Korach and equal opportunity

June 21, 2012

There is a famous saying in pirkei avot chapter 4 mishna 21
רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר הַקַּפָּר אוֹמֵר, הַקִּנְאָה וְהַתַּאֲוָה וְהַכָּבוֹד מוֹצִיאִין אֶת הָאָדָם מִן הָעוֹלָם:

Rabbi Elazar Hakappar says: Jealousy, Desire and Honour take a person out of the world. The rabbis understand that it refers to the World to Come and not this temporal world. Firstly, everybody eventually leaves this world – even those who were not jealous, full of desire or looking for honour. Secondly, many of those who were jealous, desirous or seeking honour lived long lives. So the reference is to the world to come.

Why did Rabbi Elazar Hakappar pick on these three bad character traits. There are other opinions in the mishna.
It occurred to me that, like us, he was learning the Chumash Bemidbar carefully over these hot summer months and realised that these three bad traits which led to disasters all occurred within the three consecutive sidrot of Behaalot’cha, Sh’lach Lecha and now Korach.

In Behaalot’cha (numbers chapter 11) we read of the ‘mitavim’ the desirers? In this case the superficial desire was for t-bone steaks. It ended in the death of people who were buried in the place to be known as ‘ Kivrot hataavah’ the graves of the desirous.
Before you ask, I didn’t say that those three bad traits can’t take a person out of this world. In fact, they can take a person out of his right mind! I’ve seen it.

The second one is kavod, honour and this was the sin of 10 of the meraglim. They were afraid that if the Jewish people actually entered Israel that they would lose their jobs as the representatives of the tribes. They had served their purpose, had fulfilled their task of bringing back the report and would be replaced by other leaders. Their overwhelming desire for the honour of office, to stay in office caused them to slander the Land of Israel. They wandered 40 years in the desert, to die and be buried there rather than give up the honour of high office.

Our current leaders in Israel have taken this important lesson to heart and would never slander, lie or cheat to stay in office, whether it be the Knesset or the rabbinate!!!

The third bad trait of kinah , jealousy is looming large in this week’s torah reading of Korach.
Korach, under the slogan ” kulanu kedoshim” we are all holy – we are all equal – starts a revolt in a bid for him to oust Aaron Hakohen and get the job of High Priest for himself.

Who are the people that the charistmatic Korach gets to join him? The Torah lists them right at the beginning – Datan, Aviram and On Ben Pelet…… And 250 leaders of the congregation who are “kriay moed”.
The Midrash explains that kriay moed are people who are experts in the calendar. They know how to intercalate the extra month and they know when Rosh chodesh will be. Kriay moed literally means declaring/calling the time/season. And the Midrash takes it literally.
Look at the verse (Leviticus 23)

“וַיְדַבֵּר ה’ אֶל מֹשֶׁה לֵּאמֹר דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאָמַרְתָּ אֲלֵהֶם מוֹעֲדֵי ה’ אֲשֶׁר תִּקְרְאוּ אֹתָם מִקְרָאֵי קֹדֶשׁ אֵלֶּה הֵם מוֹעֲדָי שֵׁשֶׁת יָמִים תֵּעָשֶׂה מְלָאכָה וּבַיּוֹם הַשְּׁבִיעִי שַׁבַּת שַׁבָּתוֹן מִקְרָא קֹדֶשׁ כָּל מְלָאכָה לֹא תַעֲשׂוּ שַׁבָּת הִוא לַה’ בְּכֹל מוֹשְׁבֹתֵיכֶם אֵלֶּה מוֹעֲדֵי ה’ מִקְרָאֵי קֹדֶשׁ אֲשֶׁר תִּקְרְאוּ אֹתָם בְּמוֹעֲדָם”

Why would Korach specifically gather the calendar experts to join him in his ill advised battle with Moshe Rabbenu?

The Be’er Yosef ( Rabbi Yosef Salant) who was a Maggid in Jerusalem when Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach was a boy, explains beautifully.

Korach’s argument was that Moshe and not HaShem chose Aaron for the job. True, HaShem had confirmed the appointment at the end of parshat shemini, but He would have confirmed anybody that Moshe chose.

Where do we find this concept in Halacha? With the festivals. The Mishna in Rosh Hashana chapter 2 tells us, on the verse quoted above “these are your festivals that you declare” whether in the right time or not in the right time, whether by mistake or not, whether on purpose or not, there are no other festivals than these. Here we see that the rabbis had the power to play with the calendar, as it were, and HaShem confirms their actions. This is why Korach took 250 calendar experts with him. To tell Moshe that I know what you have done. You chose Aaron and HaShem confirmed your choice but you should have chosen me.

What is Moshe’s reply in verse 5. BOKER and HaShem will make known His choice, who is really holy enough and qualified for this position.

You, Korach are mistaken. The paradigm is not mo’ed – the fixing of the festivals. The paradigm is boker and erev. Morning and evening. Not even the Sanhedrin can declare that morning is evening or that evening is morning. And if they do it is nonsense and has no effect. Who created boker and erev and set them permanently in motion? HaShem Himself and it is He and not me who chose Aaron as the first Kohen Gadol. He had the right qualifications and character traits not you. The choice was not mine at all.

The rabbis ask further: Korach pikayach hayah – Korach was a highly intelligent person (and very rich) mah ra’ah bishtut zu – what did he see to gain out of this foolishness?

The Maskil Ledovid answers. You remember the story in the Talmud Berachot 27 when the Nasi Rabban Gamliel overstepped the mark and insulted Rabbi Yehoshua. This unfortunate episode caused the temporary suspension of Rabban Gamliel as Nasi. Who was the most qualified person to substitute for him? None other that Rabbi Yehoshua – the leading scholar of the generation. So why didn’t the rabbis appoint him? Because he was a “Baal davar” – he was the interested party and automatically disqualified.

The Maskil Ledovid says that Korach should have realised this. Even if Aaron Hakohen would be ousted. Anybody but he would be qualified to succeed him. So it was a shtut- a stupidity to start a revolt in order to get a job that he would never get under the banner of equality.

What was my ancestor Aaron’s reaction to all this?

In verse three they complain against Moshe and Aaron. In verse four the reaction is that Moshe falls on his face. But not Aaron. Why not?
The Ramban explains: but NOT Aaron who in his modesty and holiness didn’t answer at all. In all this controversy he acted as if he were deaf. As if he agreed that Korach was greater than him but he was acting according to the word of Moshe to keep the decree of the king (Moshe).

This is the way to react to controversy and insult. Keep silent and carry on with your holy work. Who knows better than me that this is the correct policy….?!

Shabbat Shalom veChodesh Tov

Rabbi Meir Hakohen Wise
Ramat Bet Shemesh


One Response to “Korach and equal opportunity”

  1. MP said

    Once again, the Wise Rabbi has been “koveish es yitzro”, a yeitzer which directs him to sharply comment upon current events as analogous (“ein chadash tachas hashamesh”) to past events. Keep up the holy “kibush”! 🙂

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