Torah from around the world #20

by Rabbi Ann B. Folb,

Pretoria Progressive Jewish Congregation – Bet Menorah

Parshat Korach contains two of the many challenges to the authority of Moses and Aaron which appear in the Torah, and in this case the punishment is quite severe. The earth literally opens up and swallows Korach and his followers. You may well ask why it is that the punishment for rebellion seems to be so severe. The answer seems to be in the assertion that Moses and Aaron are God’s chosen leaders and rebellion against them is equivalent to rebellion against God.

But Korach and his followers challenge this assumption when in Numbers 16:3 we hear, “They combined against Moses and Aaron and said to them, ’You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and the Eternal is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the Eternal’s congregation?”

The question is a valid one, and – although they are punished – Korach and his sons live on as the ancestors of the prophet Samuel (I Chron. 6:16), not to mention the eleven psalms attributed to them. The Talmud recognizes the authority of the people even over the opinion of great sages; when a dispute arises, we hear it being settled by answering “What is the law?” He said to him [Rav Yosef] ‘go and see what the people are doing.’” (BT Berakot 44a, 45a)

By this we should understand that leaders must be in touch with the people in creating Jewish law. “All of the community are holy, all of them, and the Eternal is in their midst.” Leaders must not place themselves too far above the people. I believe that we can think of many problems in Jewish life today where this would be good advice!

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