This week’s Torah portion, Korach, features a man named Korach who organizes a group of 250 leaders to seek to overthrow Moses and Aaron from leadership. When God states intentions to kill the rebels, suprisingly, a distraught Moses & Aaron plead for mercy upon Korach and his followers. Moses and Aaron fell on their faces and said, “O God, Source of the breath of all flesh! When one member sins, will You be wrathful with the whole community?”
Moses and Aaron had every reason to seek vengeance upon this rebellious klan, but even they recognized that wrath unchecked by justice is dangerous.
So, what did Korach do to merit instant death? Certainly, it couldn’t have been his interest in rebellion— after all, Moses had staged a righteous rebellion of sorts of the Israelites in Egypt. And, God allowed Abraham to challenge God, the daughters of Zelophehad to challenge Moses, and others who stood up to power, to live and even prosper by their challenge. Standing up against things that seem unfair are usually rewarded in the Torah.
But, here, Korach is sent to Sheol (the underworld) for having rebelled. Why? The rabbis suggest that jealousy and jockeying for power was at the root of his rebellion. He had been a powerful leader in his own right, but he had sought MORE power.
This teaches that working for greater equity in systems of society, challenging or even seeking radical change can be permissible in Jewish texts. But the key is that that work for institutional change must, first and foremost, be rooted in change that will better help society. Ego must be checked at the door.
The above is a reflection by Rabbi Heather Miller on this week's Torah portion, Parashat Korach, Numbers 16:1-18:32. Please visit rabbiheathermiller.com to subscribe and follow on social media.