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Parashat Korach - 5777

Dear friends,

In rabbinic literature and in the Jewish world, the name of Korah invokes a character who could not control his jealousy and desire for power. He was the richest man among those who came out of Egypt, and therefore felt that his wealth should earn him some respect and power. This week's Parasha is called Korah, and tells the story of Korah.

Korah convinces descendants of the tribe of Reuben, along with another 250 men, that they are all holy and, therefore, qualified and worthy to become High Priests. He gathers all these people together and they descend upon Moses and Aaron by the Tabernacle. There, Korah accuses Moses of haughtiness and arrogance. He accuses Moses of nepotism for having given the position of High Priest to his brother Aaron. Moses tries to reason with Korah that the assignment was made by G-d, and that Aaron's position is not one of power, but one of service.

Korah and his people do not want to talk. They raise other complains - namely that, as leaders, Moses and Aaron have failed because they have not kept their promise of bringing the people to the Land of Milk and Honey. On the contrary, they say, Moses and Aaron took them out of Egypt which was the Land of Milk and Honey.

The story ends with the earth opening up and swallowing Korah and his family. A fire came out of heaven and killed the 250 men who had brought their censors and burned incense in them, pretending to be priests.

In the Talmud this episode is known as מחלוקת קרח, 'Mahloket Korah', Korah's controversy or divisiveness. The Hebrew root of of Mahloket is Helek, part, or Lehalek, to divide. To gain power, Korah first sought to incite the people against Moses by creating division among the congregation.

The Hebrew word Mahloket also has the root of Mahala, which means illness. People who strive to gain power by creating controversies and divisiveness among the people are in a Mahloket that indicates both an illness of not being able to control their envy, and their strong desire for power.

Korah could have approached Moses and discussed with him his concerns. He chose the way of starting up trouble by gathering and convincing all these people who might have had their own individual gripes and frustrations. Did he ever think that it would be possible to have 250 High Priests? The Talmud concludes that such a controversy has no chance to succeed.

This parasha teaches us that wherever there are people together, controversies might and will probably arise. The kind of discussions that will succeed are those which allow for respectful listening to one another. And, even when expressing other opinions, they should be made with respect and sensitivity to the needs of others.

Shabbat Shalom,

Avram