Think about being pulled between two opposing sides. This happens everywhere, in families, groups of friends, shuls, schools, and the local and broader community.  Two or more opinions is a recipe for divisiveness and discord. The natural response for most people is to fight or flee, mostly flee. We just want to do our thing. We have enough stress without worrying about someone else’s hassle.

This week we read Parashat Korach, another tale that sheds light on the flaws of individuals and their impact on the group. Korach challenges Moshe’s leadership. He accuses him of nepotism, favouritism and distorting the word of G-d. From here we learn about how to have a good fight and also about how to behave when we are bystanders to conflict between others.

What does a group need to achieve its goals? According to author, psychologist and science journalist Daniel Goleman, it needs good people with a sense of mission, loyalty, a diverse range of talents, trust, selfless collaboration, focus and passion. He writes about Chuck Noll, former coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Chuck shared, “As a math major, I believed that the whole is equal to the sum of its parts – until I worked with teams. When I became a coach, I saw the whole is never the sum of its parts – it’s greater or lesser, depending on how well the individuals work together” (Daniel Goleman , Working with Emotional Intelligence, 1998).

What makes a good leader? Someone who can bring the group together. A person who listens, cares, compromises, coordinates. He or she is there for the greater good, not to enhance a personal fiefdom of power and control.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes, “In Judaism, good leadership is not a matter of status, but of function. A leader is not one who holds himself higher than those he or she leads. The absence of hierarchy does not mean the absence of leadership. An orchestra still needs a conductor. A play still needs a director. A team still needs a captain. The role of a leader is different. He must co-ordinate, give structure and shape to the enterprise, make sure that everyone is following the same script, travelling in the same direction, acting as an ensemble rather than a group of prima donnas. He has to have vision and communicate it. At times he has to impose discipline. Without leadership even the most glittering array of talents produces not music but noise.”

When good people step up to take leadership, we should support, not undermine, their efforts. No leader is perfect, and problems inevitably arise.

Bullies come in all shapes, sizes and guises. Korach portrayed himself as an advocate for the people against the establishment. Bullies divide and conquer. They share information selectively to distort and disparage. They pull the weaker ones to their side and brand themselves the hero or heroine of the underdog. They use charm and charisma to engage and enchant.

There will always be a Korach, driven by ego, challenging the establishment. And sometimes the establishment needs to be challenged.  What is our role?  We should strive to improve things through thoughtful consideration, caring communication and concern for the greater good. As Martin Luther King wrote from a Birmingham jail in 1963, “Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability. … It comes through the tireless efforts of men (and women – my addition) willing to be co-workers with G-d.”

Shabbat Shalom, Lauren