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When Truth is Sacrificed to Power (Korach, Covenant & Conversation)

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23.06.2022

What was wrong with the actions of Korach and his fellow rebels? On the face of it, what they said was both true and principled.

“You have gone too far,” they said to Moses and Aaron. “All of the community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s people? (Num. 16:3–4)

“You have gone too far,” they said to Moses and Aaron. “All of the community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is with them. Why then do you set yourselves above the Lord’s people? (Num. 16:3–4)

They had a point. God had summoned the people to become “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” (Ex. 19:6), that is, a kingdom every one of whose members was in some sense a priest, and a nation where every member was holy. Moses himself had said, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would place His spirit upon them all!” (Num. 11:29) These are radically egalitarian sentiments. Why then was there a hierarchy, with Moses as leader and Aaron as High Priest?

What was wrong with Korach’s statement was that even at the outset it was obvious that he was duplicitous. There was a clear disconnection between what he claimed to want and what he really sought. Korach did not seek a society in which everyone was the same, everyone the Priests. He was not as he sounded, a utopian anarchist seeking to abolish hierarchy altogether. He was, instead, mounting a leadership challenge. As Moses’ later words to him indicate, he wanted to be High Priest himself. He was Moses’ and Aaron’s cousin, son of Yitzhar, the brother of Moses’ and Aaron’s father Amram, and he therefore felt it unfair that both leadership positions had gone to a single family within the clan. He claimed to want equality. In fact what he wanted was power.

That was the stance of Korach the Levite. But what was happening was more complex than that. There were two other groups involved: the Reubenites, Datham and Aviram, formed one group, and “two hundred and fifty Israelite men, leaders of the community, chosen from the assembly, men of repute,” were the other. (Num. 16:2) They too had their grievances. The Reubenites were aggrieved that as descendants of Jacob’s firstborn, they had no special leadership roles. According to Ibn Ezra, the two hundred and fifty ‘men of rank’ were upset that, after the sin of the Golden Calf, leadership had passed from the firstborn within each tribe to the single tribe of Levi.

They were an unholy alliance, and bound to fail, since their claims conflicted. If Korach achieved his ambition of becoming High Priest, the Reubenites and the men of rank would have been disappointed. Had the Reubenites won, Korach and the men of rank would have been disappointed. Had the men of rank achieved their ambition, Korach and the Reubenites would be left dissatisfied. The disordered, fragmented narrative sequence in this........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)


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