Differentiation or Generalization

Korach was not just anyone. He belonged to Kehat, the family of Levi'im who carried the Holy Ark (Bamidbar Raba 18:3), and according to our sages, was on the highest spiritual level (ibid. 8). In fact, according to our rabbis, it was precisely that which misled him.

Rabbi Shlomo Aviner

Judaism לבן ריק
לבן ריק
צילום: ערוץ 7
Korach was not just anyone. He belonged to Kehat, the family of Levi'im who carried the Holy Ark (Bamidbar Raba 18:3), and according to our sages, was on the highest spiritual level (ibid. 8). In fact, according to our rabbis, it was precisely that which misled him.

According to our sages, Korach's descendents were among the Levi'im who served in the Beit HaMikdash. One of the Psalms was composed by the "Sons of Korach" (see Midrash Shocheir Tov 1:6). His descendant, the prophet Samuel, is compared to both Moshe and Aharon together (Brachot 31b).

Thus, there was an objective basis to his challenge of Moshe and Aharon's authority. Korach was a great man and he made great mistakes. Moshe himself had a hard time contending with his claims (see Numbers 16:4 and Rashi's commentary). He objected to the authority of Moshe and Aaron, claiming that "The whole nation is holy. Why should you impose yourselves upon the congregation of the L-rd?" (Numbers 16:3).

At first glance, it seems that he was right. The Holy One chose the whole Jewish nation. When Man chooses, he picks certain items out of a group whose existence he has no control over. However, when G-d chooses, He is completely free. He has created everything - that which He chooses and that which He rejects. Thus, He has effectively chosen the Chosen People by creating us to be chosen.

This is what is meant by the special Jewish character (Am Segula). G-d created all of us as a Holy People. This creation is intrinsic, comprehensive and irrevocable. No matter how wicked a man is, he remains a human being "in the image of G-d." Likewise, no Jew can forfeit his "segula" - his special Jewish qualities. The command, "You shall be holy" (Leviticus 19:2) is not dependent upon free will; this is how we were created. In this respect, there really is no difference between one Jew and another. As Korach stated, "The whole nation is holy."

This leads Korach to complain that Moshe and Aaron are "imposing their rule over the congregation of the L-rd." The people need no mediators; they can relate directly to G-d. Indeed, our sages, in describing the days of the Mashiach, teach that the Mashiach's task is to educate the non-Jewish world (see Naot Deshe, commentary of the Admor of Sokatchov). The Jews "shall teach no more every man his neighbor... for they shall all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them." (Jeremiah 31:33 and Orot HaKodesh 95 of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook) "And the land shall be filled with knowledge of G-d, as the waters cover the sea." (Isaiah 11:9)

The Or HaChaim HaKadosh teaches us that when the Mashiach arrives, "a whole tribe of Israel shall arise." (Numbers 24:17) It will not be some external supernatural phenomenon or personality who brings the Redemption, but rather a force within the nation as a whole that shall bring the Redemption. On Exodus 19:6, the Or HaChaim explains that the differentiation into Cohanim, Levi'im and Israel is the result of the Sin of the Golden Calf. Before the giving of the Torah, we were promised that "You shall be to Me a Dynasty of Cohanim (priests) and a Holy Nation." Were it not for the Sin of the Golden Calf, we would not even need a High Priest, as the whole nation would be Cohanim. This is the ideal, which will be actualized with the Redemption.

Thus, Korach's vision of a classless society is not without a basis. It is anarchism in the best sense, attempting to create a society in which there is no coercion or hierarchy. Every individual would then be able to build his own life and seek his own spiritual and material happiness with no external interference. The problem with this is that one man's cure may be another man's poison. Anarchists are willing to depend on man's good will to prevent clashes. Korach's vision is the epitome of idealistic anarchism, "Why should you impose yourselves upon the congregation of the L-rd?"

This premise is basically unsound. True that every Jewish person is inherently and equally holy. Nevertheless, "In the morning, G-d will make known to you who is His . and will cause him to come near to Him." (Numbers 16:5) Moshe told them, "G-d has made limits in His world. Just as you cannot turn morning into night, so can't you turn Cohanim into Israelites. This world is characterized by differentiation, in nature and in human and Jewish society.

There are two types of differentiation: "In the morning, G-d will make known to you who is His and will cause him to come near to Him, and the one whom He chooses...." G-d chooses some, and causes others to come close to Him. Choice, as we have already explained, refers to Divine Creation of that which is chosen. Just as G-d chose the Jewish People from all the nations, so did He choose the Cohanim from the rest of the nation. This is an absolute, irrevocable choice. However, there is also a "coming near," and this depends on each individual's own efforts. "G-d is near to all who call Him, to all who truly call Him." (Ashrei prayer)

Divine light falls upon us all equally, but it is absorbed better by some than by others. G-d makes Himself accessible to those who make an effort to reach Him (see Succah 53a). This approach is equally accessible to all. "I swear in the name of the heavens and the earth: be it Jew or non-Jew, man or woman, slave or maidservant - everything depends on one's actions, and in accordance with them is one blessed with Divine inspiration" (Tana D'vei Eliyahu Raba 9; Rabbi Kook, Ikvei Hatzon, chapter on Thoughts). As the Rambam declares, "Any human being whose spirit moves him to stand before G-d becomes holy in the utmost." (Hilchot Shmitta and Yovel)

The Crown of Priesthood is Divinely ordained, but the Crown of Torah is accessible to all. It only depends upon us (Rambam, Laws of Talmud Torah 3:1). Indeed, the halacha rules that a mamzer who is a talmid chacham takes preference over a Cohen Gadol who is unlearned (Mishna Horiot 13).

Thus, we see that there are two types of differentiation within the Jewish People: one divinely ordained, and one based upon effort. This divinely ordained differentiation appears within all the dimensions of life - society, time and space. In society, there is a difference between Jews and non-Jews, and between Cohanim, Levi'im and Israel within the Jewish People. In time, there is a difference between week-days and Shabbat. Shabbat is not merely a psychological frame of mind; it is an objective, divinely ordained phenomenon. Were one to light candles, sing zemirot, and rest on Tuesday, it would still not be Shabbat. Likewise, there are areas which have the kedusha - the sanctified status - of Eretz Israel, and others which do not. One who lives in South Dakota and claims that it's just like living in Eretz Israel because he is so devoted to the mitzvot is mistaken. In the same vein, areas which are geographically part of Eretz Israel, but are inhabited by non-Jews have lost none of their sanctity. It is not Man who decides which, when and where is holy, but only the Holy One of Blessed Name (see Rashi to Numbers 16:5).

Together with this, there is a uniting factor: "There are two lines which guide us regarding society and the individual; one line differentiates and the other unites." (Orot HaKodesh II, 439-440) Differentiation is not the result of egoism, but is rather a process that brings benefit to all. For example, the separation Cohanim must undergo in the Beit HaMikdash results in a spiritual uplifting for the whole nation.

The guiding rule is separation in order to bring about unity. It is not "equality" in the gross sense of the word. It is not Korach's vision of all being equally holy. That kind of equality eventually results in gross egotism: "The evil impulse begins with unity (i.e., the false alliance between Korach, Datan and Aviram, and the Levi'im - to claim that all are equally holy), and ends in division (each of the above had different aspirations and met a different fate); in contrast, the impulse to sanctity begins with separation (of Cohanim from Israel) and ends in unity." (Orot HaKodesh, ibid.)

Korach's sin and the sin of the Spies are actually two sides of the same coin: The Spies denied the possibility of holiness infusing the material world of army, agriculture, politics and so on. They endowed the material world they saw in Eretz Israel with power too strong to overcome (Numbers 13:31; Sotah 35). They thought the only way to achieve sanctity was through complete detachment from anything secular.

Korach, on the other hand, saw holiness everywhere. He was great enough to take in the sanctity of the upper and lower worlds, to appreciate the holiness inherent in the shoemakers as well as in the prophets. But he blurred the differences between them. Our world is one of gradation: The Tanach contains the Five Books of Moses, the Prophets and the Writings (Mishna Megilla 26). Even in the Five Books, four were written by G-d Himself, and the fifth by Moshe Rabeinu. Among the holidays, Shabbat, Yom Kippur and Passover each have different status. Even a house full of Torah scrolls needs a mezuza; even a talit that is all blue must have tzitzit (see Rashi to Numbers 16:1), because there are distinctions and levels within the general sanctity. From the parsha of Korach we learn that false unity eventually leads to division.