The name “Korach,” which when translated from the Hebrew means baldness, ice, hail, or frost, is the 38th weekly Torah portion (פָּרָשָׁה, parashah in Hebrew) in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading and the fifth in the Book of Numbers. It tells of Korach’s failed attempt to overthrow Moses.
It constitutes Numbers 16:1–18:32. The parashah is made up of 5,325 Hebrew letters, 1,409 Hebrew words, 95 verses, and 184 lines in a Torah Scroll (סֵפֶר תּוֹרָה, Sefer Torah) It is generally read in the synagogue in June or July.
The study of the biblical account of Korach’s rebellion against Moses, and of the numerous Midrashim and Commentaries describing Korach’s personality and actions, yields a complex, even contradictory picture. Korach was no ordinary rabble-rouser. He was a leading member of Kehatites, the most prestigious of the Levite families. Joining him in his mutiny against Moses and Aaron were “two hundred and fifty men of Israel, leaders of the community, of those regularly called to assembly, men of renown.” Korach’s difference with Moses was an ideological one, driven by the way in which he understood Israel’s relationship with G‑d and by the manner in which he felt the nation ought to be structured.
Yet Korach is regarded as the father of all quarrelers: his very name is synonymous with disharmony and conflict. The Talmud goes so far as to proclaim: “Anyone who engages in divisiveness transgresses a divine prohibition, as it is written: ‘And he shall not be as Korach and his company.'” But if there is more to Korach — the person and the idea — than a jealousy-drive power struggle, why does every petty squabbler fall under the umbrella of “Don’t be like Korach”?
Obviously, there is something at the heart of Korach’s contentions that is the essence of all disunity.
The particulars of Korach’s campaign also require explanation. What exactly did Korach want? His arguments against Moses and Aaron seem fraught with contradiction. On the one hand, he seems to challenge the very institution of the kehunah (“priesthood”), declaiming to Moses and Aaron: “The entire community is holy, and G‑d is within them; why do you raise yourselves over the congregation of G‑d?”
(Moses had divided the people of Israel into several classes of holiness: “ordinary” Israelites, Levites, Kohanim (“priests”) and, at the pinnacle of this pyramid, the Kohen Gadol (“High Priest”). The Israelites — the farmers, merchants, craftsmen, soldiers, and statesmen of Israel — were to pursue the “normal” existence of physical man — a life and vocation that involve the bulk of a person’s time and talents in the material world.
The tribe of Levi, however, was “distinguished by the G‑d of Israel from the community of Israel, to be brought closer to Him,” to serve as spiritual leaders and priests, “instructing Your laws to Jacob and Your Torah to Israel; placing incense in Your nostrils and burnt offerings upon Your altar” (Numbers 16:9; Deuteronomy 33:10). Within the tribe of Levi itself, Aaron and his descendants were consecrated as “Kohanim” and entrusted with the primary role in serving G‑d in the Sanctuary. Aaron himself was appointed Kohen Gadol, “the greatest of his brethren” in this hierarchy of holiness. Korach seems to be objecting to this spiritual elitism.)
But from Moses’ response (“Is it not enough for you that the G‑d of Israel has distinguished you from the community of Israel… that you also desire the priesthood?”) we see that Korach actually desired the office of the Kohen Gadol for himself!
This paradox appears time and again in various accounts of Korach’s mutiny in the Midrashim and the commentaries. Korach comes across a champion of equality, railing against a “class system” that categorizes levels of holiness within the community. Yet, in the same breath, he contends that he is the more worthy candidate for the High Priesthood. Do we find anything like that today in the claims for equalism in the riots going on?
Our Sages have said: “Just as their faces are not alike, so, too, their minds and characters are not alike.” Such is the nature of the human race: individuals and peoples differ from each other in outlook, personality, talents, and the many other distinctions, great and small, which set them apart from each other.
It is only natural to expect these differences to give rise to animosity and conflict. And yet, at the core of the human soul is the yearning for peace. We intuitively sense that despite the tremendous (and apparently inherent) differences between us, a state of universal harmony is both desirable and attainable. Let us hope that the differences between us can soon stop and the world can finally achieve peace. This is why we pray for the Moshiach to come daily, as it looks like that is what it will take to bring peace.
Here is one way to make your point:
Like a Surgeon
Morty Applebaum was laying on the operating table, about to be operated on by his son David, the surgeon.
Morty said, “David, think of it this way: If anything happens to me, your mother is coming to live with you.”