27, 2008 4:47 PM

thank YOU Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt

for an enlightening lesson that I pray many will be blessed by reading and sharing. shalom with love from England... yours x

(2) Scott Granowski, June 27, 2008 3:39 PM

Part of Whole

Thank you for your insights. Sometimes I think, falsely, "I'm only affecting myself" and your column reminds me that these thoughts are incorrect.

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