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Thursday
Jun142018

AHEAD OF HIS TIME

WHAT WAS KORACH THINKING??

Korach was the consummate rebel. Even today, if one wishes to start a fight with another, it is said that he is like Korach. Ethics of the Fathers (chapter 5:20) describes the difference between a dispute for the sake of heaven and a dispute that is not for the sake of Heaven. A dispute that is for the sake of heaven is the dispute between the School of Shammai and the School of Hillel, whereas a dispute not for the sake of heaven is the dispute of Korach and his community.

Many questions have been raised concerning Korach and his rebellion.

First, Korach was known as an extremely intelligent and insightful individual. How could he stoop so low as to rebel against Moses, the greatest Jew, who liberated the people and through whom the Torah was given, among other distinctions?

Second, hadn’t Korach seen the tragic results of the spies’ rebellion against Moses concerning the conquest of Israel? All men from the ages of 20 through 60 now had to wander through, and ultimately perish in, the desert, never to see the Promised Land. How could even so intelligent a person as Korach initiate a new rebellion on the heels of the debacle associated with the spies?

Third, the foregoing citation from Ethics of the Fathers describes his dispute as one that would not endure. Don’t our Sages associate Korach’s rebellion to all future non-holy conflicts? The Talmud says that one who supports a conflict is guilty of violating the Biblical command in this week’s parsha, “Do not be like Korach…” Indeed, such conflicts have endured to this very day.

Fourth, Korach argued that “all the people are holy and G-d is within them” so why, he asked, do we need Moses to be their exalted leader. Yet this argument is undercut by Korach’s own desire to become the High Priest. Was Korach a hypocrite?

A NEW BRAND OF LEADERSHIP

On the surface, it seems that Korach was an egotist who wanted power and used the argument of equality to garner support from the people.

But, upon deeper analysis, it would seem that Korach was sincere in his belief that he ought to be leader. He believed that there was something fundamentally wrong with Moses’ brand of leadership.

The notion that Korach was not just some rabble rouser with purely negative and egotistical ambitions is based on the teachings of the Arizal and of the Chassidic masters.

The words in Psalm 92 “Tzadik katamar yifrach-a righteous person blossoms like a date palm” is said to be an allusion to Korach, whose name is hinted in the last letters of those three words.

The fact that it was hinted at in the last letters of that phrase and not the initials suggests that Korach’s ideas were ahead of his time and that in the end of days he will be vindicated.

Kabbalah and Chassidic literature explain that Korach’s vision was for the spiritual level of the Levite to trump the spiritual level of the Kohen, which will indeed occur in the future Messianic Age.

However, on a simple level, we can also explain Korach’s issue and why he differentiated between his version of leadership and the version of Moses.

MOSES’ AND MOSHIACH’S TWO HATS

Moses, unlike most Jewish leaders, wore two “hats.” Moses is referred to as Moshe Rabbeinu-Moses our teacher because he received the Torah at Mount Sinai and passed it on to every Jew. Moses was also a king. He was the absolute monarch and his word was a command to each and every Jew.

That Moses was our teacher is stated in the verse, “The Torah was commanded to us by Moses, an inheritance to the assembly of Jacob (Deuteronomy 33:4).” In the very next verse, the Torah states, referring to Moses, “And there was a king in Yeshurun [another name for the people of Israel].”

Moshiach will also wear those two hats. Moshiach will be the ultimate monarch, the one who will restore the Davidic dynasty. But Moshiach will also be the ultimate teacher of Torah. Indeed, even Moses will come learn from Moshiach, who will reveal heretofore hidden dimensions of Torah knowledge.

These two roles of Moshiach are represented by the two titles we find ascribed to Moshiach: Melech-king and Nasi. The title Nasi was traditionally given to the leader of the Sanhedrin, a body of Sages devoted to the interpretation, transmission and implementation of Torah law.

The Rebbe in Likkutei Sichos (Volume 35, Parshas VaYigash) analyzes the difference between these two roles. Moshiach’s role as teacher of Torah is a never-ending role because the Torah is infinite and Moshiach will always have more material to impart.

Moshiach’s role as a king, however, will not remain the same. With the passage of time, his role as monarch will be less prominent because it will be less needed, if at all. The primary purpose of a king, according to Jewish law, is to guarantee that society does not degenerate into anarchy. He is there to promote righteousness and justice and, if need be, he may have to lead the nation into battle, as did Kings Saul and David.

To be sure, a Torah-designated king, particularly Moshiach, has other spiritual functions. However, the spiritual influence derived from his aloofness and exaltedness. A king cannot and does not relate intimately to his subjects as king. It is his role as a teacher through which he has a personal and intimate relationship with every Jew.

When Maimonides (Laws of Kings and Moshiach, chapter 11) describes the function of Moshiach, he presents both sides of Moshiach’s leadership:

“Moshiach will compel all of Israel to go in the path of Torah and its commandments, fight the wars of G-d, build the Beis HaMikdash, gather all the dispersed of Israel and repair the entire world to serve G-d.” This is very much in the tradition of Jewish monarchs who, as Maimonides writes: “should endeavor to uplift the true religion, fill the world with righteousness, remove the arms of the wicked and wage the wars of G-d. For we only appoint a king initially to perform justice and wage wars.”

Elsewhere (Laws of Teshuva, chapter 9), Maimonides describes a different aspect of Moshiach’s leadership:

“That king who will arise from the seed of David will be a master of wisdom more than Solomon and a great prophet… he will therefore teach the entire nation and instruct them to follow in the path of G-d. And all the nations will come to him to hear him… Through him knowledge, wisdom and truth will proliferate, as it says, ‘And the entire earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d.’”

Maimonides (at the end of the Laws of Kings and Moshiach) characterizes the Messianic age as the time when “the preoccupation of the entire world to will be to know G-d exclusively… all of Israel will be great scholars and they will know the hidden matters and grasp the knowledge of their Creator… the entire earth will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the water covers the sea.”

It is clear that this knowledge will be imparted by Moshiach himself in his role as the supreme teacher of Torah.

The Rebbe explains that although his primary role is that of a monarch to change the world, there is an advantage to his role as a teacher over that of his role as a monarch. After Moshiach succeeds in promoting the true religion, securing justice and righteousness, fighting evil and repairing the entire world to serve G-d exclusively, his services as a monarch will no longer be that crucial. Then, his main challenge will be to teach Torah forever.

KORACH’S OBJECTION

We can now appreciate Korach’s objection to Moses’ role as a leader. Korach knew that there had to be a leader who possesses both qualities of monarch and teacher. However, he was ahead of his time. He viewed these two roles as if he were already in the future, when the role of King will no longer be needed because everyone will be holy.

Korach thought that after receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai, when G-d inserted Himself into the mind, heart and soul of every Jew, why would the people need a king to prevent them from transgressing. He argued that they were all holy and G-d was within them all. Therefore, although they still would need a teacher, the role of monarch would have to change drastically.

Korach therefore thought that Moses’ role as monarch was a slight to the integrity of the Jewish people because it implied that they could not be trusted to remain faithful to the principles of righteousness without a stern monarch to protect them.

Korach certainly knew about the Golden Calf transgression and the rebellion of the spies. Nevertheless, he felt that the Jewish people had learned their lesson and all the obstacles to a righteous life were now removed. The people had already atoned for those sins and now their consciences were clean. Moses had succeeded in rehabilitating them, so why was he continuing to serve as a monarch?

Korach wanted to replace the model of a monarch with a much more spiritual leadership, one that would continue to nurture the inner holiness of every Jew. Korach’s mind was living in the future, when Moshiach will no longer need to assume that role of monarch.

KORACH’S FAR-SIGHTEDNESS

Korach was mistaken. What he imagined was a perfect world was due to his uncanny ability to see into the future, which is the hallmark of a wise person. As the Talmud says, “Who is a wise person? One who sees the future.” Korach’s error was that his seeing into the future came at the expense of not seeing the present.

We can now understand why our Sages state in Ethics of the Fathers that his rebellion will not endure. But haven’t disputes, which are symbolized by Korach, continued to vex us to this very day?

In light of the above, we may suggest that the meaning of “not enduring” is that in the Messianic Age, Korach’s dispute will actually be resolved in his favor; it will no longer be in dispute because Moshiach will, in fact, eventually follow Korach’s agenda. That will obviate the need for the role of the monarchy to be primary. The world will be a perfected world at last. Moshiach will be free to devote himself to revealing the deepest secrets of Torah.

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