Rabbi Menachem Creditor
This week's Torah Portion, Korach, centers on a popular uprising within the Israelite community against the leadership of Moses and Aaron. Within the narrative the power of God manifests as the very earth opens a "mouth" to swallow the rebels whole. How can a healing message possibly survive this cataclysmic upheaval? Where can we, cared-for and caring modern readers, turn for a message of comfort this week, given the mythical and violent character of our sacred text?
Let's first look at Korach-the-person. A cousin of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, he was a child of the tribe of Levi, entrusted with the ritual service of God. His resonant rebellion, with a following "two hundred and fifty men of Israel, leaders of the community, of those regularly called to assembly, people of renown" brings even Moses and Aaron to their knees. Its power and danger to upend the story is profound. Korach and his followers have, after all, called into question God's appointed leaders. Who knows what consequences might unfold?
And in this very situation, so much of our own personal encounters come into sharp relief. How often to we wonder the wisdom of those in positions of influence in our lives? Korach's attack on Moses remains resonant, as he cried out: "You have gone too far! The whole community is holy, every one of them, and God is with them! Why then do you set yourselves above God's assembly?" It might feel that we live Korach's rebellion every time we cry out against powerful voices that state an unwelcome vision of the future.
But this would be a misinterpretation of the Korach narrative, a partial reading that wouldrob us of the hidden message of Korach's failed campaign. Especially given Moses' own statement just a few chapters earlier, upon learning that God's spirit had spread to more than the appointed 70 elders: "Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all of God's people were prophets and that God would put God's spirit on them!"
Korach purports to grant all people the choice of their own destinies rather than accepting those handed them. But this is too simple a solution to be real. We can, of course, impact our own fates, choose life every second it is granted us. We can (and must!) advocate for ourselves in every way, seeking allies and alternatives when first confronted by life's challenges. But there is also treasure in embracing a mystery larger than self. Korach wasn't only challenging the status quo; he was attacking the very mystery of life.
Our world isn't a simple narrative, with God's appointed messengers easily identifiable. Our struggles aren't against clarity; clarity is the very thing we ache for so often. And yet, when presented with a "clear answer," we also wield enormous power to question it. We have achieved, over the millennia, the realization of Korach's stated purpose: that we are, every one of us, holy. Those we turn to for answers are themselves holy people, just like every one of us who turns to them for guidance.
Korach's rebellion fails, in our Torah portion, when a miraculous sign appears. Moses is told to collect from each tribal chieftain his staff with their name inscribed on it, and place them all in the Tent of Meeting. Aaron's staff sprouted with flowers the next morning, confirming his rightful place as a sacred vessel in the midst of the people.
Today's caregivers are themselves in the midst of many people, doing the very sacred work Korach failed to see in Aaron and Moses' eyes as he railed against them. Where Korach accused Moses and Aaron of setting themselves above people, we pray those holy people in need of healing be lifted, one and all, through the work of those entrusted with their care.