Shelach, Numbers 13:1-15:41
“Now Korah, son of Izhar son of Kohath son of Levi, took himself, along with Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On, son of Peleth — descendants of Reuben — to rise up against Moses, together with two hundred and fifty Israelites, chieftains of the community, chosen in the assembly, men of repute. They combined against Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and the Lord is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s congregation?”
So begins this week’s portion of Torah. The story of Korach, cousin of Moses and Aaron, priest in his own right, a wealthy man whose community job was the honored position of carrying the Ark of the Covenant, the resting place of divine instruction, presence and inspiration, on his shoulders. And yet, despite his wealth, despite his place of honor in the sacred community, despite his lineage and yichus, Korach needed to rebel.
And it was a righteous rebellion, no matter what the rabbis say. Who among us could dare honestly argue with Korach’s complaint: “You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and the Lord is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s congregation?”
Whether you consider yourself as humble as Moses or you find yourself on the other side of the ego-leadership spectrum, when confronted with such a sharp complaint, you can’t help but to think, at least for a moment, if not more, “have I gone too far?”
In an age of empowerment when self-help spirituality books can’t seem to stay in stock at the bookstore and online, most of us, at least I, gravitate to arguments that say: “All of us are holy and no one or two people are holier than everyone else.”
So let’s see what Korach can teach us about individual self-worth in our own eyes, those of our fellow community members and in the eyes of Holy One of Blessing.
All we have to do is to read and reread and reread again, just the very first three words of the story, “and Korach took.” Aware of the sensitive dynamics of any healthy relationship, aware of our own flaws in the most important relationships of our lives, we can’t help but to join with Rabbi Kerry Olitzky, leader of Jewish 12-step and addiction projects, in pointing out that the only thing that Korach did was to take. He didn’t give the community anything; he only took himself and his cohorts to rise up against the community.
We all live in many relationships: husband-wife, beloved-beloved, parent-child, sibling-sibling, congregant-congregant, rabbi-congregant, friend-friend. Can you imagine what any of these relationships would be like if either or, God forbid, both parties were to just take and not give? Korach only took and gave nothing.
May Korach’s rebellious story teach each of us to give more than we take.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)