The Temple Institute: Temple Talk: Sivan 26, 5770, June 8, 2010

"And Korach took... "
(Numbers 16:1)

Who was Korach and what did he want? We really don't know much about him. Midrash tells us that he was fabulously wealthy, but how did he amass his wealth? He was a slave in Egypt along with the rest of his brethren. Some say he had access to Pharaoh's treasures. Could Korach have been profiting behind his enslaved brothers' backs? We are told that Korach was a brilliant man, educated. He himself makes an oblique reference to this when he uses the imagery of a house lined with books, in his attempt to engage Moshe in a specious argument over the commandment of blue fringes. Where did he go to school? He claimed a higher moral authority than Moshe. Who were his teachers? Who were the sources of his information?

If we play with his name, and manipulate just a bit, the pronunciation, Korach becomes kor ruach, a Hebrew expression meaning "of even disposition, slow to anger, calm, unflappable." He was certainly self possessed, believing in the power of his silvery tongued arguments. He called for equality and brotherhood, seducing those who gathered round him, saying that "the entire congregation are all holy, and HaShem is in their midst." (ibid 16:3) Who could resist?

No doubt his passions were inflamed by the debacle of the spies, and the punishment G-d subsequently meted out. Now was his opportunity to take advantage of the national trauma and to wrest power from Moshe and Aharon. If he played his cards right he could convince his fellow Israelites that is was their interest he had at heart. He would inspire them with a new hope, and by the time they realized that is was all about Korach, and only about Korach, he would be firmly in power. By the time his followers woke from their dream, it would be too late.

Korach decided on a frontal attack, confronting Moshe head-on, in front of the entire congregation, humiliating him, accusing him of "raising [himself] above the others," (ibid) and, pointing to Moshe's brother Aharon, accusing him of nepotism. His honey-tongued arguments were masterfully seductive. Seeing that popular opinion was with him, Korach, Midrash tells us, attempted to deliver to Moshe the coup de grāce, by engaging him in some spurious sophistry masquerading as a serious and high minded investigation of the proper way to observe the commandment of tzitzit (fringes). Moshe didn't fall for it. What did Moshe do?

"Moshe heard and fell on his face." (ibid 16:4) Moshe fell on his face not before Korach, but before G-d. For when Moshe spoke again, he swiftly and unabashedly redirected the entire arena of confrontation from one of human cunning and intellectual manipulation, to one of determining for all to see, just who was serving G-d, and who was serving his own ego and self infatuation. Taken by surprise by Moshe's response, Korach lost the cool that had carried him so far in life. His larger than life image of savior of the common folk began to diminish, and quickly. Disaffection grew, dividing the ranks of Korach's supporters. Soon he found himself alone, but for his most loyal supporters, those who had irrevocably thrown their lot in with him. In the end, Korach, and his remaining congregation of two hundred and fifty followers, were swallowed up. No, not simply in the opinion poles, but for real. Swallowed up and buried alive.

What was Korach thinking? Did he really believe that he could pit his larger than life ego against Moshe, who G-d called "exceedingly humble, more so than any person on the face of the earth," (ibid 12:3) and win the day? More to the point, did Korach believe that he could belittle and deny the moral authority of the G-d of Israel, and impose upon the people the twisted self-serving machinations of his own bankrupt intellect? All the riches in the world can't turn wrong to right. And the finest schools and most analytical minds and committees of world renowned experts can't turn immoral to moral.

We really don't know much about Korach, where he came from and what he was all about. But the world today is filled with would-be Korachs who will stop at nothing to convince humanity that what is good is bad and what is bad is good. And to do so they pick the same target that the first Korach chose: the nation of Israel, the Torah of Israel, and the G-d of Israel. Today's do-gooders are every bit as convinced as Korach was that they can pull the wool over the eyes of enough people for just long enough to destroy Israel and banish the word of G-d from the face of the earth forever. And an awful lot of people that should know better are placing their money on these masters of deceit.

Only if we can be as steadfast as Moshe, undaunted even as the dark clouds of lies and deceptions blacken our skies; only if we can aspire to even a fraction of his modesty, keeping G-d before us at all times; only then can we weather the gathering storm in the complete faith that the bright light of G-d's truth will soon shine forth from Jerusalem, from the place where G-d chose, piercing the darkness and scattering the clouds. Stay clear of Korach and his minions: "these men have provoked HaShem." (ibid 16:30)

Tune in to this week's TEMPLE TALK as Yitzchak Reuven, all alone in the studio explains why the generation of the desert embodied the best of times and the worst of times, and takes on Korach, the desert demagogue who would be king, (that is, if he had it his way). Getting ready for the upcoming month of Tammuz, a month of awesome potential for good, if only we begin to appreciate the sublime beauty of the holy land of Israel, and shout it out for all to hear! Make this Tammuz International Say only Good Things about the Land of Israel Month!

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