While the entire Parsha focuses on the story of Korach and his followers, there are mini-narratives within it that function independently. Perhaps one of -if not the- strangest part of the story is the miraculous flowering of Aharon’s staff (17:16-20). While the details themselves require some explanation, one general question is also necessary, even before addressing the nuances: Why does Hashem need to provide another sign?
Hashem has already clearly proven His disdain for Korach and his followers- by opening the earth up and swallowing them. He’s shown his contempt of the accusatory Jews following that episode- by introducing a fatal plague in the camp. By implication, this all proves that Aharon and Moshe are the rightful leaders of the Jewish people. What else is there to show? What is the point of another miracle?!
The Rashbam points out a fascinating distinction. It’s true- the first two responses/punishments/miracles certainly proved that Hashem sided with Moshe & Aharon in this disagreement. On the other hand, however, the way in which He accomplished that conclusion leaves one with the possibility to question: Why did Hashem have to destroy the competition in doing so? Is there anything about Moshe and Aharon that would prove themselves worthy? Was their appointment simply the result of everyone else’s inability, deficiency, and now death? Were they only the leaders of the Jewish people because of “process of elimination”? It was therefore necessary for Hashem to not only show that He disliked the instigators, but that He also favored Moshe and Aharon. This time, Hashem needed to express Moshe and Aharon’s legitimacy, not just their opposition’s illegitimacy. He did so by showing this special quality of Aharon’s staff, that it uniquely bloomed, to the exclusion of -not the elimination of- the other tribes’ staffs.
This phenomenon- of proving one’s positives and not only another’s negatives, is more relevant to our own lives than we may realize. While assuming we need to stand out -relative to others- we often find ways to ‘eliminate the competition’- not by proving ourselves through personal growth, but by pushing others down to make ourselves seem higher. Perhaps we do this by a passive aggressive dismissal of someone else, a snide comment about someone else, or even a blatant insult. To ultimately grow, however, means to truly grow oneself, not simply diminish others. As the story goes, one time Rav Yisrael Salanter was walking by a school and noticed two children arguing over which one of them was taller. After a heated back and forth, one kid finally pushed the other to the ground and said, ‘See- Now look who’s taller!’ After witnessing this exchange, Rav Yisrael Salanter helped the victim up, turned to the still-standing child and taught him -and us- the following lesson: ‘You don’t have to push others down to show that you’re taller. You simply have to stand on a box’.