Parashat Korah

To Serve With Distinction

Korah's rebellion was based on his inability to appreciate the value of diversity and distinctiveness.

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The following article is reprinted with permission from American Jewish University.

The rebellion of Korah against Moses and Aaron is painful to most Jews who read it, precisely because it is so complex and so timeless.  While we are trained to sympathize with Moses and his supporters by our upbringing and by Jewish tradition, it is difficult for anyone who is passionate about democracy not to become stirred by Korah's powerful message.  Our Jewish loyalty seems pitted against our democratic commitments.  That conflict hurts.

Moses and Aaron have successfully led the Jewish tribes out of slavery in Egypt and through the dangers of the wilderness.  The life of the tribes is now relatively secure and comfortable.  God regularly speaks, through Moses, to the Jewish people, and the families live out their lives waiting to move into the Promised Land.

In the midst of this idyllic serenity, Korah rebels.  He resents having to follow Moses in all matters, and challenges him with the moving line: "All the community are holy, all of them, and the Lord is in their midst.  Why then do you raise yourselves above the Lord's congregation?"

Korah's challenge strikes to the heart of the democratic values so cherished by both our Jewish and our American traditions: If all people are created equal, then why should any one person have any authority over another?  Why should one person ever have access to power, wealth or prestige in a way that another person does not?

Korah's challenge echoes in the words of Samuel and Amos, Jefferson and Lincoln, Marx and Trotsky.  Great leaders in every age, these people fought for the assertion that each person has intrinsic worth, that all people have equal value.

Few in America would challenge that claim.  But, we can still ask whether or not equality has to mean uniformity?  All people are indeed equal (in comparison to the infinite God who created us), but we are not all the same.  Equal in worth is not the same as identical in skills.  Korah's flaw was to confuse those two traits--equal worth and identical characteristics.

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Rabbi Bradley Artson

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is Vice-President of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles and Dean of its Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies. He served as a congregational rabbi in Southern California for ten years. Rabbi Artson?is the author of The Bedside Torah and co-author of a children's book, I Have Some Questions about God.