July 2019, Parshat Korach

Dear Friends,

This week’s Parsha, Korach, contains the famous rebellion against Moshe and Aaron. Led by their cousin Korach, along with well known Biblical provocateurs Datan and Aviram, Korach challenges the authority of Moshe and Aaron to lead the people and have the positions they occupy.

One of Midrashim (commentaries) on this incident records that the reason why Datan, Aviram and Korach all banded together to challenge Moshe was because they all lived close to each other in the desert encampment and had each been influenced by the other.

While the failed rebellion ends in a massive earthquake that swallows Korach and his band of followers, the whole incident reflects a number of important themes.

While Moshe and Aaron had been given their positions to lead the people and priesthood by G-d, perhaps Korach and his band of followers had the right to question their iron-clad authority. After all, one of the questions that Korach poses to Moshe during the rebellion is: ‘aren’t all the people of Israel holy? Who gave you permission to elevate yourselves [Moshe and Aaron] before G-d?’

Living in a democratic society like Australia we can certainly understand these concerns. After all, our model of leadership, even with its many flaws, is regarded as stable and reflective of the will of the majority of people. If someone were to appoint themselves and their brother as dual heads of the government and executive powers, we would surely see this as a breach of our fundamental freedoms and rights and would be concerned that the authoritarian or dictatorship model of self-appointed rulers would result in the ruin of our country!

However, when examining the leadership appointments of Moshe and Aaron it must be done with a certain frame of mind to understand how they came to occupy these position of powers. When G-d first approaches Moshe to become a leader, Moshe cries out to G-d that he is a ‘man of slow speech’ and begs him not to appoint him to this position as he fears his capability.

In addition, throughout the desert travels the Torah records multiple instances in which Moshe is given an extremely difficult time by the people of Israel, either complaining or challenging his authority.

Moreover, Aaron is appointed by G-d into leadership through the Priesthood, but he too seems to have no less of an easy time between the people resenting his leadership and the incident of the Golden Calf where he is compelled by the people to participate in the building of an idol, a mere few weeks after all the people witnessed massive miracles during Exodus!

Which brings us back to our original question of Korach and his band of followers.

While in theory the questions posed by Korach regarding Moshe and Aaron’s leadership positions were legitimate, the Torah provides hints at the motivation of Korach that show he is intent on causing discord and rebellion because of a mixture of jealousy of his cousins and resentment that he himself was not chosen.

When he questions Moshe and Aaron he does it in public, before the people and after he has stoked ill-will and feelings of resentment towards Moshe.

He does not ask for explanations, but rather openly challenges their authority with an intention to replace them with himself. Driven from a place of arrogance, rather than concern for the style of leadership required in the desert, Korach seeks his own personal glory by actively encouraging rebellion to the demise of Moshe and Aaron.

And here lies the problem with Korach’s rebellion.

If it were driven by genuine concerns, the way to have approached Moshe and Aaron would have been completely different. If Korach would have wanted to provide feedback it would have been received.

While not all cases of approaching powerful people can be addressed through quiet feedback, Moshe and Aaron had consistently demonstrated that they were receptive to feedback from the people and were not intent on retaining power and leadership for their own sake, but rather for the sake of the people and the missions entrusted to them by G-d.

This Parsha teaches us important lessons about ensuring that the company we keep does not lead us astray, even if we all start off with noble intentions.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Gabi