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Kenneth Brander
President and Rosh HaYeshiva, Ohr Torah Stone

What Is Our Contribution to the Holiness of the Jewish People?

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In Parshat Shelach and Parshat Korach, there are two rebellions against God. They are fundamentally different in their ethos.

Shelach is a spontaneous rebellion. It is a result of a dream of the Jewish people, a dream that was already born in Egypt:

וְהֵבֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם אֶל הָאָרֶץ
I’m going to bring you to this promised land.
[Exodus 6:8]

This is a dream that Yitro and Moshe also discuss:

נֹסְעִים אֲנַחְנוּ אֶל הַמָּקוֹם
We’re traveling to this wonderful place that God has promised us.
[Numbers 10:29]

It’s this dream that comes to a screeching halt when the dream of the nation collapses;

there is panic and rebellion.

In the case of Korach, it’s not a massive mob rebellion: out of the millions of people of Israel, only 250 rebel.

But there is a conspiracy to this rebellion: Korach waits until Moshe and Aharon’s popularity has waned, which is exactly what happens after the incident in Parshat Shelach, because Korach thinks it’s unfair that Aharon becomes the Kohen and not his family; and that Moshe is the leader and not his family.

His colleagues and co-conspirators, the Bnei Reuven, are upset that as children of Yaakov’s eldest son, they receive no leadership responsibilities.

Therefore:

וַיִּקַּח קֹרַח
And Korach took…
[Numbers 16:1]

Korach dedicates himself, focused on destroying Moshe and Aharon. As Rashi explains, he takes himself out of everything else to undermine Moshe and Aharon. [Rashi to Leviticus 16:1]

And as Rabbi Soloveitchik explains, in order for this conspiracy – or for any conspiracy – to work, it must begin with an ideology. Korach has two points. We will focus on one of them. He states:

כׇל הָעֵדָה כֻּלָּם קְדֹשִׁים וּבְתוֹכָם ה’
[Numbers 16:3]

“Every Jew has unique holiness. We are, after all, the Chosen People. It is part of our spiritual DNA. Moshe, you are no different than the wood chopper or the water drawer.”

And therefore:

וּמַדּוּעַ תִּתְנַשְּׂאוּ עַל קְהַל ה’
“Why do you, Moshe and Aharon, usurp yourself over the Jewish people?”
[Ibid.]

Korach is correct. There is a covenantal holiness of being part of the Jewish people. And in that holiness, there is no difference between the greatest sage – the “gadol hador” – and the Jew who can’t read.

As the Torah tells us:

כִּי עַם קָדוֹשׁ אַתָּה לַה’ אֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ
“You are a holy people.”
[Deuteronomy 14:2]

And as Rashi explains, it’s a holiness that comes from being part of the Jewish people. [Rashi to Deuteronomy 14:2]

However, there is another paradigm of sanctity that comes from the individual: the sanctity of the individual is distinct and unique.

The greatness that each and every one of us has as an individual is not the same.

It is proportional to my personal engagement with God.

And therefore, the verse continues:

וּבְךָ בָּחַר ה’
[Deuteronomy 14:2]

Each one of us has a unique relationship with God. Yes, we are all part of Knesset Yisrael, there is a holiness that is top-down. But there is also a holiness that is bottom-up. It’s what we contribute to the mix.

Community holiness arises from what the individual contributes, and therefore Moshe says:

בֹּקֶר וְיֹדַע ה’ אֶת אֲשֶׁר לוֹ וְאֶת הַקָּדוֹשׁ
[Numbers 16:5]

In the morning, “boker” – a word meaning “clarity” – we will be able to discern who can lead and who does not lead.

There’s a message here, and that is, we are holy as an entity, yes, but the holiness that we bring to the entity as individuals is so profound.

And Moshe is explaining that’s what God will testify to in His conversation between Moshe, Aharon and Korach.

So this parsha leads us with the following question: what is our contribution to the holiness of the Jewish people?

What do we do in our everyday lives to make the holiness of the Jewish people continue to grow and develop?

What do we do, as members of the Jewish people, to make a difference?

Korach doesn’t understand that, yes, it’s true, we’re part of a unique community, but part of that uniqueness comes with the responsibility for each and every one of us to contribute to changing our society and to enhancing the holiness of what it means to be God’s junior partner in the continued evolution of the creation process.

Shabbat Shalom.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr. Kenneth Brander is President and Rosh HaYeshiva of Ohr Torah Stone, an Israel-based network of 30 educational and social action programs transforming Jewish life, living and leadership in Israel and across the world. He is the rabbi emeritus of the Boca Raton Synagogue and founder of the Katz Yeshiva High School. He served as the Vice President for University and Community Life at Yeshiva University and has authored many articles in scholarly journals.
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