Parashat Korah

Finding Ourselves Through Others

What are the consequences, or even the possibility, of separating ourselves from our communities, like Korah did?

Print this page Print this page

"Now Korah 'betook himself'" [Numbers 16:1]. There is no taking other than in the language of separation, that is, he took his heart, as the matter is explained in Job, where it says, "Why does your heart carry you away? And why do your eyes wink?" [Job 15:12] (Tanchuma, chapter on Korah).

"They combined together against Moses and Aaron" [Numbers 16:3]. Korah said to them, "'For all of the congregation are holy, all of them' [Numbers 16:3], and they have all heard at Sinai the commandment 'I Adonai am your God' [Exodus 20:2]. 'Why then do you raise yourselves above Adonai's congregation?' [Numbers 16:3]. If you alone had heard it while they had not, you could have claimed superiority" (Midrash Rabbah on Numbers 18:6).

Out of timber so crooked as that from which man is made nothing entirely straight can be built (Immanuel Kant, Idee zu Einer Allgemeinen Geschichte in Weltburgerlicher Abischt, 1784).

Rabbi Joshua ben Levi asked Elijah: "When will the Messiah come?" "Go and ask him yourself," was Elijah's reply. "Where is he sitting?" "At the entrance to Rome." "How will I recognize him?" "He is sitting among the poor lepers. All of them untie and tie [their bandages] at one time, whereas he unties and rebandages each sore one at a time. He says, 'Perhaps I will be needed, and I must not be delayed'" (Talmud, Sanhedrin 98a).

Your Guide

What does Stockinger teach us about independence and interdependence? Do Korah's actions demonstrate that he values the importance of interdependence?

Do you agree with the passage from Tanchuma that states Korah "took his heart?" Can you think of a time when you separated yourself or "took your heart" away? What were the consequences?

According to Midrash Rabbah, what is Korah's chief objection to Moses and Aaron? Do you agree with this interpretation? Why?

What does the text by Kant tell us about the nature of human beings in general and Korah in particular? If Kant is right, should Korah be held responsible for his actions?

D'var Torah

Judaism teaches that we are responsible for the choices we make and therefore are the leaders of our own lives. Our children--the next generation--will take the words and the teachings we bequeath to them and will experience them in their own time, in a world and culture that we cannot imagine. In that world our children will take the responsibility for leading their own lives and, if they are blessed, will establish effective partnerships and families.

The challenges of taking leadership in our own lives are demonstrated in the rabbinic understanding of the struggles between Moses and Aaron on the one side and Korah on the other. Considering this parasha, our Rabbis ask, "What is the meaning of the words 'Korah betook?'" They answer, "He betook himself." That's what we all do. We take ourselves through our daily lives.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Rabbi Douglas E. Krantz is the spiritual leader of Congregation B?nai Yisrael, Armonk, N.Y.