Parashat Korah

Consumption & Kedushah

We must differentiate between our wants and our needs.

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The portion of Korah is named for the rebellious Levite Korah who started a dispute over the issue of kedushah. The concept of kedushah is central in Judaism, and its meaning can have profound impact on the environment today. Kedushah or the corresponding adjective, kadosh, are usually translated obscurely as "sanctity" or "holy"; its real meaning is: devotion to a sublime ideal.     

We Are All Kadosh?

In our portion the Torah tells us that, following his demagogic presentation, there was no longer room on earth for Korah; the earth swallowed him up. At the core of his claims was the statement: "The whole community is kadosh (Numbers 16:3)." That does not sound so terrible--does it? After all, we need go back only four verses from here to read God's demand ". . . you shall be kadosh," But really it is terrible. The obligation to be kadosh is central to the teachings of the Torah and should guide us in all aspects of our lives to strive toward kedushah. But if you are already kadosh, there is no more need to strive. Thus Korah's complacency pulled the rug from under the Torah, and his arguments were rejected.

What does it mean to strive constantly for kedushah? The first time the commandment to "be kadosh" appears in the Torah, Nahmanides quotes the Midrash which explains that most of the body of Torah law 'hangs on' this commandment (Leviticus 19:1). He explains further that the idea of being kadosh follows the specifications of what foods and relationships are forbidden in the Torah. He teaches that we may be fooled into thinking that as long as what we are consuming is permissible, the amount that we consume doesn't matter.

Resources & Over-Consumption

According to Nahmanides, one who abuses the resources of the world with the rationale that these resources are not forbidden, is called "naval bereshut haTorah," a 'vile person within the delineations of the Torah.' Nahmanides writes that to prevent such over-consumption, the Torah adds the general commandment of kedushah, "…that we should be separated from excess…in these and similar issues." The importance of the goal of kedushah in preventing over-consumption is connected in the very persona of Korah, who claimed that the Jews were already kadosh.

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Rabbi Yehudah Levi is a former Rector, head of the Physics/Electro-optics Department of the Jerusalem College of Technology, and has been a President of the American Orthodox Jewish Scientists both in the USA and Israel.