Midrash Tanchuma brings a parable that is far out. In fact, it takes place in space. The sun and the moon called a general strike. They moved to the 4th layer of the heavens which houses a duplicate of the Bet Hamikdash. They refuse to carry out their cosmic duties until God intervenes on behalf of Moshe and Aharon in the rebellion of Korach.
It seems that the sun and the moon were in the dark about how this rebellion was going to turn out. God had already prepared for the ground to swallow up Korach and his rebels from before the days of creation – just waiting for Moshe to ask for help.
God points out to them that their work stoppage shows that their priorities are all wrong. After all, both the sun and the moon have been worshiped by people. One might expect that this would have caused moral outrage on the part of the sun and the moon. How could anyone dare worship celestial bodies when there’s only one God in the heavens and the earth!. Yet, the sun and the moon did not protest this terrible affront to God. Instead, they are concerned about the honor of Moshe and Aharon. So concerned that they staged a work stoppage.
After God’s rebuke, the sun and the moon realized the error of their ways and their serious lapse in judgment. The sun and the moon were so embarrassed, they were unable to carry out their celestial duties. According to the Midrash, God continues to throw arrows at them every day just to get them to return to their assigned orbit.
Pretending to pedal high ideals?
I believe the Midrash is a comment on the insidious nature of the Korac rebellion against Moshe. Korach claims that his true motivation was that:
כי כל העדה כולם קדושים “everyone in the community is equally holy.” (Numbers 15:3) He was indeed from a noble Levite family but it was, in fact, pure jealousy. He was upset that Moshe took the leadership for himself and appointed his brother to be the high priest. The only problem with this argument is that it is completely false.
God handpicked Moshe while he was a shepherd for his father-in-law, Yitro. God also handpicked Aharon and his descendants to be priests among all those from the tribe of Levi.
A rebellion against the Torah
Midrash Tanchuma brings the following well-known story to expose the essence of Korach’s issue: Korach asked Moshe whether a Tallit that is made entirely of Techelet needs a Techelet string, or whether a room full of Torah scrolls needs a mezuzah. When Moshe answered in the affirmative, Korach accused Moshe of inventing these laws because they made no sense. This showed Korach’s true motives.
“The Rav” – Rabbi Yoseph Dov Soloveitchik — described Korach’s real intentions in his famous Drasha*: “The common sense rebellion against Judaism.” The Rav explains how these examples of the Tallit full of Techelet and the room full of Torahs point to the fact that Korach was leveling a serious charge against Judaism. Korach was really arguing that Jewish law should be purely subjective in every given situation. The emotional element of the Mitzvah of צִיצִ֥ת comes, for example, from the פְּתִ֥יל תְּכֵֽלֶת deep blue Techelet. It represents the expansiveness of the ocean which reflects the sky and, ultimately, a feeling of the infinite expansiveness of God on the Throne of Glory. Therefore according to Korach, if the whole garment is Techelet, we can surely discard the Mitzvah of adding a פְּתִ֥יל תְּכֵֽלֶת blue string because we have already achieved an emotional response from the Mitzvah.
This leads to a Judaism focussed exclusively on the desired emotional outcome. Which, in turn, lends itself to a complete breakdown of Jewish law since you cannot codify a Mitzvah that meets everyone’s religious experiences. No two people experience the same Mitzvah the same way. Rav Soloveitchik further argues that Korach’s philosophy advocates replacing Mitzvot with artificial means of evoking emotions – such as grand architecture, inspiring music, (one might even add – an emotional video). This is a confused attempt to replace religious experience with artistic expression.
Know the true nature of your enemies
The sun and the moon indeed missed the big picture. They saw the battle against Moshe but missed the war against God and the Torah.
I can’t help but think about recent anti-Israel rhetoric and protests. Jews must be vigilant in determining the true nature of this vitriol. Just like anti-Moshe protests turned out to be a smokescreen for a rebellion against God and Torah, anti-Israel protests might be a coverup as well.
*Hear an amazing Drasha from the Rav (Rabbi Yoseph Dov Soloveitchik ztl) on Parshat Korach. If you can’t hear it all I recommend 14 minutes from 98.29 to 1:12.32..