DVar Torah – Korach = By Michael Grand, Moshe Pinchus ben Avraham

Parshat Korach

In this week’s Torah portion, Korach, a first cousin to Moses and Aaron, Dathan and Aviram, leaders of the tribe of Ruben and 250 elders challenge Moses for the leadership of the Jewish people. Korach, the populist makes the claim before the assembled masses: “For the entire community, all of them, are holy and the Lord is in their midst.” Therefore, the rebels deserve to be the leaders of the people as much as Moses does. Moreover, there is no need for the instructions and commandments given by G-d. The philosopher, Martin Buber has offered the insight that this rebellion was based on a distorted understanding of G-d’s statement to the people “to be holy.”

“Why do you exalt yourselves over G-d’s community?” Korach hurls at Moses. The people stood at Sinai before G-d, they received the ten utterances, they have the tablets and the ark in the sanctuary. The Almighty is on their side. They don’t need your guidance, instruction, laws and commandments because they are already holy. They need not do more. Buber refers to this as “insolent self-assertion,” marked by self-righteous, triumphalism, and sacred arrogance.

What is the foundation of Korach’s case. Korach was aware of our Ancestral Covenant (Bris Avot) established between G-d and our Matriarchs and Patriarchs, in which their descendants would be a holy people. This is the basis for our sense of family belonging. We celebrate each other’s successes and support each other during hard times. This principle was fully reinforced by the guidance offered by Moses.

However, this covenant is followed by a second and unique one established at Mount Sinai: We were charged to learn and to do the commandments, given to us by G-d. Here, we do not rely on our holiness being a result of the Ancestral Covenant. We receive holy status not as something given but as something earned.

In one sense, Korach was correct: We need a sense of Ancestral Covenant. Without it, there can be no Sinai Covenant as community is needed in which to learn and live out the commandments. Korach did not understand this.

Today, many Jews are Korach Jews. Their main link to Judaism is a nostalgic connection to corn beef and kreplach. They are unconsciously aware of what Rav Yosef Dov Slolveithik, zt”l called the Brit Goral, the Covenant of Destiny – the historical and sometime, tragic history of the Jewish people. These Jews have forgotten the Covenant of Sinai, the traditions and observances of Judaism that bring holiness into our lives, but at least they have not abandoned the Ancestral Covenant. However, other Jews have slipped even further away, believing that the Ancestral Covenant has no meaning for them whatsoever. If only they could at least grasp the identity of Korach, perhaps they will find their way back to the vision of Sinai.

It is through Torah study and a commitment to our peoplehood that we will fuse our two precious covenants, Sinai and Avot. As stated in Pirkei Avot, “If not now, when.” It is time to start to meet this challenge.

Shabbat Shalom

Michael Grand, Moshe Pinchus ben Avraham