Tragedy follows tragedy in the book of Bamidbar. The unwarranted complaints
of the people regarding the food in the desert and the false report
regarding the Land of Israel that was discussed in last week’s parsha end in
plague, punishment and disaster. This week’s parsha describes the rebellion
of Korach and his cohorts against Moshe and the supremacy of Torah within
It seems that there is a latent death wish that lurks within Jewish society
that does not allow it to free itself from repeating terrible mistakes over
and over again. The generation of the desert saw miracles, even God’s
presence, so to speak, on a regular basis and nevertheless constantly
escalates its defiance and rebellion against its special role in human
It really is a form of regret on the part of many Jews in the desert to
having accepted the Torah carte blanche at Sinai. This group did not intend
to be a chosen people. The plaintive cry of “let us just return to Egypt” is
really a cry that “we wish to be just like all other peoples!” And it is a
situation that repeats itself in almost every generation of Jewish life.
The struggle within Jews and Jewish society in all ages is whether to accept
its God-given role as a “treasure amongst all nations” or to somehow
renounce all pretense of being a special people. The choices are not really
portrayed as being that stark. Rather, it reflects itself in a continuum of
Jewish observance, adherence to Jewish values and the willingness to remain
proudly Jewish in a world that is hostile to Jews, a Jewish state and
Korach wraps his personal animosity towards Moshe and his frustration of not
achieving the recognition that he feels is due him within a cloak of
holiness and altruism. Hypocrisy always abounds, especially amongst those
that judge others. The self-righteous give righteousness itself a bad name.
The claims of Korach which he speaks in the name of democracy, that all the
people are holy and worthy of leadership, resound in classical correctness.
They are hard to argue against and certainly have great public resonance and
appeal. The problem with Korach’s appeal and words is that they are
Moshe’s stature is determined by God and has been vindicated throughout the
ages of Jewish history. There are no truly unbiased people in the world. But
there are those that, at the very least, recognize their bias and attempt to
deal with it honestly and intelligently. Hypocrisy is the attempt to cover
up the bias with false nobility of purpose and affected altruism.
It is a reprehensible character trait, far greater in potential
destructiveness than is open enmity itself. This is what made Korach so
dangerous and why Moshe’s determination to publicly expose and punish him so
strident and insistent. The tragedy of Korach lies not only his own personal
downfall but rather in the havoc and confusion that it created in the Jewish
society. It is a situation that repeats itself today as well.
Rabbi Berel Wein