Datan and Aviram accused Moshe of some very serious faults, such as not keeping his promise to bring the people to a land of milk and honey. An even worse accusation was that he took on himself to become “a ruler over us.” [Bamidbar 16:13]. From Moshe’s reply, we can see what they claimed: “I did not take one donkey from them” [16:15]. As Rashi notes, “Even when I went from Midyan to Egypt and put my wife and son on a donkey – when I could have taken one of their donkeys, I only took one of mine.”
Moshe, our first leader, teaches us how to lead the public. This is also what the profit Shmuel said near his death: “Now, behold, answer me before G-d and before his anointed one – whose ox did I take, whose donkey did I take, whom did I defraud, whom did I oppress?” [Shmuel I 12:3, from this week’s Haftorah]. Shmuel’s behavior and his wariness of taking any physical benefits were evidently part of the education he received from his mother.
In the beginning of the book of Shmuel, we are told, “And his mother made him a little coat which she brought to him from year to year” [Shmuel I 2:19]. Evidently the verse is trying to contrast this behavior with what we are told about the corrupt customs of the sons of Eli, who took advantage of their high positions for their own personal benefit. The late Chanan Porat correctly wrote that this little act of giving Shmuel his own personal coat was an act of defiance against the behavior of the sons. It was as if she said: “My son will not benefit from public property, he will not wear a coat that was bought from public funds, even if in a formal sense this would be permitted. My son will not make use of ‘a grandiose government vehicle, added pay for clothing, or free electricity.’ He will not strike to improve his physical benefits. My son will wear his own little coat.”
I remember when I was very young, when an electric refrigerator was still considered a luxury, somebody advertised that he had a refrigerator to sell. Paula Ben Gurion, the wife of the Prime Minister, called the man and asked about the terms. The two of them settled all the details. However, a few hours later she phoned the man to call the deal off, since David Ben Gurion refused to let her buy the refrigerator. He said thst most of the people were still using ice boxes, “and what is good for everybody else is good for us too.”
It is written in the Tosefta about the era of the Second Temple that the people “loved their money.” The Natziv explains that the main problem was with the leaders of the nation, adding, “And this evil inclination is still extant among us.”