I really don’t know what to do with this parasha this week. It’s Korach. Every year, I admit I struggle with this text; what is it that Korach did so wrong? Korach (who was from the tribe of Levi, like Moses and Aaron), along with 250 followers from among the elite of the community, gathered against Moses and Aaron and said, “You are too much! (you have gone too far) All the community is holy, all of them, and Adonai is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above Adonai’s congregation?” (Num 16:1-3)
I usually see this as a “speaking truth to power” moment, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. Many commentators say that Korach’s problem was that he did it publically, that he was after personal gain, not for the benefit of the community, that he was challenging authority that God had chosen – Moses was the leader. Some say that this was a succession issue; Korach could foresee a time when Moses wouldn’t be around, and who would be the leader then?
These are ringing false with me right now. I don’t care that Korach made his demands in public; public airing of protest is exactly what is needed now. I don’t care that Korach was in it for himself; someone has to step forward and call “Foul!”, and if it puts that brave person in a better, more beneficial position to do good in the community, all the more reason for support. I don’t care that Korach was trying to get himself in line for leadership; maybe the people needed to know that there were options.
Obviously, I’m taking the text and overlaying it to the world I live in right now, and that’s exactly what keeps the Torah relevant. This year, however, it’s harder to come out and trash Korach. I know what happens in the story: Moses challenges Korach and his followers to a fire-pan duel, to see whose fire pans God will choose. Of course, God chose Moses’ and Aaron’s firepans, and ultimately, Korach and his followers are swallowed up as the earth splits in two.
Maybe the real message right now is that civil disobedience is crucial to a healthy community, and if one chooses to go that route, one must be ready to pay the consequences. Earthquakes may seem a bit over-the-top (so to speak), but everyone who marches, protests, calls out officials is at risk for arrest, jail, fines, etc. That’s the price to be paid, and this year, I’m honoring the Korach-like rabble-rousers who pay it.
I hope next year, when Korach rolls around again, I’ll be able to get back to a more traditional take on the parasha. I sure hope so.