Parashat Korach 5778

Rabbi Yuval Keren – 13 June 2018

“Now Korah, son of Izhar son of Kohath son of Levi, betook himself, along with Dathan and Abiram sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth—descendants of Reuben—to rise up against Moses.” (Numbers 16:1-3)

Perhaps we could justify Korach’s rebellion. Moses was not exactly democratically elected to lead the People of Israel. On the other hand, the rebels against him were chosen by the community. Moreover, their claim could be justified: “the entire congregation are holy”, and not only Moses and Aaron. Why should Moses and Aaron be elevated above the others in the congregation? Perhaps Korach is right in challenging the leadership and demanding fair elections.

Yet, one important test for the qualification of a leader is their motivation. Moses did not initially wish to lead the people of Israel. At the sight of the burning bush he was asked to lead the people out of Egypt. Moses kept trying to reject this leadership role with a number of excuses. ‘The People don’t know me.’ ‘I have a speech impediment.’ ‘How will I convince them that I am to save them on your behalf?’

From that point onwards Moses received this divinely-imposed leadership mission, and throughout the forty-year period of his leadership he never asks anything for himself. He does not have a nice big tent, he does not become rich, and his children do not inherit his role or status after his death.

Moses is constantly sandwiched between the high demands of the People of Israel and the hight demands of God. Following the sin og the Golden Calf God wishes to destroy the people and start all over again with Moses (Exodus 33). Moses dissuades him from doing so and begs for mercy for the rest of the people.

Korach is perhaps right about some of his claims against Moses, yet he receives severe punishment for his challenge. The reason for the punishment lies in the style of his challenge and his motives?

The Midrash (Bavli, Sanhedrin 119a) tells us that Korach was a very rich man, maybe even the richest among the People of Israel.
Yet, rich Korach was not happy with his share, and he wanted to have more wealth and more power. He wanted to extend his influence to both secular and religious leadership. By extending his influence Korach would have been able to increase his fortune and that of his family and close associates at the expense of the rest of the people.

Moses was always careful to be straightforward with the people and tell them what he thought. Korach, on the other hand, covers his real intentions and tries to lure people to support him by using rhetoric.

He first highlights what appears to be unjust. He appeals to them for democracy and religious equality. “All the community are holy, all of them, and the Eternal is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above God’s congregation?” (Numbers 16:3)

Yet, Korach himself is far from being equal to others. He is a wealthy man, and he is a leader in the tribe of Levi who are elevated above all other eleven tribes.

If we are to choose a leader for our community or our country we need to be careful in our selection. We should not necessarily choose the one who is after self-promotion. We should avoid those who are the most photogenic, or are masters of rhetoric. We should avoid those who are hungry for power. Rather, we should try and find a leader who will lead with integrity, humbly and selflessly, who will lead the people for the sake of Heaven and for the sake of the People. We should choose a leader who is a ‘Moses’ rather than a ‘Korach’.

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