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D'var Torah: Korach

In my portion Korah and some other people are rebelling against Moses and Aaron. So they have this thing where everyone is offering incense to see whose incense gets accepted. While that is happening, Moses says that if Korah and his followers were to die in an unusual way, then God would be saying that Moses and Aaron are the rightful leaders. Immediately, the ground splits open and Korah, along with his household, his people, and his possessions, fall into the earth. The ground then closes up and everyone is panicking and this huge fire from God consumes Korah’s 250 people who are offering the incense.

After that God tells Eleazer, who is Aaron’s son, to take the fire-pans used to offer the incense and make plates for the altar, which would serve as a warning to those people not to do what Korah did. After that, people who start to question the death of Korah and his people are also killed by a nasty plague. Then, Moses does this test of putting all the tribal leader’s staffs in the tabernacle to see which one sprouts, which would tell him who should be priest. Aaron, who is already the priest, gets his staff sprouted, confirming that he still is the chosen priest.

The rest of the story involves God telling Aaron that Aaron and his sons aren’t responsible for anything to do with the Tabernacle, but they are responsible for priestly stuff. The story also tells about the Levites getting free money and other offerings in exchange for not getting territory.

To me, the main theme of this Torah portion is rebellion. One definition of rebellion according to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is “opposition to one in authority or dominance.” And if I wanted to be simple, I would say the moral of the Korah portion is: “Don’t challenge authority, or you will feel the wrath of the authority.” But everyone knows nothing is that simple.

First of all, I think it is important to look at why people rebel. One motive for rebelling is when people are enslaved or just generally don’t have freedom. Perhaps the most important example of this in Jewish history is the story of the exodus of the Jewish people from Egypt. The Jews were slaves under Pharaoh and Moses, under the guidance and direction of God, challenged Pharaoh to “Let my people go.” Such an act of rebellion was quite unique for the times.

Another reason people rebel is when they feel that they aren’t getting what they deserve. They want things to be fairer, so they ask or demand change. Teenagers rebel against their parents. I do it, and I bet that all my fellow teens here today do it. Teens are trying to cut the bonds that tie them to their parents and become an adult and rebellion is a natural part of this process.

Now let’s move on to instances where the government was making unfair laws and actions. For this one, I have two examples. The most famous of these, at least to me, is the American Revolution. In that rebellion, the American colonists were tired of taxation without representation. In response, the colonists were all over the place, dumping tea into harbors, writing a Declaration of Independence, and all that good stuff, all in the name of freedom.

The Jim Crow laws were another example. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, the Jim Crow laws were laws made after the Civil War that created racial segregation in all public facilities. Although these laws were supposedly creating separate, but equal, status for black Americans, as we know, the laws actually favored white Americans. Although there were attempts to rebel against these laws from the beginning, it wasn’t until the 1950s and 1960s that African-Americans, with the help of others, said “No More!” They started rebelling against the government, with the famous civil rights marches and riots, and with court cases like Brown versus the Board of Education.

Are you starting to see a pattern here? I know I am. First, all the people rebelling wanted something different from what they had. Second, all the leaders, be it Pharaoh in Egypt, government leaders either crowned or elected, and parents, did not really listen to what the people wanted.

So let’s return to the story of Korah. Was his rebellion against Moses similar or different to the rebellions I have already discussed? Notice how Korah thought that his leader was wrong, which is sometimes what teenagers think of their parents! And the fact that Moses did not give a strong counter-argument to Korah, similar to what King George did to the American colonists! All the rebels were rebelling for what they believed was right. Although—don’t you see? Korah is similar to the other examples that I gave!

Which begs the question: why did Korah get killed and all the other rebels not get punished? Well, maybe they did, but they ultimately succeeded in whatever they were hoping to achieve by rebelling.

I believe that Korah‘s rebellion was in self interest. He had a choice whether or not to challenge God and he chose to rebel. He was not thinking about the community at all, which should have been his priority. People should rebel for the greater good. He should have been more focused on the Israelites and less focused on challenging God and gaining power for himself.

So did Korah deserve to die? That seems like an overreaction to me. I don’t believe that people should die for committing any crime. God should have punished him less severely. After all, aren’t we allowed to challenge God? So how come Korah got killed for ultimately challenging God? My answer for that is maybe God did something bad.

But what was God doing with the Israelites in the first place? He was ultimately helping the people Israel teach others about God and how you should live. Right about now while I was typing my d’var I realized that God killed him because he was a threat to the vision that God had. If Korah had become leader he might have done something stupid and have led the Israelites away from God. That would have prevented them from spreading the Ten Commandments and all those other important rules that we should live by. I can now see why God did that. Even though I still don’t agree with it, I now know it was in the name of the greater good.

Now, I’m not saying that God is bad. If I were to assume that God controlled the events of the world, I could safely reason that God causes good and bad things to happen in the world. People should not just assume that God will take care of everything for them. They need to take responsibility for their own actions, because God is not going to force anyone to do anything; God put the ability to make choices and the responsibility that comes with that on our shoulders.

—Noah Isaak
June 2010

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