Rabbi Berel Wein
This week’s reading describes the rebellion of Korach and other disastrous incidents that occurred to the generation that left Egypt who were destined to expire in the Desert of Sinai. After the previous debacles: the complaints against Moshe by Miriam and Aharon, the demand for food, the ingratitude towards the manna that fell from heaven, the failed mission of the spies who visited the Land of Israel, and the military defeat suffered by the Jews at the hands of the Canaanites, it seems that this generation would have learned its lesson by now. Instead of internalizing the reasons for these events and their reactions, we read in this week’s portion about the anger and frustration by many of the leaders that was turned upon Moshe instead of the self-examination that would have been proper and beneficial. Korach and his group spoke in the name of high-sounding democracy and equality. It is quite common in history that dangerous, corrupt, and nefarious political groups always claim the high moral ground for themselves. One of the great shams of Marxism was that it always used high-sounding moral adjectives to describe itself. When it was the aggressor, it called itself peace-loving. When it was totalitarian and dictatorial in its rule, it always titled itself democratic and progressive. The high-sounding words of fairness and equality that were hurled against Moshe by Korach and his group of followers sound hollow to us even today, thousands of years later. We have witnessed in our own time the fact that disparate groups and differing individuals unite because of a common hatred or dislike of another group or person. According to the Midrash, each of the 250 followers of Korach had a different agenda and ambition for themselves. It was the opportunity to strike down Moshe, whose presence and greatness so tormented them, that brought all of these differing personalities together and ironically guaranteed them a common fate of destruction. Because of his piety and innocence, Moshe is the greatest thorn in the side of the rebels who are only looking for their satisfaction and advancement. Moshe understands it is not his personal honor that is at stake here but rather the entire concept of Torah leadership and the essence of being a special people with a divine mission. It is not his personal reputation alone that he is defending but, rather, the spiritual future of the Jewish people. The rebellion of Korach is not a small offense but a great personal failing like the sin of the Golden Calf. It is a mortal blow to the continuity of the Jewish people and to its very survival. The Torah describes the events throughout the Desert of Sinai so that we will be aware of the pitfalls that lie at the footsteps of personal ambition and unwarranted hubris.