Korach, the Daddy of dissent

This morning, I got a notification from YY Jacobson that he had posted a new Parsha Piece on LinkedIn. See https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/korach-john-lennon-father-spiritual-anarchy-yy-jacobson (As someone with a degree in literature, I do have to point out, though, that Frost's point in context is actually the opposite, see https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/44266 to read the entire poem to understand the speaker -- and by extension the poet himself -- doesn't necessarily share the neighbor's view). I also heard Michal Horowitz speak about Korach yesterday, so I've been thinking a bit about the personality.

 Korach presented himself as a man of the people. His arguments, as Chazal say, were variations on  the argument we see in the text: "the entire nation is holy." The implication is that no one should be set above the rest. Accordingly, he tried to argue that if a garment is completely dyed techlet, it should be exempt from the obligation of tzitzith that include the dyed dyed strings or that a room filled with sifrei kodesh be exempt from the obligation to put up the parshiyot designated for the mezua.

As all the people already contain within them the special quality or mark of holiness, and so there is no need for designated leaders. After all, isn't a completely blue garment more distinguished than a plain one that merely has blue strings on the corners?

While one can see the logic of the argument, it is still essentially an antinomian one, and, as such antithetical to our Torah-centered  religion. And so the dissent that Korach stirred up was exceedingly dangerous because he was casting doubt on Moshe and in doing so threatening the very fabric of our religious tradition.

In the weeks leading up to Shavuoth, and indeed, for every Shabbos of the summer months as well, we study Pirkei Avos. The very first Mishna is an assertion of our faith in our Mesorah: "Moshe kibel Torah MiSinai  umasra L'Yehoshua." Moshe received the Torah and passed it on. Without faith in Moshe as an eved ne'eman, that all falls apart. Upon being swalloed, Korach's camp realized the truth and asserted "Moshe veToratho emet." So they did not perish in the pit along with their father.

 Another mishna  in Pirekei Avos (5:17) references Korach directly:
כָּל מַחֲלֹקֶת שֶׁהִיא לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם, סוֹפָהּ לְהִתְקַיֵּם. וְשֶׁאֵינָהּ לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם, אֵין סוֹפָהּ לְהִתְקַיֵּם. אֵיזוֹ הִיא מַחֲלֹקֶת שֶׁהִיא לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם, זוֹ מַחֲלֹקֶת הִלֵּל וְשַׁמַּאי. וְשֶׁאֵינָהּ לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם, זוֹ מַחֲלֹקֶת קֹרַח וְכָל עֲדָתוֹ:Every argument that is for [the sake of] heaven's name, it is destined to endure. But if it is not for [the sake of] heaven's name -- it is not destined to endure. What is [an example of an argument] for [the sake of] heaven's name? The argument of Hillel and Shammai. What is [an example of an argument] not for [the sake of] heaven's name? The argument of Korach and all of his congregation.

Dissenting opinions that stem from the intention to really learn the truth are laudable, and that is why we say that such arguments do endure, for truth does endure. Falseness, though, does not.

What is striking here is that the first type of argument names the two opposing sides: Hillel and Shammai. The second type, though, references Korach and his adherents. One would have expected it to name Moshe and Aharon because those are the ones Korach sought to depose. But in the view of Chazal they are not to be named here at all because they had no vested interested whatsoever in the attempted coup.

 In contrast, for Korach, it really was all about advancing his own position, and he didn't care what happened to anyone else. As politicians in general and demagogues in particular do, he claimed to be acting for others when he was just acting for himself.  Way before Orwell thought of the fable he sought to tell in Animal Farm, the Torah recognized that those who claim their revolution is intended to bring equality really are seeking a way to get power into their own hands.

The lesson of Korach is that dissent is most often self-serving. Before people blindly follow those who claim they are motivated by their caring for others, they should consider what is the real story of his motivation? Chazal understood that it's not just what people say but what they actually would be thinking that has to be taken into account. That's why they include Korach's family tree to hint that it was in fact his personal disappointment, his feeling of being slighted and passed over, that motivated the movement and not a genuine belief that there should be no hierarchy.

Related post: http://kallahmagazine.blogspot.com/2017/04/true-leaders-and-demagogues.html

Like and follow on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/KallahMagazine/


Popular Posts