This week’s parshah, Korach, shows us the first instance of a rebellion within the people. Korach incites hundreds of people to revolt against Moses and Aaron. He argues that since God speaks to everyone directly, he is as holy as Moses. He throws in a few ‘should have left us in Egypt’ nostalgia soundbites to show his followers that he gets them and…better the devil you know.
The whole thing raises questions of leadership and the transfer of power. Korach’s argument that we all stand equal before God is an argument that has merit. A fundamental value of Judaism is that all souls are equally holy, and all have open and direct access to the Infinite. There are no intermediaries. I cannot put someone between myself and God, I only create agencies – the cantor is my messenger, the voice and content of what is said are mine.
If, in fact, we are all holy, what is wrong with Korach’s argument?
The problem with Korach is how he approaches the transfer of power. Yes, equality in holiness creates a level starting point, but it does not speak of process. Korach is drawing attention to the obvious, while misdirecting everyone from the problem: his argument of holiness is couched in an expression of aggression and violence. Korach is inciting others to anger and rebellion.
We easily trigger each other into negative mind spaces. Nature wires us to load up the negative outcomes in our minds so we can see danger before it happens. It’s why we think of everything that goes wrong before we think of what has gone right. Judaism tries to incline us toward a balance, even toward more positive perspectives –we are commanded to choose life and joy.
When we choose between change that evolves, or acute change, Judaism will choose evolution over revolution. Korach’s rebellion proves he missed key values of Torah and covenant. He may be persuasive, but the path he argues for represents the failure of covenant.
The most dramatic moment of rebellion in this portion is when we see the inevitable outcome of Korach’s process: the earth opens its mouth and eats Korach and his followers. The natural way of creation is for the earth to give us food, not to perceive us as food and devour us alive -that is a rebellion of the natural order.
Jewish leadership takes all forms and all kinds of people. The focus of this moment is not the leaders themselves but the space between the leaders. The journey from old leader to new leader is one of growth and transformation, not one that betrays the values that are to be secured beyond the leader.
I’d like to wish everyone a sweet and peaceful Shabbat –our Jewish time to regroup, rest, and reinvigorate.