We read in Parashat Korach of God’s command to Moshe after Korach’s tragic revolt against him to collect the staffs of the leaders of all the tribes. In order to prove His designation of Aharon as the kohen gadol, and of the tribe of Levi as ministers in the Mishkan, God performed a miracle whereby Aharon’s staff blossomed overnight while his and the other tribal leaders’ staffs were kept inside the Mishkan. The next day, the Torah tells, Moshe brought the staffs out of the Mishkan, and the tribal leaders “each saw and took his staff” (17:24). Seforno explains the word “va-yir’u” (“saw”) to mean that each tribal leader checked carefully for his staff’s unique properties to ensure that it was his. This guaranteed that the blossomed staff was indeed Aharon’s staff, such that the proof of his selection as kohen gadol could not be challenged. In a similar vein, Targum Onkelos translates this word as “ve-ishtemoda’u,” which means that the tribal leaders “recognized” their staffs, each looking for his staff’s distinguishing features.
The Imrei Emet (the third Rebbe of Ger) notes the symbolism of this process, of the tribal leader’s recognizing their staffs and then taking them. This represents the recognition of our individual roles that we need to fill, each of which is unique and distinct, dissimilar to anyone else’s. The overarching theme and message of the story of Korach is that we are not all meant to serve as kohen gadol. Each and every person is given his own “staff,” his own special role and mission. Just as Korach and his followers made a grievous mistake by assuming that they should perform the special rituals in the Mishkan like Aharon did, we, too, make a mistake if we assume that the path chosen by our peers is the one that we also need to take. The message of this tragic story is precisely “va-yir’u va-yikchu ish machtato” – that we must all “recognize” our own “staff” and then “take” it – meaning, we must embrace our unique role and commit ourselves to it without any hesitation and without feeling jealous of our peers. The tragedy of Korach began with “Va-yikach Korach” – when Korach attempted to “take” a role that was not meant to be his. The final correction of Korach’s mistake was achieved through “va-yir’u va-yikchu ish machtato,” by each person recognizing his unique, special role, and happily embracing it.