Parshat Korach

In this week’s parashah, Korach, we watch as Korach challenges Moses’ and Aaron’s leadership.  It’s a powerful moment of challenge and Divine Response.  Ultimately, the earth will open its ‘mouth’ and swallow Korach and his followers. With such a drastic reaction to a challenge of leadership, it begs us to question: what was so terrible?

            Korach is Moses’ cousin, and argues that he, as well as others, are equally holy and close to God, and therefore he deserves to be the leader.  What makes Moses so special?  One of Korach’s first steps is to turn to a family from the tribe of Reuben for allyship.  It’s a subtle yet clever step since the original Reuben was the first born of Jacob, the patriarch, and should have inherited the patriarchy.  Instead, leadership went to Judah, leaving Reuben as a follower.  The tribe of Reuben may have sympathized with the Korach’s question: what makes Moses so special?

            So, Korach, a disgruntled relative, seeks out a rejected leader to mount a challenge.  The Torah introduces everything with the word ‘vayikach’, ‘he took’, but doesn’t say what Korach took.  Generally, we understand it to mean that Korach and his followers took themselves out of the people.  Their first step was to create their own group, and step outside of the identity and concerns of the people. The difference between mounting a challenge or mounting a revolution depends on where you’re standing when you do it.

            Challenge or change that occurs from within something is an evolution, an organic process of growth and change.  Finding disgruntled outliers and mounting a challenge, once you’ve already stepped outside of something, is a revolution, an attack on an existing reality.  Judaism is an ever-growing covenant with God that creates mechanisms of evolution —we are commanded to engage, add our voices, and move the meanings of Torah forward.  Revolution, as seen with Korach, is much trickier. 

The Torah commands us to fight evil in the world with whatever tools we have, and revolution may be an option then. Otherwise, Judaism rejects revolution as a process of growth because it begins with a statement of rejection and exclusion —the group has already stepped outside and will now attack from there. 

            Change and growth are intrinsic to a living Torah, and to living a vibrant Jewish life.  The lesson is never whether we debate and question, but rather, where are we standing when we ask those questions.

            I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat —our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.

Shabbat shalom,