Temper, temper, God. You always go right that place, don’t You? “Stand back from this community that I may annihilate them in an instant!!” (Num. 16:21) In Korach, this week’s parasha, there is rebellion afoot. Korach, a Levite like Moses and Aaron, took a stand, along with 250 followers, and said to the brothers, “You’ve gone too far.” (Num 16:3) The next thing you know, Moses and Aaron had a major crisis in front of them. God immediately threatened to annihilate the people, and almost does so. The earth opened up, and Korach and his followers are swallowed up. Then there was plague. Thousands and thousands of people died after the rebellion. Confrontation over.
This isn’t the first or last time God has threatened a do-over like this. It happened in Genesis during the stories of the Flood and Sodom and Gemorrah, and again in Exodus in the story of the Golden Calf. Here in Korach, and once more again when the people continued to complain incessantly. Why, just last week, in Shelach L’cha, the people freaked out at the report back from the scouts Moses sent into the Land. They said it was filled with giants, and they were all going to die if they tried to enter the Land. God offered to get rid of this faithless people and start all over with another group, led by Moses.
What is it about these scenarios that get’s God’s goat, so to speak? In Genesis, there were serious breaches of morality. The Golden Calf was a significant break in the people’s faith in God. That one act of defiance threatened the very new, very fragile community that was just born out of slavery. Only three months out of Egypt, and stunned after a huge mountaintop sound and light show, they were easily swayed into rebellion because this idea of one God, one promise hadn’t taken root in the people’s minds and hearts.
With Korach, we were still at the base of the mountain, but into the second year away from Egypt. The community had begun to settle a bit, as the institutional structure was laid out and started to take hold. But this new threat was about authority – not Divine authority, but very human, very mortal authority. Perhaps a far greater test to any new society is how it handles challenges to its own leadership. The leadership was threatened by the continual griping. The people kept saying that Moses brought them out for naught, they were doomed, and why didn’t Moses just leave them back in Egypt, where life was better. That kind of demoralizing whining can eat away at foundations as surely as the immorality of earlier times did. Both got God’s attention and tempted God to clear the page and start all over.
Maybe Korach had a valid point, maybe he didn’t; what was important, however, to the future of the people, was how this challenge was resolved. How we handle those who continually criticize without suggestions of how to make things better says a lot about our political structure. We have people like that around us now, actually bringing the governing function to a halt, with nothing to offer except the ability to bring things to a dead stop. This isn’t good for the community, regardless of what the complaints are about. A functioning, sustainable society needs a way to handle both valid challenges to leadership, and the false buzzing of those that seek to simply tear down. For Moses, the day was saved by Divine disasters. For us, we need to find a better Plan B. You can’t always depend on a well-timed earthquake.