Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig
e-mail yosilr@juno.com

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Parshat Korach

Travelling makes writing the Vort very difficult, especially since I have very few resources available. Given those realities, I hope that you will forgive me if I do not quote sources this week.

The main topic of this week's Parsha is Korach's rebellion against Moshe and Aharon. Korach, a cousin of Moshe, is indignant that Moshe appointed Aharon as the High Priest of Israel. It smelled like nepotism to him. Korach felt that since Hashem had chosen Moshe as His spokesman, and since Aharon was already the leader of the tribe of Levi, that if anybody deserved to be honored as High Priest it had to be him as he was the third ranking member of the tribe of Levi.

But in order to become the High Priest, Korach had to dishonor Moshe. He led a select group of rebels to publicly challenge Moshe and have him lose face among the people. Instead, Hashem ordered a test that miraculously proved that Aharon was, in fact, His chosen High Priest (the rebels were also killed in a miraculous way when the earth "opened its mouth and swallowed" them up).

Again I must repeat this concept: each episode in the Torah teaches us a distinct lesson. In order to properly appreciate each lesson, we must see the very fine details of each situation.

On the surface, Korach is consumed with jealousy because of Moshe's choice of Aharon as High Priest. The trouble with this view (while it works for teaching young children Torah) is that Korach couldn't have been an ordinary jealous man seeking power and still have worked his way up the spiritual ladder to become the third highest member of the tribe of Levi.

Our tradition teaches us a number of facts about the tribe of Levi.

  • The tribe of Levi was the only tribe that was never enslaved in Egypt (for various reasons, among them that they refused to succumb to the influence of Egyptian politics over the Israelites).
  • They never complained (as the rest of the Israelites did) about having their backs to the Reed Sea, or about bitter water, or about the Manna that Hashem provided.
  • They didn't worship the Golden Calf.
  • They didn't respond negatively to the report of the spies.
  • As a result, they were not included in the punishment to die in the desert over the forty years of wanderings.
  • They replaced the first-born as the staff of the Tabernacle and later the Temple.
  • They remain until this day distinguished, the only tribe with clear direct lineage from Biblical times.

Taking all this into consideration, Korach wasn't just some Schlepper (a nobody) on an "ego trip." Don't underestimate him. He had to be a man of very high stature, refined, disciplined, a proven spiritual force. So what went wrong?

In Parshat Tezaveh, Aharon felt that he was unworthy being appointed High Priest because the Tabernacle in which he was to serve was an atonement for the sin of the Golden Calf. Since Aharon was the creator of the Golden Calf, he felt that he should not become the High Priest.

Can you imagine the perpetrator of a serious crime becoming the head administrator of the agency created to protect us from that crime (or, a person functioning as a Rabbi who did not have the character and morals to do the job)?

That was why Korach opposed Aharon's appointment. Aharon was unworthy in Korach's eyes; it was tantamount to sacrilege to have Aharon serve in that capacity.

With hindsight and the Torah's insight, we know that Aharon was only trying to delay the nation until Moshe descended from Mt. Sinai. But Korach didn't know that, or didn't believe the story; even if Aharon's intentions were pure, he should never have accepted his position.

Our Rabbi's teach us that Korach's sin stemmed from jealousy. His motives, unlike Aharon's, were impure. He was motivated not by what is right and what is good, but by the self-destructive force of jealousy.

To achieve his goal, he was prepared to embarrass the leader of Israel. To make himself larger than he deserved to be, Korach was prepared to lead a group of dissidents, to self-destruct.

Korach, Datan and Aviram as well as the 250 members of their group were survivors of the Exodus. Our tradition teaches us that four-fifths of the Israelites died during the plague of darkness. So we know that each surviving Israelite was a Tzadik (righteous) in his own right. Do not underestimate who they were.

If the great Korach was capable of leading a revolt and bringing Machloket (dissention) into the camp of Israel, then unless we examine this week's Parsha. Jealousy can be so destructive that even the great can do terrible things under its influence.

When we take a stand we must always be clear and conscious of our motives; are they self-serving, or is this part of our own agenda? If we can only remember this lesson - our world would be a better place.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yosil Rosenzweig

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