This week’s portion is one that many have grappled with and struggled to understand. The story itself is a powerful one—where we learn of the rebellious Korach and his clan who challenge the authority of Moses and Aaron. Interestingly enough, the majority of the portion does not deal with the actions of Korach and its aftermath. Most of the portion deals with instructions to Aaron and his priesthood about their role and responsibilities. Yet, there is a strong lesson to be learned from the initial encounter with Korach, and so . . . back to the drama at hand . . .
There is something incredibly precious to be learned from the way Moses, in all his authority and leadership, deals with the situation. Korach and his clan become quite hostile. Let me first lay out the fact that Korach was a Levite. He was a member of the privileged and esteemed community who assisted the Cohanim, the priesthood. Moses tries to bring him to a point of clarity, defining the honorable privilege that Korach has as a Levite, saying: “Is it not enough for you that the God of Israel has set you apart from the community of Israel and given you direct access, to perform the duties of the Eternal’s Tabernacle and to minister to the community and serve them (Num. 16:9) . . . Truly it is against the Eternal that you and all your company have banded together. For who is Aaron that you should rail against him?” (16:11) Moses is making it clear that Aaron was chosen by God to his position as head of the Cohanim, and in that line, Korach and his followers are ultimately challenging God, not Moses and Aaron independently.
Moses’ main point here is that Korach and his followers have been given a gift as Levites, and they are not able to recognize this. As a member of the clergy, I too recognize the gift I have every day to make an impact on the lives of people I interact with. I see that I am a part of very intimate and prominent moments in peoples’ lives, and that, too, is a very special gift to grasp. Moses desires to mirror the image of a God full of compassion and mercy, El chanun v’rachum. Hoping that he can continue to make an impact, he summons Korach and his followers Dathan and Abiram to him, understandably to sit down and just talk. But, they refuse to do this, saying that there’s nothing that will draw them. There is no compromise, and they cruelly leave with the final word that they do not want to be fooled and blinded by the true facts at hand (moreover, the falsehoods they have created in their own minds). It is a sad situation, and Moses leaves it to God’s ultimate judgement. And, we know the unfortunate end–Korach and his followers are destroyed.
It is clear that Moses did all in his power to act accordingly with Korach and his clan. They were incredibly and forcibly unopen to any negotiation or even-keeled discussion. And, it is from Moses who I learn from and side with in this case. I see that he did the right thing when faced with an incredible challenge. It seems that, like the Buddhist tradition, one would describe the ultimate fate of Korach as karma and chosen destiny. Moses, as the compassionate leader, does not choose the easy road—he chooses to rise above. We have to do this sometimes in our lives. We have to fight the urge to respond with negativity or harsh words and trust that everything will fall into place as it ideally should. There is an ultimate and composite order to things. We can be the mensch.