Thursday, 23 June 2011

Korach and his motley crew

If there is a Sedra which could be subtitled the self hating Jew- then this would be the one. Korach, the man of yichus, of pedigree, a great grandson of Levi is not a happy man, and therefore challenges the leadership of Moses and his brother Aaron. At first glance his assertion against their management system seems to be justified. If all the B’nai Yisrael are holy, and G-d is in their midst, and in His eyes we are all equal, why Moses do you lift yourself up higher than the rest of the people? Korach appears to be the champion of democracy. Why should Moses and Aaron be the leaders and everybody else having to follow their authority unchallenged?

Yet we only need to see the events that unfurl in the sedra to know that Korach was wrong. On the first verse where it says that Korach took, our commentators notice that it does not identify exactly the thing, the person or the subject to be taken. Rashi famously remarks in a comment which reveals the true intention of Korach, that the verse did not need to record what he took because he took himself to one side, to cause a rift in the community. Korach was serving himself to see how much he could take out of the system, clothing himself in a cloak of respectability he tries to cover up his true intentions. Even his unique name implied what really were his objectives. Korach is derived from korcha which means to split and cause a rift. It also comes from the root word Kar- to be cold, because when one splits and divides the community one remains a cold, detached and aloof person.

The Mishne in Ethics of the Fathers says that the archetypal case of a controversy that is not for the sake of Heaven is the argument of Korach and his community, which no longer endures. The Talmud comments that there is no other case in history where a major challenge to authority in the Jewish world would take place, quite a statement, considering the many controversies in Jewish history throughout the ages. Perhaps we can reconcile this with the fact that we have had many cases of challenge to authority of the kind of Korach, but none where it has been so glaringly obvious that the motivation for the dispute was clearly for self serving reasons. The message is simple; a person working for and on behalf of the community needs to be constantly self critical and aware of his own motivation behind pursuit of controversy. Shabbat Shalom

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