Numbers 16 begins one of the most famour passages of Torah, the rebellion of Korach. Korach takes 250 men and rises up against the authority of Moses. He accuses Moses of going too far, of setting himself up over the people. Nothing like a little internal dissention against a proven leader to get the blood boiling. This story is symbolic of may an organization and the often internal machinations of power and control. Korach and his crew are, of course, punished, rather severely, as a message to the community that it is not wise to flaunt the authority of Moses and thus, by extension, God.
We have all, in our lives, seen Korach. People who seem bent on creating havoc, who often rose to power or gained control by saying all the right things and promising all the right change. (This seems to be a favorite political sport). Of course, over our life’s journey, we gain some insight into people whose message may seem too good to be true. Often, time and patience allow us to see these people for what and who they really are.
An interesting commentary on this is from a book on Torah commentary called “Sparks Beneath The Surface”.(Kushner and Olitsky). They quote a teaching of Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer that looks at the verb translated as “took” in Numbers 16.1. Kalischer asks “Why is the verb took referring to what Korach, Datan and Abiram, all did, written in the singular and not in the plural? Because each and every one of them was in this battle only for himself”
I think that this is something we can relate to. As we get a little older and gather life experience, we come to learn not to jump right in to an issue just because someone may have, what seems to be, a charismatic personality or message. A healthy dose of ego is good and needed when trying to change and develop a movement. An over extended ego often, as with Korach, leads to self destruction and chaos. Charting a course for progress is a wonderful value. Achieving that progress by destroying all that which had been is a recipe for communal and self destruction. Jewish values often see things in light of what is good for the community, over against what is good for the individual. The Korach story teaches just such a lesson. It is wise to examine who is saying what and ask the question why and who benefits. Many of us have been caught up in the heat of the moment, only to, after a time, ask our self why we followed that person.
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.