Menachem Creditor

Korach’s Rebellion: The Illusion of Holiness

Korach, a cousin of Moses and Aaron, is dissatisfied with his power and desires more. This week’s Torah portion delves into Korach’s rebellion and the language he employs in what can only be described as a political campaign. Though ancient Israel wasn’t a democracy, the support of the people held real significance, and Korach’s challenge to leadership is indeed compelling.

While it’s beneficial to have diverse ideas competing in the public sphere, allowing people to evaluate different perspectives, let us focus on one particular claim Korach makes.

Korach’s argument boils down to questioning the special status of Moses and Aaron: “What makes you so special? We’re all holy. (Num. 16:3)” This echoes a central theme from Leviticus, “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord, am holy. (Lev. 19:2)” Yet, Korach’s statement shifts the emphasis. Instead of the aspirational “you shall be holy,” he asserts “you are holy,” transforming a command into an assumption.

The distinction is profound. The command in Leviticus calls for striving towards holiness, whereas Korach’s assumption suggests complacency. This resonates with contemporary global political rhetoric, where historical and biblical references can be manipulated to sway public opinion.

Korach’s offence was in asserting that the Jewish people (‘Israelites’ in the Torah’s context) had already achieved their pinnacle of holiness. This mistake mirrors a broader misconception in any society: believing that we’ve arrived at our ultimate potential. The ongoing work of building a better world, striving for justice, and cultivating holiness is never complete.

America, often described as an exceptional nation, faces a similar challenge. Are we inherently special, or are we called to continually improve and expand our values? The answer lies in the latter. The values that define us must evolve, guiding us towards greater inclusion and equality. We must grow.

Korach’s fatal error is his willful ignorance of this noble truth: the journey towards holiness, justice, and a better world is ongoing. We must never become complacent, believing we have already achieved our goals. Instead, we must embrace the continuous effort to improve ourselves and our communities, to grow.

Holiness is not an inherent state but an aspiration, a vision requiring constant recalibration. Korach missed this point, but we must not. Our tradition and history urge us to keep striving, not because we desire conflict, but because the work of perfecting the world is far from over.

About the Author
Rabbi Menachem Creditor serves as the Pearl and Ira Meyer Scholar in Residence at UJA-Federation New York and was the founder of Rabbis Against Gun Violence. An acclaimed author, scholar, and speaker with over 2 million views of his online videos and essays, he was named by Newsweek as one of the fifty most influential rabbis in America. His 31 books and 6 albums of original music include "A Year of Torah," the global anthem "Olam Chesed Yibaneh" and the COVID-era 2-volume anthology "When We Turned Within." He and his wife Neshama Carlebach live in New York, where they are raising their five children.
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