Who is the Korach of our day?

Korach asked a good question: If the whole nation is holy, why are only priests allowed in the Temple? The answer has implications today.

Rabbi Shlomo Sobol ,

Rabbi Shlomo Sobol
Rabbi Shlomo Sobol
Guy Taib

"My mother made me into a scientist without meaning to at all. All Jewish mothers in Brooklyn used to ask their sons: 'Did you learn anything at school today?' But not my mother. She always asked me something else: 'Izzy, did you ask a good question today?' It is this difference that made me into a scientist" - so said Isadore Isaac Rabi, Nobel Prize winner.

Korach also had a great question: "The whole nation is holy and G-d dwells among them so why do you discriminate between G-d’s assembly?"

The argument behind Korach's question is the fact that it is unfair that only kohanim (priests) can enter the Tabernacle while the rest of the nation is forbidden from entering it. At Mount Sinai the whole nation – men, women and children of all tribes - stood around the mountain and received the Torah as equals, whereas the Tabernacle, which is supposed to continue the status of Mount Sinai, is restricted to some and only the kohanim can enter. "How can the law block a man or woman who wants to meet with G-d?" asks Korach.

If we look deeper into Korach's claim, we see that he makes a more general claim: How can spiritual progress be dependent on one's tribe? Why is spirituality not open to anyone who desires it?

This argument is also heard in our day; that the time has come for our identity not to be determined by gender, nationality, etc. but that each individual be treated according to his or her own actions and behavior.

Like any good question, Korach's claim also has some truth to it, and indeed the sages taught that "a Torah scholar who is a mamzer (child of a forbidden relationship) has precedence to a High Priest who is ignorant of Torah," and that it is possible that a righteous gentile can have a bigger share in the World to Come than a Jew who sins and does not have a share in the World to Come.

But even with the tremendous value of each individual person, it does not contradict the Torah which states that there are differences between Israel and the other nations, between man and woman, between kohen and Yisrael (a Jew who is not a priest), and between adult and child.

How can this be explained? Why don't we just categorize every person according to who they are - regardless of their origin?

At the beginning of creation when G-d created the world, the world was in spiritual decline (the sin of Adam, the sin of the generation of the Tower of Babel, the sin of the generation of the flood) and in order to repair the world, G-d created the people of Israel to be mentally and spiritually fit to receive the Torah. The difference between the people of Israel and the other nations is a Divine creation whose purpose is to bring good to the whole world and bring it to its goal, which is the coming of the final redemption. And even within the nation of Israel, there is a group of kohanim into whom G-d gave a special soul which is suitable for the holy work of the Temple.

These differences were created so that each type of person can fulfill different roles which will bring about the correction of the world. They are not a human invention, but a pre-directed Divine creation that is needed to achieve Tikun Olam (repairing the world). Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses) did not fabricate these differences as Korach claimed. Moshe was a messenger of G-d to announce the Divine choice. He did this when he informed the people of Israel that they are the "firstborn of the G-d," and he did this when he announced to the people of Israel that the tribe of Levi and the kohanim were chosen to serve in the Temple.

In our generation, because of the modern concept of individuality, which, as we have seen, does have a grain of truth, it is sometimes difficult to accept that there are Divine differences in a nation, in a tribe, or in a land, but this is the truth of the Torah, and we must strengthen and adhere to it, precisely to benefit the whole world.