Korach – The Response to Anarchy

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Korach’s rebellion with his followers takes place in this week’s Torah portion of Korach. The beginning of the portion states: “Korach the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi took [himself to one side] along with Dasan and Aviram, the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Pelet, descendants of Reuvain. They confronted Moshe together with two hundred and fifty men from the children of Israel, chieftains of the congregation, representatives of the assembly, men of repute. They assembled against Moshe and Aharon, and said to them, “You take too much upon yourselves, for the entire congregation are all holy, and the Lord is in their midst. So why do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?” Moses heard and fell on his face. He spoke to Korach and to all his company, saying, “In the morning, the Lord will make known who is His, and who is holy, and He will draw [them] near to Him, and the one He chooses, He will draw near to Him” (Bamidbar 16:1-5).

The Medrish Rabba explains in more detail the conversation Korach and his followers had with Moshe and Aharon. They said to Moshe and Aharon that the entire nation are all holy and all of them heard on Har Sinai the mitzvah of, ‘I am the Lord your G-D’ so why should you reign over the congregation of Hashem?! We could understand if everyone didn’t hear the receiving of the Torah on Har Sinai, except for you, but now that everyone heard so why are you elevated over everyone else (Bamidbar Rabba 18:6)?

In the next paragraph of the Medrish Rabba (18:7), in the second answer of how Moshe responds the Medrish says that Moshe said to them, Hashem created boundaries in His world. Are you able to combine day and night? That is what the pasuk says in the beginning, ‘And it was evening, and it was morning’ (Breishis 1:5), ‘and G-D separated between the light and between the darkness’ (1:4 there). This was done for the practicality of the world. So just as He differentiated between light and darkness for the practicality of the world, so too He separated the Jewish people from the rest of the nations, as it says, ‘And I separated you from the rest of the nations to be for me’ ( 20:26). And so too He separated Aharon, as it says, ‘And he separated Aharon to make him holy in the Holy of Holies’ (Divrei HaYamim alef 23:13). If you are able to combine the  separation between light and the darkness, you are able to nullify this also, therefore Moshe said to them, ‘Morning, and Hashem knows what is His and the Holy and he offered on it, it is already fixed, and that which he chooses he shall bring close to Him.’

The Rada”l on the medrish clarifies that if light and darkness combined together the world would  be able to benefit from it’s useful purpose. So too the Jews separated from the rest of the nations of the world and Kohanim separated from Yisrael, through their separation, that is their use in order to stay holy and to be free to serve Hashem. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

Korach and his followers’ claim is that everyone should be equal, we all are holy and together like one man with one heart who received the Torah then why should Moshe and Aharon be elevated to a higher status than everyone else? This statement is an anarchist, utopian like statement. What is Moshe’s response? Moshe breaks it down for them as clearly as possible, stage by stage to make clear that there is a logical need for a hierarchy, and it is unhealthy for the world to be one big melting pot.

Moshe first gave the example of the light and darkness, imagine if light and darkness would be combined, not light shed onto a pitch black room, but combined like if you would combine yellow and blue which makes green then you would never get the benefits of yellow and blue if they were always mixed, so too if light and darkness were combined then you wouldn’t be able to see as well or sleep as well, the combination would not be useful at all, at least at its optimal potential. The same is true about the Jews and the rest of the nations. By Hashem setting us apart and giving us a status of a light upon all other nations, princes to the King Of All Kings, he set us apart to keep us holy and focused on our mission to serve Hashem at great heights. If He would not have separated us from everyone else and we would just be intermingled with the rest of the world then there would be no push or sense of responsibility to be focused on being holy and to serve Hashem to the optimum since we’d all be doing the same thing and there would be no impetus to not do what everyone else is doing  and finds interesting. This means that the very essence of being set apart and put on a higher pedestal is what gives the proper motivation for one to succeed in what he is asked to do, the hierarchy and sense of being unique and special gives one a sense of responsibility to produce proper results. In this case of course every Human being was created in the image of Hashem, and has high degrees of intellect with potential to reach great heights in serving Hashem but Hashem still put the Jewish people on a pedestal in order so that they feel that sense of responsibility to be unique and separate, holy, so that they can be an example and benefit to the world in serving Hashem to their optimum.

So too within the Jewish people Hashem created a hierarchy of Kohanim over Yisraelim. The kohanim have to be even more scrupulous in their holiness and they are given the special job of the only ones able to perform the service in the Mishkan and Beis Hamikdash, they have benefits such as  the priestly gifts, but their sanctified status comes with a lot of responsibility and if every Jew would have equal status, anyone can perform the sacrificial service, for example, then no one would adhere to the level of holiness required. This is similar to  people who wish to have no government or law and order because it is not right that some people have higher status and control over others. Yet without the positions of leadership there would not be an impetus or responsibility to get things done properly and the whole world would fall into chaos.

Even at the risk of abusive control, haughtiness and all other negativity that comes with leadership we see from here that it is more worth while to have a sense of hierarchy and not anarchy in the world in order to infuse a sense of responsibility and purpose  for the benefit of the world.

All Korach and his followers wanted was anarchy, a utopia where everyone is equal, but Moshe’s response was that it would be useless and harmful to the world because if everyone is equal. If there is no leadership then there is no responsibility and the world would then fall apart.