Rabbi Reuven Mann
One of the most inspiring aspects of Torah is its scrupulous honesty. It never hides even the most unseemly occurrences. Our Parsha describes a rebellion against Moshe by a coalition cobbled together by his cousin Korach. The Rabbis discerned that the movement had both political and theological ramifications. On the overt level, Korach posed as a champion of the people, accusing Moshe of amassing power by assuming the leadership and appointing Aaron, his brother, as the High Priest. Korach argued that “the entire community is holy, and G-d is among them, so why do you raise yourself over the congregation of Hashem?”
We are astounded at the brazenness of Korach and his blatant distortion of Moshe’s character. He was the most humble of men and had pleaded to be excused from the task of leadership, for which he felt unqualified. G-d overruled him precisely because he harbored no craving for power. His achievements in leading the Jews out of Egypt and giving them the Torah did not go to his head. When the people bombarded him with their lust for meat, Moshe entreated Hashem to establish a governing body with whom he could share power. He would have preferred to relinquish his position to humbly teach Torah and minister to those in need.
Given the evidence of Moshe’s humility, what prompted Korach to make such outrageous accusations? Rashi explains that Korach, at first, accepted Moshe’s appointment of Aaron, for he believed he would be designated as prince of his tribe. When, due to his character flaws, Korach was bypassed, he was enraged and resolved to challenge Moshe. Thus, this “champion of democracy” was, in reality, a frustrated megalomaniac. Moshe understood the egotistical motives behind the actions of Korach. He responded to Korach’s charges by reminding him of the special privileges he enjoyed as a Levite and said, “Is it not enough that G-d has separated you to minister before Him, and you seek also the priesthood?” Korach was guilty of projecting his own lust for power onto Moshe.
According to the Rabbis, Korach and his cohorts also rebelled against the Halachic system, which spelled out the manner of performing the commandments. They laughed at Moshe when he ruled that a house filled with Torah scrolls requires a mezuzah. Logic dictates, they said, that if a tiny parchment with three paragraphs suffices for a house, certainly an abode filled with sacred writings should not need a mezuzah. They maintained that ordinary common sense should be the deciding factor in Jewish practice. Judaism, however, is based on the Written Law, as interpreted and elucidated by the Oral Law, which was taught to Moshe on Sinai and transmitted by the greatest Torah scholars from generation to generation, up to the present day. Whoever desires to observe the Torah as revealed by G-d must follow the teachings of the “masters of the Oral Law” who are the disciples of Moshe.
The rebellion of Korach is not just a matter of historical interest. In every generation, we are confronted with new manifestations of Korachism, i.e., the desire to remake Judaism to conform to prevailing attitudes. Contemporary society is going through monumental change. Traditional values in vital areas such as marriage, family, sexual behavior, and sanctity of life have been deemed irrelevant. This has created tremendous pressure on Jewish religious leaders to modify the Torah in accordance with the values of the time.
We need to differentiate between genuine Torah leaders who courageously resist the tide of the times and are selflessly dedicated to preserving God’s Torah and those who masquerade their desire for power behind attractive slogans and popular agendas. Only thus can we be a “Light unto the Nations.”