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Was Anything so Wrong in Korach’s Message? Rabbi Avi Novis-Deutsch Explores the Parasha

“For all the community are holy, and the Lord is in their midst. Why then do you, Aaron and Moses, raise yourselves above the Lord’s congregation?” Num. 16:3

Rabbi Avi Novis-Deutsch, Dean of the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary, delves into Korach’s message. What is wrong with saying that everyone is holy? Couldn’t Korach actually have been advocating for equality and human rights?

Full transcript below:

Shavua Tov from Schecter. This week’s Parasha, Parashat Korach is named after actually the wrong person, the person who ended up in the ground dead for doing the wrong thing. But was Korach really wrong when he said:

“כי כל העדה כולם קדושים ובתוכם ה’ ומדוע תתנשאו על קהל ה’

“For all the community are holy, and the Lord is in their midst. Why then do you [Aaron and Moses] raise yourselves above the LORD’s congregation?” Num. 16:3

This concept of superiority doesn’t relate to the way we see things today. We talk much more about equality. We talk about ‘all men are created equal.’  So Korach  in a way was just giving the human rights declaration about 3000 years early. What’s so wrong about his message?

When we look carefully it seems that Korach’s  argument was not about bringing everyone in and seeing everyone as equal. It was about asking for his superiority side-by-side with Moses and Aaron on top of the rest of the people.

Maybe not even Korach but the people who joined him, it was very clear that they were about being superor. The Midrash tells us that Korach was richer than anyone else and also kind of tells us the same message. Korach  was privileged, so when he argued for superiority, he actually saw himself a superior. He wasn’t actually seeing himself as equal to anyone else.

But it seemed that there are two things that we need to remember.  The parasha is named after Korach  because in a way the message everyone is holy is an important message. The message that we feel comfortable about and we want everyone to feel holy and feel privileged to pursue his holiness and actually not to see himself a superior to anyone else by saying that everyone is holy. We are also asking everyone not to be superior toward anyone else because they are also holy.

The other thing that the Midrash tells us that the sons of Korach  remain alive. We also need to know this from the Psalms that are named after the sons of Korach ,  meaning in a way that we have here a little bit more complicated message. On one hand Korach  himself probably did wrong and because of that he ended up dead. But his message, that everyone is holy, is actually a positive message which we should carry and we should feel comfortable about. We should actually pursue and find the way to pursue, the right way to make everyone holy without calling for superiority.

Shavua Tov from Schechter.

Avi Novis-Deutsch is the former Dean of the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary. Ordained as a Masorti rabbi by the SRS in 2003, Rabbi  Novis-Deutsch also holds an MA in Jewish Studies from JTS. He served for nine years as a pulpit rabbi at two Masorti congregations in Israel, most recently, at Haminyan Hamishpachti Masorti Kfar Veradim. Rabbi Novis-Deutsch also worked for two years as a Jewish educator in Berkeley in the Bay Area, California.  He is married to Dr. Nurit Novis-Deutsch. They and their three children live on Kibbutz Hanaton.

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