Tzitzit Strings with a blue thread (photo credit: tallit-shop.com)
We used to think social media was leading us somewhere. Then a remarkable shift occurred, and we started to realize that it was really the opposite. Instead of tweeting to share, these short messages became an opportunity to lead. But as long as everyone is talking inside the crowded room of social media, it makes it difficult to hear anyone. The challenge then is to develop an environment of speakers and listeners whereby at least some voices can be heard.
Two Types of Social Media
This brings us to this past week’s Torah portion, where Korach and his faction rebelled against Moses. The story presents two opposite ways to go about being a leader. If you are not familiar with the details of the episode itself, we encourage you to first read a synopsis.
First let’s bring a few lines from one of the many Korach-themed headlines this past week, “Entrepreneurs, turn on your leadership signal”:
Trust: Being able to inspire others to follow your lead will depend largely upon whether or not you are a person who is perceived to be trustworthy and of high integrity. One key way you lose or fail to gain the trust of others is if you don’t take personal accountability, which is taking responsibility for personal actions.
Develop Your Team: So your business is doing well enough that are you able to hire employees. Now what? Well, you have to make an effort to develop your team because that has a big influence on your ability to implement your leadership vision. Do you facilitate a team atmosphere where all members feel comfortable offering ideas?
These two considerations are indeed what this Torah portion is all about: assessing the truthful character of a leader, and then the nature of the team that develops around them.
The lesson here is that when there is trust, the leader shouldn’t have to go overboard to gather the team. If the ideas are true, then the followers should naturally be attracted to them. This back and forth between true and false leaders is central to the Korach theme. Whereas true leaders like Moses are ever-emboldened to stand up for truth, false personalities like Korach seek to assemble groups by more artificial means. Perhaps this is why Korach had to go knocking on the doors of his followers on the night preceding the episode, whereas Moses captured the public’s attention by naturally conveying Divine instructions.
Now that we’ve set the tone, let’s begin…
Ascending the Single Blue Thread
This past Shabbat we read the Torah portion of Korach which begins with the words, “Korach took” (קרח ויקח). The word for “took” is ויקח, which has the same two‐letter root as “shrewd” (פקח), so we can also say that Korach was shrewd (היה פקח קרח). The Ba’al Shem Tov taught that there are three things that a Jew must be, and one of them is shrewd (פקח). The literal translation of this term is “eyes wide open,” being very aware and smart about what is happening around you. But since Korach was shrewd, of course everyone should strive to be more shrewd than Korach.
The Sefat Emet explains that with his wisdom, Korach reached all the way to the firmament. What he means is that at the end of the Torah portion of Shelach, we read about the mitzvah of tzitzit. The tzitzit requires one thread of techelet, a blue thread. The sages explain that Korach’s challenge to Moshe Rabbeinu was based on a question on this blue thread. So what Korach saw was what the sages reveal, that the techelet color of the blue thread is similar to the sea, and the sea is similar to the sky (רקיע), and the sky is similar to the Throne of Glory.
Korach reached the sky, which is a higher level of understanding, as it says, הרקיע כזהר ישכילו והמשכילים. There are sages that understand, that shine with the brilliance of the firmament. But of all the levels connected by the color of the blue thread, Korach didn’t reach all the way up to the Throne of Glory. To make it all the way up to the Throne of Glory you have to follow a single thread of blue color. But as Korach said that everyone should be equal, he asked Moses about a garment entirely made of blue thread. Whereas a single thread is like the line (קו) in the Kabbalistic account of creation, the garment represents the space or vacuum around this line.
The tallit garment made entirely of blue techelet is not enough to ascend. Instead, you have to ascend through the line and thread by becoming shrewder than Korach. When you ascend with the single blue thread, you reach a place that is all white, called the עתיקא, which is the white before the contraction. And all this, Korach did not know.
Tweeting on a Thread
Now that we have presented some central concepts from the Torah portion, we’d like to add our present-day metaphor to the equation. So what does Twitter have to do with Korach? Let’s approach it point by point.
Followers vs. Following
Eyes Wide Open: The motivation to be aware of what everyone around you is doing, is definitely a factor that has made Twitter popular over the years. But what is most interesting, is that the measure for this is the “Following” category, not the “Follower” category. Typically, it is not a sign of a strong leader if they are always looking to the public for answers. Where it is positive, is when the leader has his public’s needs in mind. A true leader is one who knows how to fill the needs of each and every one of his followers in both matter and spirit.
The lesson here is that whereas a Korach personality may follow many people, Moses only has followers. This doesn’t mean Moses’ eyes aren’t “wide open.”. To the contrary, the fact that someone has become a follower of Moses, means that Moses then has a greater opportunity to think about them in his mind’s eye.
Follow the Leader
The reason that Korach couldn’t ascend to the Throne of Glory, was because he favored a more socialist or equalized environment. In such instances, there is no particular thread (or Twitter account) that can help you ascend higher. They all are pretty much saying the same thing.
Favoring the Moses approach to life then means taking a proper leadership position. As long as everyone has an equal chance to speak, then social media really does seem like a crowded room of talkers. But as long as there are at least some listeners, then the speakers can help their attentive students climb upward.
What does it mean to “throw someone a line”? Usually, it connotes a statement that doesn’t lead anywhere. Korach threw people lines. But if a person is stuck in quicksand, or caught in the turbulent waters of an ocean, their hope is that this line or rope will take them to safety. That the person pulling on the other end, has the means and ability to take them onto dry land.
The fact that Korach rebelled against the leadership of Moses then assured that he and his faction would soon be swallowed by the ground. Today we call this swallowing process the vast sea of information available to us now. Without knowing where the ropes are, we risk having this sea envelop us entirely.
White Space Strategy
There’s a popular business book now called “Blue Ocean Strategy” that speaks about entering some uncontested “blue” space in order to be successful. But what we are now saying is that the blue space is the most contested area of all. This is the space that Korach filled when he asked Moses whether a garment made entirely of blue thread, still required the single blue thread of techelet on the tzitzit (fringes). As we mentioned above, the garment symbolizes an area-consciousness, as in the sea or the sky. But in order to get to the uncontested white space, we need to find the leader who is throwing us the single blue thread. This is the point.
If someone wants to write their own bestseller about this topic then, a good title would be “White Space Strategy.” This is what it means to be more shrewd than Korach.
Excerpted and Freely Adapted from the 28 Sivan weekly shiur in Jerusalem from Harav Yitzchak Ginsburgh.