In Salem Oregon’s capitol gift shop, I notice the following sign: “it may be that your whole life is to be a warning for others”… if no one else, Kovach whom this week’s reading is named after, is a classic example for this.
Korach incites a mutiny challenging Moses’ and Aaron’s leadership, claiming “everybody is holy”. Korach is further accompanied by Moses’ foes, Datan and Aviram. Joining them are 250 distinguished members of the community, who offer holy incense to prove that they are worthy of the priesthood. You might think Moses and Aaron felt relieved to have so many willing helpers, but instead, the earth opens up, swallowing the mutineers and a fire consumes those who offered the incense.
Who is Kovach? Aside from being Moses’ first cousin, much can be learned from his name in Hebrew,Korach is spelled ק.ר.ח. kof.resh.chet. Rabbi Hirsch points that the same root is used for the word for balding (karcha: check Leviticus 21:5), a smooth interior of a garment (karachto, check Leviticus 13:55) and frost (kerach, Genesis 31:40), which is also the word for ice in Modern Hebrew. The root means “cohere”, which the dictionary says means- 1. to stick together; be united; hold fast, as parts of the same mass. 2. Physics (of two or more similar substances) to be united within a body by the action of molecular forces. 3. to be naturally or logically connected: 4. to agree; be congruous.
I was excited to find a letter by letter analysis of his name (ah, the things that make me excited!):
According to kabala, the ideal balance between thought and action is hinted in the letter heh. The letter heh is made of three parts: the top – for thought; the right side – for speech and the left – for action. Notice, that the left side is shorter than the others and that it stands sort of “under” the top, indicating that action is subject to thought.
Each of the letters is Korach’s name is very similar to the heh, but is different, and how it’s different is significant to what happened and what we can learn.
The letter kof is like a heh except the left line goes down lower than the right, indicating a situation when those who act are not under those who think, which drags the former lower.
The letter resh is like heh except it has no left side at all, parallel to Korach’s dmand to separate thinking from doing.
The letter chet is like heh, except the left side is closed, making all three aspects – thought, speech and action – equal.
Just from his name, we see that Korach demanded often conflicting things: to be “equal” as in “kulam kdoshim”, everybody is holy, and yet, to be a leader, unique above everybody, so which way is it?
In Pirkei Avot (the Sayings of the Fathers 5:20), we’re told: “Any dispute that is for the sake of heaven will have a constructive outcome; but one that is not for the sake of heaven will not have a constructive outcome. What sort fo dispute is for the sake of Heaven? The dispute between Hillel and Shamai. And which was not for the sake of Heaven? – The dispute of Korach and his entire company”.
Wait, if we want to use these role models, shouldn’t the parallel to Hillel and Shamai, two giants of two different opinions and ways of thinking, be Korach and Moses?
But the Mishna chose to say, Korach vechol adato, Korach and all his crowd, to say, the dispute was not at all between Korach and Moses, but rather, it was internal, between Korach and his very own people. In its funniest form it probably sounded like our bus, except it wasn’t funny.
Professor Yishayahu Leibovitz says that the big difference is that Kovach thinks the community is already holy without thru need to do anything, while for Moses its all about the journey towards holiness, not an automatic arrival. Korach becomes the prototype of divisiveness and destruction. His criticism, even if it had some valid points, is not constructive. He is not interested in fixing or improving things. It is all about glorifying himself and only himself. His priorities are messed up, and mess up others; his “gang” is united by who they are opposing, not positive input and desire for anyone’s well being; and their “togetherness” is only temporary. He is a role model and warning for how and thus is not sustainable. Like ice (kerach), Korach and his group break apart and melt away when light shines on them.
Next stop Ashland. Shabbat Shalom.