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When Opportunity Knocks

Thursday, 6 June, 2013 - 3:00 pm

Until February 2012, Jeremy Lin was an unknown entity even to die-hard NBA fans. He was a Harvard grad who went undrafted in 2010. After being cut by two teams, the injury-laden New York Kicks signed him. A few injuries later and Lin was actually receiving serious playing time. He scored 25 points in his first game. After a few more consecutive 20+ games, he became an instant sensation. In fact, a new word evolved describing the hype: linsanity.

Jeremy Lin would never have entered the NBA without perseverance.  He also wouldn’t have become a force in the NBA without the injury of several key players. He saw an opportunity, was prepared for it and exploited it to the best of his ability.

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This week’s parsha has a strange name. It’s called Korach, named after an infamous fellow who led a revolt against Moshe. The Torah tells about his rebellion and how he was swallowed up by the earth. True, the major theme of the parsha is Korach’s failed mutiny. But why name an entire parsha after a wicked person? We don’t even have a “Moshe” parsha in the Torah!

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We can better understand Korach’s character by posing yet another question: Why did Korach wait until this particular moment to challenge Moshe’s leadership? For an entire year and a half he did not voice his opposition to Moshe. But, now – after the story of the spies (see last week’s parsha Shelach), he suddenly decides to confront Moshe and Ahron. What prompted his decision? Did he not see what happens to rebels?!

Many superb commentaries address the issue of what bothered Korach. One fifteenth-century commentator, Rabbi Yitzchak Abarbanel, addresses the timing of his dispute. Rabbi Abarbanel points out that Korach waited to act until precisely after the sin of the spies. After the Almighty decreed that the Jews would wander for forty years (instead of immediate entry to the Holy Land), the Jewish people fell into a state of despondency. Korach recognized this and seized the opportunity.

Just like the shrewd politician who sees all events – good or bad – as opportunities to be seized, Korach knew when to act. It was only due to this unique timing that Korach was able to assemble a following of any sort. Sadly, his mission was sinister and ended in disaster.

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Interestingly, the Talmud states that Korach was a very bright man. As the saying goes, the higher they are the lower they fall (in this case quite literally!). So, Korach had some great qualities. He just misused them.

Jewish tradition, in utilizing Korach’s name for this parsha, is teaching us that even the wicked possess great qualities. We can learn a lesson from everyone and anyone. If we search for Korach’s good qualities, we can transform this sad chapter in our history into a great moment of personal growth.

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In our generation we are fortunate to see this very principle implemented. The Lubavitcher Rebbe, of righteous memory, who escaped the devastation of Nazi Europe, also saw an opportunity. Unlike Korach, he was not looking for an opportunity for himself. He was seeking a way to help others. While the world lamented the state of Jewry after losing a third of our people, the Rebbe sprang into action.  The Rebbe saw people in need and amassed an army of people to help.

We too are faced with opportunities. We can choose to ignore them. Or we can choose to exploit them – in a good way. In honor of the Rebbe’s 19th yahrzeit next Tuesday, let’s continue the Rebbe’s legacy and turn each opportunity into yet one more mitzvah.

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