June 2020, Parshat Korach

Dear Friends,

The Torah records the travels and experiences of the Jewish people while wandering the desert for 40 years. Their needs were taken care of by G-d: food was provided in the form of the manna, water from the well of Miriam and protection from the elements via the clouds of glory.

However, reading the history of this time as recorded in the Torah, one would think that this period was full of internal strife, complaining, fighting and dissatisfaction. In actual fact, our sages inform us, for the most of the 40 years in the desert the Jewish people were dwelling in peace and serenity, and the incidents where they complained or were unhappy were rare.

This week, Parshat Korach records some of the fiercest internal strife in the Torah. Korach, the first cousin of Moshe and Aaron, publicly challenges their authority as leaders of the people. He accuses them of acting selfishly and in their own interests to promote themselves to positions of importance without real legitimacy. This challenge soon gains momentum and Korach amasses a band of followers who stand with him in challenging the authority of Moshe and Aron.

When reading about Korach it is hard to see him in a good light. He is fierce in his opposition, cunning in the questions he seeks to stump Moses with, aims to publicly shame Moshe and Aaron and he is unrelenting.

But yet, the commentators say that he initially had good intentions. Korach wanted to be a High Priest, to experience the absolute closeness with G d that results from entry into the Holy of Holies. As such, Korach’s complaint was based on an essential truth: that the entire congregation is holy; G d is in their midst.

On some level, Korach’s concern was legitimate. He wanted to ensure that the people of Israel were being led by the best people possible. He felt sidelined as he too was a Levite from a priestly family and yet Moshe had elevated his own brother Aaron to the position of High Priest.

And yet, the method of rebellion demonstrated that while Korach may have started with good intentions, he soon focused the rebellion as a personal ego-project. If he really did have concerns, why publicly shame Moshe? Why gather a band of followers to publicly dishonour Moshe and Aaron?

And this is one of the messages of this week’s Parsha.

We can have the best of intentions when we start something. But, unless we are guided by the right people and ideology it is highly possible that the course or product we end up with will not resemble our initial intentions.

Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Gabi