This week’s Torah portion contains the story of the most famous of the rebellions against Moses’ authority. Korah and his followers rebel against Moses.
“They combined against Moses and Aaron and said to them, ‘You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and the Lord is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s congregation?’” (Numbers 16:3) Korah and his followers are severely punished for rising up against Moses. “Scarcely had he finished speaking all these words when the ground under them burst asunder, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up with their households, all Korah’s people and all their possessions.” (16:31-32)
On the surface the rebels’ critique does not appear to justify such harsh punishment. For centuries commentators have offered different interpretations, attempting to explain why their complaint was so problematic. Some have argued that it was how they questioned Moses’ authority. Korah and his followers did not argue with a sense of machloket l’shem shamayim, arguments for the sake of heaven. Others have suggested that it was not so much their arguments with Moses but instead their lack of faith in God’s chosen leader. It was not a rebellion against Moses but instead against God.
Recently I discovered a different interpretation. It is found in the collection of Hasidic commentaries, Itturey Torah.
“What was the source of the dispute between Korah and Moses? Moses gave a hint at this when he stated, ‘Do you then want the priesthood?’ All that Korah wanted was the prestige of being a priest, but not the attendant duties and responsibilities. “
Ask your children the following question. Would you prefer to sit on the bench of a winning team or play the entire game on a losing team? I suspect that most of our children would choose winning over playing. Many would probably offer the justification that even on the bench there is a chance that they would play, if only for a moment. Still is it better to play for one minute and win or play for 90 minutes and lose?
I always prefer to be in the game. I prefer the challenge. Most people appear to prize winning over hard work.
The priesthood of course was not just about standing in front of the people and hearing the shouts of amen to one’s every sermon and prayer. It was also about slaughtering animals. It was also messy and most importantly, laborious.
Too few value such messy hard work. Too many only want the prizes and accolades. Too many are like Korah who only wanted the prestige and not the duties and responsibilities. The lesson is that such glory can only come from hard work and struggle, challenge and sacrifice.
This is why Korah was punished so severely. He failed to understand that you must first ask for the hard work. You must seek the challenge. You must welcome the responsibilities. You must run to get into the game. The glory follows—but only sometimes.