Korach – The Challenge to Leadership

Korach led a rebellion by accusing Moshe of having put himself above the rest of the people.  Datan and Aviram went further and accused him of wanting to lord it over the people.  Moshe had recently been described as the most humble of men. R’ Jonathan Sacks wrote that Korach, Datan and Aviram and their co-conspirators saw leadership as status, power, dominance and superiority, and that is what they sought for themselves.(1)  He wrote that Jewish leadership cannot be like that, because of the non-negotiable dignity of each individual and the leader’s obligation to serve the people.


Yeshayahu Leibowitz addressed Korach’s  flawed argument that all the people were holy.  In the chapter on tzitzit, the goal was holiness, through the practice of mitzvoth. Korach’s view was that he was already holy, that it was inherent in the Jewish people.  Leibowitz quoted R’ Yaakov Moshe Harlap, a student of R’ Avraham Yitzchak Kook, who asked “what is the most important thing; man’s achievements or the effort that goes into the striving for achievement?”  He wrote that it is possible that a person may be aware that the goal will never be achieved, but the effort put into trying to achieve it is the supreme value.


Yeshayahu Leibowitz wrote that it is possible that the condition that the Torah makes for man being holy, “that you may remember and do all My mitzvoth” is beyond a man’s capability, but he is nevertheless commanded to attempt to fulfil it- to attempt to be holy.  The Korach argument that there is an implicit holiness in the Jewish people does not comprehend this concept.  Moshe was able to prevail, as Korach and his adherents were swallowed up by an earthquake, but the Korach line of argument has survived to the present day.





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