Moshe, who is known as a person of limitless patience and tolerance,
forgiving to all and the most humble of all humans, reacts apparently in
an uncharacteristic manner to Korach’s attack against his leadership of
the Jewish people.
Moshe’s aggressive stance against the rebels reveals a different motive
for the attack than mere office-seeking on the part of the rebels. After
all, it was Moshe himself who declared, “Would that all of the people of
Israel become prophets.” He tells Yehoshua not to be zealous in defense of
his personal honor.
And yet with Korach and his followers, Moshe adopts a hard line and
uncompromising stance. The Torah always notes when the behavior of great
people appears on the surface to be uncharacteristic of their nature and
past performance. Part of the reason for the Torah’s doing so is to alert
us to a deeper, underlying issue. We must not be satisfied with the
superficial and surface statement of facts.
The deeper issue here is that Korach wishes to convert Torah and Judaism
to a man-made “democratic” faith, not its original and true source as a
faith revealed to humans from on high, a faith and life system ordained in
Heaven and revealed to humans. Therefore, it is not Moshe and his
leadership that are the core issues in this dispute but the basic
definition of Judaism – is it revealed and Godly or man-made and invented?
On that basic core issue of Judaism, Moshe sees no room for compromise or
tolerance. It is not Moshe’s status that is at stake here. It is the
understanding and true meaning of Judaism. Its very future is now at risk.
Even though the Talmud teaches us that the dispute of Korach against Moshe
is not one that was destined to last eternally, in the sense that I have
described above, it has lasted until our very day. The struggle to
maintain Judaism as a Godly revealed religion is an ongoing one. There are
many forces within and without the Jewish world that have attempted and
still attempt to remove the Godly revealed part from Judaism.
Even though all of Jewish history indicates the abject failure of such an
approach, it still persists in our time. It is not an attack on the
Orthodox establishment - Moshe, so to speak, as is presented here - though
on the surface it may be seen as such. At the root of the dispute is the
view that Judaism is given from Heaven to earth and not merely a clever
invention and artifice of ancient rabbis and scholars.
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch once characterized the difference between
Judaism and other faiths. Judaism, he said, is a religion given by God to
define man, while the other faiths were created by man to define God. God
is beyond our meager abilities to define or understand. Therefore, He gave
us a Torah, the Torah of Moshe, in order to aid us to live as proper human
beings and as His devoted servants.
Rabbi Berel Wein