By Joy Scott, Am Haskalah Congregant

In last week’s Torah Parsha (SHELACH), twelve ‘spies’, after scouting the land of Canaan for forty days, returned with a blatantly, exaggerated falsehood, pertaining to the strength and size of the inhabitants, who were to be conquered. Only, Joshua and Caleb, of the twelve rejected their claim that the people living in Canaan could not be defeated in battle. God decreed that with the exception of Joshua and Caleb, only a new generation of people, who had not been raised in slavery, could ever create a civilized society in the ‘Promised Land’. An unequivocal sentence was handed down to the Israelites: They would be forced to live in the desert for another forty years.

The time was ripe for a revolution. The people were still demoralized, and the ‘Promised Land’ was no longer in their sights. The strategy was simple: foment unrest, and stage a take-over. The tactics employed were simple: collect the disheartened, and create the façade of a united opposition. The message had to be ‘populism’; sympathy for the people’s discontent; and, allies assembled to follow the lead.

The leader of this movement was Korach, a Levite and cousin of Moses. He was joined by Dathan and Avram, both descendants of Jacob. Added to this coalition were two hundred and fifty great men, who had very different motives than the others. They did not want to overturn the current leaders. According to Rashi, they desired, only, to attain a greater closeness to God, by partaking in the service of the Priests. “They sinned with their souls” (1).

The rebels assembled against Moses and Aaron, and said to them: “You take too much upon yourselves, for the congregation is all holy, and the Lord is in their midst. So why do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s people?” (2).

Moses (unsuccessfully) attempted to make peace with Korach; and, later with Dathan and Avram (3). Korach did not understand the roles played by ‘leaders’ in Judaism. They are not dictators, rulers, or demagogues. They do not seek self-aggrandizement; extraordinary wealth by taxing their own people; or, surrounding themselves with sycophants to satisfy their every whim.

In Judaism, leadership is not a matter of status, but of function. Moses, Aaron and the Kohanim were transmitter of God’s words and teachings.

The Lord punished Korach, Dathan and Avram severely, by “splitting the earth beneath them, and swallowing their houses and property” (4). For entering too close to God’s holiness, the two hundred and fifty men were consumed by fire (5).

The three men who died for their arrogance confused ‘power’ with ‘influence’. The Jewish people have rarely had power in the history of the world; but their influence has always been extraordinary. Consider that the Jews comprise less than .2% of the world’s population; but have been awarded 22% of the Nobel prizes. Each of the Ivy League colleges in the US now comprise an average of over 25% Jewish students, where the Jewish population is less than 2%. These and other Jewish students are likely to sustain our influence in the world, over the next generation, and beyond.



(1) Rashi

(2) NUMBERS (16:3)

(3) NUMBERS (16:8-12)

(4) NUMBERS (16:31-32)

( 5) NUMBERS (16:35)