Having learned that they would not enter the Promised Land for lack of courage and faith in God, Korach arose to challenge the leadership of Moses with what appears to be a noble argument.
“You have gone too far? For all the community are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you raise yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?”
Clearly, he sounds like a voice for the people as he speaks of each person’s worth and holiness. But as we read through the Torahtext, we see that Korach was motivated, not by a desire to help or uplift the people. Rather, what really spurred Korach’s attack against Moses was a personal grievance. He was angry and resentful that Moses had overlooked him and appointed someone else to a prestigious leadership position.
According to the Torah, the controversy in the Israelite camp became so great that it could be decided only by God. And so did the rebellion end with Korach and his followers being miraculously, if not metaphorically, swallowed up by the earth, thus affirming the leadership and the authority of Moses.
While Korach was proven to be a self-serving demagogue who manipulated the people’s worst fears and insecurities, there is a timeless message in the words spoken by him. As he contends that “every one of the people is holy,” there we have one of the beautiful premises of Judaism. The notion that each and every person has the capacity to be a source of holiness.
But what Korach failed to understand and appreciate is that we approach that potential not through title or status, or through our words, or through the creed we profess. Rather, we become holy through actions of loving-kindness, through deeds (mitzvot) of sharing and uplifting and reaching beyond ourselves to make the world a little better and more just.
Surely the appeal of Korach remains a noble hope and challenge: “For all the community are holy, every one of them.”
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Greenberg