Friday, June 11, 2010

Parshat Korach - פרשת קרח

"וַיִּקָּהֲלוּ עַל-מֹשֶׁה וְעַל-אַהֲרֹן, וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֲלֵהֶם רַב-לָכֶם כִּי כָל-הָעֵדָה כֻּלָּם קְדֹשִׁים, וּבְתוֹכָם יְהוָה; וּמַדּוּעַ תִּתְנַשְּׂאוּ, עַל-קְהַל יְהוָה - And they assembled themselves together against Moshe and against Aharon, and said to them: 'You take too much upon you, for all the congregation, all are holy, and Hashem is amongst it, why wherefore should you lift up yourselves above the assembly of Hashem?' "
(במדבר ט"ז:ג)

The verse above is taken from the opening scene of this week's Parsha, in which Korach instigates a (doomed) rebellion against Moshe. Korach acted as if his intentions were pure, but really his desires and motivations were far from selfless; a close reading of the text with the commentaries reveals that he really wanted fame, recognition and honour.

One of the main issues Korach raises in order to provoke Moshe is that of Moshe's role as leader of Am Yisrael. For example, one of the questions that Korach asks is "If an article of clothing is made entirely of t'chelet, (a certain blue/purple colouring that is used for dying the 8th string of the tzitzit,) would there then be any need to have an additional string attached to this garment, one that would be dyed in the same colour? Surely if the entire garment is holy, argues Korach, there should be no need for an extra string to render the garment as holy; surely it's holy enough already.

The question seems fair enough, but the question wasn't really what Korach was asking. By asking this question of Moshe, he was making a point about the relevancy of Moshe's leadership. In the verse above, the same thing happens, and if anything, Korach's criticism is even more explicit. Here, Korach notes that the people are all holy, and that he sees no need for Moshe to raise himself above a nation of holy people. Just like his question regarding tzitzit, Korach asks sharp questions of Moshe's right to lead.

As it turned out, Korach was proved wrong. (And on more than one level.) The problem with his approach can be seen already from the beginning of his criticism. Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch has an insight into Korach's words which reveal the extent of the flaw in his thinking. In the verse above, Korach deliberately switches the subject of his sentence from at first speaking about the nation as a whole, to then speaking about the people individually before reverting back to the nation as a single entity. "For all the congregation, all are holy, and Hashem is amongst it," he says. Why the switch to the people as individuals?

I would like to tender an answer of my own. We already know that Korach placed too much value on his own pride, his own honour. He clearly valued his own individuality. Here, Korach wanted to make a point to Moshe that if all the nation were holy people (which, for the sake of this argument, I will assume to be true), then a leader above them would be redundant. What he didn't understand was that in his attacking questions lay the flaw in his thinking. He asked Moshe a question about tzitzit. But what is the answer to his question? Actually, it is that such a garment, one comprised entirely of t'chelet, still needs the special t'chelet string! The reason is that despite the undoubted holiness of each of the composite parts, there is still a need for a binding force between them. Returning to the question of the relevance of a leader over a nation made up of holy people, we must answer that a leader is still required. When the Jewish nation stand as one and act as one, our unity is so strong that we can achieve incredible things. But when we are taken as individual parts, the flaws in each of us begin to show. It is not that those flaws weren't there before, but when people come together they help mask one another's failings.

Korach was undoubtedly right that the each person within the entire nation was holy in their own right. What he didn't understand was that despite this, if they were not part of a collective, their imbalances and imperfections would be allowed to get out of control. When people work together though, and under common guidance from a recognised authority, people are able to correct their mistakes and learn from one another. If we can't do that, we too will be doomed to failure. Let us learn the lesson from Korach and only live together in unity and Shalom.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom.

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