Judaism has a message for every topic in life. Many are surprised by this. Religion is expected to have a relevant take on spirituality and devotion, but what does religion know about geopolitics, race relations, or virology?
A Jew once asked Rabbi Sholom Ber Schneersohn, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe, which political movement Torah sides with, capitalism, socialism, communism, fascism, etc. The Rebbe replied that each of these movements is based on a kernel of truth. That kernel is from the Torah.
Judaism doesn’t claim expertise on every subject, but the Torah is THE authority on truth. You need to consult a doctor about medicine, a political scientist about politics, and a philosopher about philosophy. But if you want to know how well their response measures up against objective truth, you need to measure it against the teachings of the Torah.
This is why Judaism has a message for every topic in life. It is not to tell you the solution, it is to tell you whether your solution is headed in the right direction.
Korach failed to understand this. He led a rebellion against Moses and Aaron arguing, why do we need to be led by rabbis? The entire assembly is holy so why should they lord it over us? Moses is holy in his own heavenly way, but we are also holy. Our holiness is somewhat different—our expertise is earthly, but in our arena, we are holy and don’t need a Moses. We are good enough on our own, aren’t we?
People ask similar questions today when a Rabbi speaks up on a political or security question. They ask, who appointed the rabbi an expert over such matters?
The argument essentially boils down to this. Torah is for the study hall, prayer is for the synagogue, rabbis are for ritual affairs, and Judaism is for the home. This has no bearing on the real world. Heavenly matters are for G-d and earthly matters are for humans. Why would we bridge this divide? Why would Judaism have a message for earthly matters?
But Korach was wrong. When G-d gave us the Torah He specifically descended to earth. In turn, G-d instructed Moses to ascend to Heaven. G-d wanted to sever this divide between heaven and earth and demonstrate that the very G-d, Who created the heaven, also created the earth. The Torah that trumpets G-d’s principles, thoughts, and teachings is as relevant on earth as it is in heaven.
Yes, the people are holy, but they are earthly people. On earth, there is no way to tell if something is true or not. Everything is relative.
This is especially true today. Ask someone if murder is wrong and they will tell you that it depends on whether it is wrong for you. Ask someone if you are male or female and they will tell you that it depends on how you identify. Ask someone if you are implicitly biased and they will tell you it depends on the color of your skin.
This is not only true of opinion it is also true of life. Is apple pie good or bad for you? It depends on how much you eat. Is a gun good or bad? It depends on how you use it. Is a person good or bad? It depends on what they are doing at the moment. There is no objective categorical truth on earth. That is in the realm of heaven.
When you solicit expert advice and want to know whether it has the ring of truth, you need to measure it against something that is categorically true. Ask a Torah scholar who is immersed in Torah study all day, whose mind is trained to think along the lines of G-d’s thoughts, and he will cut through the confusion and tell you the truth.
Therefore, we need the Torah even when discussing earthly matters. Therefore, we need Moses though the assembly is holy. Therefore, Judaism has a message on every subject in life.
Everyone Is an Expert
There is another slant to Korach’s argument. The entire assembly is holy. There is a growing phenomenon in today’s world: everyone thinks they are experts. People who never studied medicine wax poetic on the Coronavirus and tell you which vaccines are safe for you. People who never studied politics have opinions on what presidents and prime ministers should do. People who know nothing of race relations opine on whether our country is systemically racist. People who don’t follow the news know which political party is good for the country.
True experts are demeaned and dismissed as biased; as agenda-driven. We are in an age when the non-expert is trusted more than the expert because the non-expert has no reason to be biased. This is ridiculous by every logical standard, but then again, who cares about logic?
Religious leaders will tell you that there is nothing new about this phenomenon. It has existed in religion from time immemorial. People who never studied the Torah hold forth on precisely what Judaism says about current affairs. They can wax poetic about Tikkun Olam and the infinite value of life, but when they apply these principles to real-life scenarios, they are often wrong because they don’t fully grasp the principles and their nuances. Yet, they claim to know better than the rabbis. Isn’t that ironic? Yes, but irony doesn’t matter when the ego gets in the way.
This too part of Korach’s argument. Who needs Moses if we have us? The entire assembly is holy so why do we need a holy man? Judaism has a message for every subject, that is true. But we can tell you what that message just as well as Moses can. So why do we need Moses?
G-d disagreed with Korach and put down his rebellion. A wise person learns from those who know. Believing that we know everything and have no need to learn from anyone is the opposite of wisdom. This is perhaps the most relevant message of Korach’s failure. Judaism has a message for every subject in life and to learn that message we must first study the Torah.
The Nation is Holy
Korach got one thing right. The nation is indeed holy. You don’t need to buy a membership to belong to a synagogue. If you are a Jew, you are a member. You too can be a rabbi; all you need to do is study. There is no elite circle of rabbis. It is comprised simply of those who have studied.
So don’t wait for an invitation. The synagogue belongs to you as it does to every Jew. Show up and you are a member. Enter and study. Learn the Torah. Discover Judaism’s pearls of wisdom and before long, you can be the one to teach others. You can be the one consulted when people wonder whether Judaism has a message on a subject that vexes them.
On Sunday, June 13, Jews around the world will mark the 27th anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. The Rebbe dedicated his life to empowering all Jews with their Jewish heritage. To this end, he established a worldwide network of Chabad Houses that operates by the motto, every Jew is welcome, irrespective of background or affiliation.
You don’t need a membership to belong to the Jewish people. If you are a Jew, the Torah is your heritage. Come and claim it. There are thousands of Jews waiting to teach you and help you claim what is yours.