Barbara Green has been a volunteer for Americans for Peace Now for many years. She lives in Washington, DC.
Korach gathers 250 ‘princes of the assembly’ and confronts Moses and Aaron: “You take too much upon you…seeing that each of us is holy.” Moses, abject, tells his challengers to bring offerings to the sanctuary the next day so that God can determine who is holy. God’s punishment is swift and violent. He immediately kills Korach and his followers; the 14,700 souls who stood with them are swallowed by an earthquake. Imagine a 13-year-old having to deconstruct this parsha for his/her bar or bat mitzvah!
What are we modern readers to make of this tale and what relevance does it have for us today? The answer is that it depends on the way one views Korach. Was he a jealous competitor, miffed because Moses passed over him, a first-born son who lost the priestly leadership to Aaron, the younger son of his uncle? Or was his a legitimate challenge to Moses’ perceived failures of leadership? Was he rebelling against God who made the choice? Did Korach posit a more democratic form of leadership? If everyone is holy, each person can decide for himself how to act. No supreme leader is needed.