Korach | Religious Life | jewishaz.com
During rabbinical school, I traveled to El Salvador with American Jewish World Service and was introduced to a woman named Maria. Maria shared her time fighting in the jungle and what she had to do to stay alive, even showing the scars from where she was shot. She was introduced to us as a “freedom fighter,” part of the resistance fighting government oppression.
Having found no one to meet her needs and those of her family, Maria became part of a group literally fighting for the rights of the poor to determine their own destiny, own land and earn a living in a sustainable way. . So, yes, she was a freedom fighter… and yet, for some, she was also a guerrilla, even a terrorist. How should we see Maria – as a rebel, or a freedom fighter, or a terrorist? (Remember, the Maccabees were also rebels, freedom fighters and guerrillas – how do we view them and their struggle?)
This week’s Torah portion, Korach, teaches the story of a rebellion against Moses and Aaron as the Israelites pass through the desert. Moses and Aaron’s cousin, Korach, and his 250 followers dispute Aaron’s exclusive right to the priesthood, saying, “You have gone too far! For the whole community is holy, all of them, and Adonai is in their midst. Why then do you rise above the congregation of Adonai? When Moses heard this, he fell on his face, the ultimate sign of humility.
About these rebels, what do our Sages say about their defiance of authority? The Babylonian Talmud in Eruvine (13b) teaches that any controversy for God’s sake will eventually be justified, but any controversy that is not for God’s sake will not be justified. Which makes us wonder…what is controversy for God’s sake? We are given the example of the controversy between Hillel and Shammai. And what’s a controversy that’s not for God’s sake? That of Korach and all his company.
Therefore, we have to ask, what was the controversy between Hillel and Shammai? The Talmud says: For three years there was a controversy between their schools, each saying: “The law is according to our point of view. Then a Heavenly Voice proclaimed, “Both are the words of the living God.” The Voice continued, “Nevertheless, the law is in accordance with the school of Hillel.”
But if both are the words of the living God, why was the school of Hillel privileged? Because they were kind and humble, and they taught both their own opinions and those of their adversaries, and even taught the adversaries’ opinions before their own. This teaches us that greatness flees those who seek it, and seeks those who flee it.
For me, the difficulty with Korach’s challenge to the authority of Moses, this rebellion, is not that he challenged Moses, but rather it was How? ‘Or’ What he did: he began his challenge by gathering 250 men to rise up against Moses. He didn’t start with having a conversation, but rather with name-calling and an accusation. He didn’t start by listening and trying to understand the other person’s point of view. He went straight to rebellion.
In our own lives, we might wonder how relationships might have gone if we had been better listeners and perhaps not disagreed for selfish needs…instead, what if we had formulated our concerns in such a way that they only create a respectful attitude? , productive dialogue, motivated only by the purest search for truth? How could the world be any different if challenges to power are framed with dignity and only pursued for heaven? How could we avoid possible future rebellions? jn
Rabbi Cookie Lea Olshein is the Chief Rabbi of Temple Emanuel of Tempe.