Attack from Within                        

Rabbi Reuven Mann

 This week’s Parsha, Korach, describes the revolt against the authority of Moshe that was spearheaded by his cousin, Korach. Ostensibly he was vexed about Moshe’s appointment of his brother, Aaron to be the Chief Kohen. After the construction of the Mishkan Moshe assigned its administrators to their positions. They were divided into two groups, Kohanim and Levites.

The former who constituted all male descendants of Aaron  performed the main services connected to the sacrifices. The Levites who belonged to the Tribe of Levi but were not offspring of Aaron served in a secondary capacity. They played the musical instruments and sang the songs that accompanied the offerings. They were also responsible  for transporting the  Mishkan  in the Wilderness travels.

Korach was a Levite and as such did have an opportunity to participate in the Temple service though he had to take a back seat to the Kohanim. What was his gripe? He complained that Moshe was guilty of seeking to amass power for himself and his family. After all he was the political, military and judicial ruler. The most exalted religious positions in the nation were those  of Kohen and Levite and they  were shared by his brother and the rest of his tribe. You have to admit that on the surface it might appear a bit suspicious.

However Moshe did not make these appointments of his own accord but was directed to by Hashem. The matter was exacerbated by the fact that originally the Bechorim (first born) were supposed to offer the sacrifices. When these types of changes are made one can always expect trouble. The “rejected” ones will not take their dismissal lightly nor  attribute it to their own shortcomings but to the selfish motives of the leaders.

Indeed the tribe of Reuven played a major part in the rebellion. Their ancestor was the first born of Yaakov and thus they felt that they were entitled to a special appointment.

However there  were two considerations that the conspirators might have kept in mind which cast doubt on their claim that Moshe acted for personal motives.

First of all they should  have been humbled as a result of the sin of the Golden Calf. All of the tribes of Israel (except Levi) were involved in this transgression and thereby  disqualified from the Temple Service. Instead of feeling upset that they were bypassed they should have humbly acknowledged their role in the Eigel and also recognized that the tribe of Levi, alone, never worshipped idols and in fact executed justice against all those who slipped into idolatry.

In addition their  accusation that  Moshe was power hungry was wild and unjustified. That is because, in point of fact, Moshe was  “more humble than any man on the face of the earth.” Not only did he not desire or seek power but he had argued with Hashem not to appoint him as leader of the Jews. Thus the failure of the conspirators to consider the consequences of idolatry as well as their inability to realize how absurd it was to project a lust for power onto Moshe were responsible for their their grievous uprising.

What was the real source of Korach’s accusation against Moshe? In a blistering response to Korach’s arrogant claims Moshe asked him, if the honor of being selected to do the service of the Levites was not enough for him that, “you also seek the Priesthood?” Korach was a frustrated individual  who felt he was cheated out of the honors he imagined he was entitled to. It was he who had a yearning for prestige and when that was thwarted he projected that flaw onto Moshe who was a truly humble person.

The Rabbis divined another dimension to the story. They depicted Korach as challenging the Halachik authority of Moshe. Accordingly they portrayed Korach and his cohorts as behaving in a shameful manner when they confronted Moshe with certain Halachik shailot (inquiries). For example, they asked, “Does a garment which is fully dyed with techelet (special blue dye used for Tzitzit/fringes) require fringes? Or, if a house if filled with Torah Scrolls does it still require a Mezuzah?”

Moshe responded that these matters  must be viewed from that standpoint of Jewish Law. While it may seem that in the instances cited there is no need for fringes or Mezuzah, the issue  requires an understanding of how  the Halacha functions. The Halacha takes on a life of its own and operates according to its inner logic even when it may seem to deviate from the overall purpose of the Mitzvah. From a Halachik perspective every house of a certain dimension requires a Mezuzah irrespective of what happens to be inside the house. Moshe expressed the Halachik or Torah truth to which the rebels laughed disparagingly. But Moshe had the last word.

The Rabbis thus recognized that the rebellion of  Korach was not just against certain appointments of Moshe but also in opposition to the very foundations of the Halachik system by which Torah observance is regulated. This aspect of the Revolt has afflicted the Jews throughout the ages. Reformist movements have constantly arisen to alter Judaism to render it more in conformity with the “spirit of the times.”

We are living in an era of massive moral and ethical upheaval. Behaviors, especially in the realm of sexuality which were previously disapproved, are now glorified. This new morality has had an impact on Jewish religious leaders many of whom feel compelled to “rethink” time honored practices and attitudes.

Sadly, it is not only the Reform and Conservative movements that are quick to discard classical Torah principles. Certain elements within the Orthodox Community now seem ready to modify the classical Judaic position  on vital areas of Torah morality.

Those of us who believe in and live by the Torah that was bequeathed to us by Moshe must recognize the seriousness of this matter and not be lulled into an acceptance a falsified version of our eternal religion. Like the great Torah leaders of our history we must courageously defend and fight for the authentic Jewish position on all the moral challenges of our time. If we battle with wisdom, courage and faith we will prevail with G-d’s help.

Shabbat Shalom

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