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June 14, 1991 - Image 48

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1991-06-14

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f all the uprisings
against the leader-
ship of Moses during
the 40 years in the wilderness
(and there were many),
Korah's mutiny recorded in
this week's sedra was the
most serious.
Korah was not an ordinary,
ignorant rabble-rouser. On
the contrary, the Midrash
describes him as a pikeiach, a
brilliant scholar. He was also
affluent and a scion of the
very same family as Moses.
He was clearly a gifted,
talented and blessed man.
Moreover, the arguments
raised by Korah seemed at
first, to be "politically cor-
rect" and justified. He argued
against the concentration of
too much power at the top,
nepotism, and a closed spoils
As the Ibrah records, he ad-
dressed Moses and Aaron say-
ing: "You take too much upon
yourselves; the entire con-
gregation is holy, every one of
them, and God is amongst
them: why do you lift
yourselves above the
assembly of the Lord?" Korah
argues for the end of a ruling
oligarchy and for the
establishment of a "people's
Yet the Torah questions and
condemns the methodology
and the real motivation
behind Korah's revolution,
which was to end in disaster.
Korah's spectacular downfall
was to serve as a warning to
all future generations. It was
to call our attention to the dif-
ferences between authentic,
responsible leadership and
appealing but dangerous
demagoguery. The distinction
between the two has often
been blurred and misunder-
The Ibrah introduces us to
Korah with the words vayikah
Korah, and Korah took, but it
does not say what he took. It
is possible that the rIbrah is
alluding to the fact that there
are two distinct types of
leaders. Moses was a man
who understood leadership as
"giving" of oneself,
altruistically serving the in-
terests of the people. In con-
trast, Korah was one who
understood leadership as
"taking," grabbing honors,
appropriating power and
deriving personal benefits.
Korah is described as a

Morton Yolkut is senior rabbi
at B'nai David.

"taker" and his leadership
capacity is questioned.
Then a real leader makes
demands upon his people. He
challenges them, exhorts
them and motivates them.
There is a world of difference
between "being" holy as of-
fered by. Korah and "becom-
ing" holy as demanded by
Moses in the name of God.
"You shall be holy because I
the Lord am holy." One can
become holy only by living a
life of holiness. This requires
discipline, motivation and
hard work. For Korah
"everyone of them" is already
holy. No sweat and no effort
are required. When religion
does nothing more than com-
pliment us, tranquilize us and
sanctify our status quo, it is

Shabbat Korach:
Num. 16:1-18:32
I Sam. 11:14=12:22

no longer religion. It is
Korah's trademark. It is cer-
tainly not authentic Judaism.
Finally, Korah attempts not
only to undermine the
authority of Moses but the
legitimacy of the Divine
revelation itself. He does so
by resorting to petty,
dramatized arguments. This
was one of his arguments ac-
cording to the Midrash: "You,
Moses, commanded us to
write words of Tbrah upon the
doorposts of our houses and
upon our gates. What about a
house filled with Torah
scrolls? Does one still need to
affix a mezuzah which con-
tains only one short passage
of Torah?"
Moses was not put off by the
mockery and laughter that
must have accompanied this
"cheap shot." He replied that
even houses full of Torah and
scholarship, whether great
yeshivot or academies of lear-
ning, must have little
mezuzot on their doorposts as
a constant reminder of the
true purpose of Torah.
Korah was a gifted man,
but his problem was that he
wanted the rewards of virtue
without being virtuous; he
wanted the fruits of service
without serving. His
arguments ceased only after
Aaron's rod "blossomed and
bore ripe almonds." (Numbers
In the final analysis, it was
a record of constructive,
demanding and fruit-bearing
activities which was the
decisive factor in settling the
dispute over the issue of who
was a true Jewish leader. ❑

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