Korach 5780 – All People are Created Equal

By: Iris Sheppard

This parsha shares another complex but quite timely story. It deals with themes of equality, diversity, protests, and conflict resolution. It also deals with themes of holiness and personal ambition. These resonate with our current climate.

To help put context around all of this let me revisit a few points

  • The people left Egypt as slaves. For as far back as they could remember their families had been slaves. They weren’t responsible for thinking. They were expected to do as told and others either took care of them for good and for bad.
  • The culture they came from venerated multiple gods that were given personas and worshipped as idols. It was a very foreign concept for the Israelites to trust in the unseen. For that reason Hashem directed many acts of ‘magic’ through Moses and Aaron over the years to build their belief.
  • The people needed to learn to come together as a community, to manage the freedom they’d gained, and carry out the responsibilities required to function as a free society. This placed new demands on them.
  • Moses and Aaron were the designated leaders. Leaders that lead them out of slavery and into freedom. But like all of the leaders the people had while in Egypt – ones to be wary of.
  • They were still on the path from an undesirable but stable existence to that of a self-governing/self-managing society when this parsha begins.

Korach is one of the people. He is from the tribe of Levi. He appears to be somewhat skilled as a politician. He has a sense for what motivates people.

Moses has always been a reluctant leader. His strength while in Egypt was in the prophecies he foretold. These impacted the Pharaoh and his advisors. The prophecies and subsequent outcomes fit into their system of belief. Once free Moses position of leader was repeatedly questioned. Hashem’s interactions, miracles, and more supported his position.

The parsha tells us Korach starts a dispute over leadership (both secular and religious).

Korach, Dathan, Abiram, and 250 others came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron. The dispute starts out by questioning why is Moses their leader. Is he the only candidate? If all are eligible / created equal / kadosh enough, why isn’t there a chance for someone else?

Korach’s challenge is more of a challenge to God than that of Moses himself. As mentioned before Hashem has appointed and supported Moses in the role of leader since the beginning of the people’s journey to freedom. His challenge stems from personal ambition, recognition, and desire to control. Is he the antithesis of Moses?

Moses reacts not with anger but in a much humbler way. He has been the messenger through which Hashem’s vision for the Israelites has become visible throughout the years. He grew from a young man quick to anger and with low self-confidence to become their leader – overcoming his own ego in order to serve the greater cause. He grew from someone reluctant to stand out front to one that is always in the limelight.

What happens the course of the next few days settles the dispute and determine the course of their future.

Korach’s band gather in from of the Ohel Moed (Tabernacle) with their fire pans. Hashem appears as a cloud overhead. Moses tells the people – if these men were to die of natural causes then he, Moses, is not be the chosen leader; however is Hashem causes the earth to swallow them up then that is a sign designating Moses as leader. That’s exactly what happened plus the band holding their fire pans burned up as well.

The people are quite shaken. They rail against Moses and Aaron while being fearful for their lives. Moses once again has to intervene with Hashem who is ready to annihilate all. Aaron is set to collect a staff from a chieftain of each of the 12 tribes; inscribe the man’s name on it; inscribe Levi on Aaron’s staff; place all of them in Tent of Meeting.

The next morning they find Aaron staff has sprouted, blossomed, and borne almonds; no change to the others. Hashem affirms that Aaron and his descendants would be responsible for the Tent of Meeting, be the priesthood, and accountable for what happened in/related to the performance of their duties. The Levites are assigned to aid the Kohanim.

Both the dispute and unrest have been addressed. Leadership is settled.  What can we take away from all of this?

  • While all are created equal it doesn’t mean we’re able to do the same things.
  • Take time to reflect before answering challenges especially when anger is in the picture.
  • Don’t expect miracles to help resolve differences.