Parshat Korach

Torah Reading for Week of June 19-25, 2011

“Equity and Balance”
By Yisraela Tubman, AJRCA Fourth Year Rabbinical Student

There is an age-old issue that filters through any power based organization.  Dissatisfaction can grow for many real and perceived reasons.  After innumerable details coalesce, a bid for change is made.  G-d, dissatisfied with the status quo, brings about many social changes, beginning with the Exodus from Egypt.  From the time of the golden calf incident, He redistributes responsibilities.  He takes power from the first born sons who traditionally carried out priestly duties, and gives it to the Levites.  He then gives the specific duties of interfacing with G-d to Aaron and his sons.  He charges the Levites with the duty of maintaining the sanctuary equipment.

Parshat Korach opens with Korach’s dissatisfaction and his attempt to bring about democratic social change.  He rightly claims that the entire kahal is holy and that G-d is amongst them.  He challenges Moses and Aaron with what he perceives as the new elitism of the priests.  Korach, representing the disempowered Levites, and Dathan and Abiram, representing the disenfranchised first born, attempt a coup that is not so much a bid for democratic equality as an attempt to return power to those from whom G-d had taken it.  G-d disagrees with him and has the earth swallow him up, and burn up his cohorts.

And what about the social change?  Following Korach’s abortive bid for power, G-d chooses to directly address the concept of equity. He does this by limiting the extent of the priests’ power.  G-d gives the Israelites land, but tells Aaron “in their land you shall have no heritage, and a share shall you not have among them.  I am your share and your heritage among the children of Israel.”

Why make this distinction?  Why should the priests not have a share in land?  The answer may lie in the harsh realities of survival in an agrarian society.  Back in Egypt, in the time of Joseph, famine led farmers to sell off their lands in order to purchase food from Pharaoh.  Unlike G-d’s priests, Pharaoh’s priests both received a stipend from Pharaoh, and retained their lands.  Their power base was unaffected, and they were not vested in the people’s survival.  G-d chooses a different kind of life for his priests.  If they have no lands, they will have to share equally in all that affects the people.  They will live off of the tithes and sacrifices, and consequently will only have enough to eat when the Israelites all have enough to eat.  Korach said “rav l’chem, it is too much for you” to Moses and Aaron.  G-d ensured that this was not so, creating a balance in power.

This story of Korach’s failed revolution also gives us a glimpse of the redemptive power of G-d, in an indirect way.  So many people associated with Korach were killed that we might assume that his family would forever be anathema.  Not so.  Words of the sons of Korach (Ps 84:5) are coupled with the words of David (144:15, Ps 145) over 1,000 times a year:  “Happy is the one who dwells in Your house, they shall forever praise You.”  The name of Korach was not blotted out like Amalek.  Rather, his name was redeemed and lives on in his sons to influence the spiritual lives of Jews forever.

 

 

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