From Insights and Inspirations
Published by the Ra’anana Community Kollel
Ra’anana Community Kollel
Rebel Without a Cause
Rabbi Binyomin Lipson
In this week’s parshah, the Torah describes how Korach, a member of the tribe of Levi and a cousin of Moshe, instigated a rebellion against the authority of Moshe and Aharon as the undisputed leaders of the Jewish people. Claiming that they had taken far too much power for themselves, Korach spoke out for equality amongst the Jewish people and claimed that, as all the members of the community were holy, there was simply no need for a superior authority. To this end, the Midrash recounts how Korach clothed his two hundred and fifty supporters in cloaks of blue, brought them before Moshe and asked, “What is the law concerning a garment which is completely blue? Is one obligated to attach tzitzit to it or not?” When Moshe answered that indeed, one is obligated to attach tzitzit to any four-cornered garment regardless of its color, Korach and his associates began to laugh mockingly, “If one thread of blue wool is sufficient to exempt a garment of another color, then certainly, a garment which is completely blue should not require tzitzit at all!”
One reason why the Torah commands us to attach a string techelet to our tzitzit is in order to serve as a constant reminder of our creator and our responsibilities to Him. As our sages tell us, “Techelet resembles the sea, the sea resembles the heavens, and the heavens remind one of the throne of Hashem’s glory.” If so, reasoned Korach, then one who wears a garment which is completely techelet should not be obligated to attach tzitzit at all. Obviously, Korach wasn’t simply trying to undermine Moshe’s authority by ridiculing his legal rulings. Rather, he was making an implied statement about the leadership of the Jewish people. Just as a garment of techelet should not require tzitzit as the garment itself serves as a reminder of Hashem’s existence, the holy Jewish nation who recognize and strive to fulfill their lofty mission in the world, do not require a leader to guide them. As every member of the nation is holy, it is unfitting for one of its members to exercise authority over all the others.
When we read about Korach and his claims against Moshe and Aharon, it seems clear that he was motivated by both logical reasoning and heartfelt belief in the truth of his ideology. Seemingly, whether he was correct or not, Korach at least deserves our admiration for mustering the courage to speak up for his beliefs and for daring to challenge the status quo of an established society. Indeed, this was the trait that enabled our forefather Avraham to rise above the deteriorated moral fabric of his generation and eventually bring about the revelation of Hashem’s existence. This trait of independence was what earned him the honored title of Avraham HaIvri, for his stalwart dedication to his beliefs despite the pressures of his society. What then, was so bad about Korach, and why was he dealt with so harshly?
The Midrash relates that despite his convincing ideological platform, Korach’s rebellion against Moshe was essentially rooted in the trait of jealousy. Indeed, it was only when he witnessed his cousin, the son of his father’s younger brother, being elevated to a position of high authority that Korach was miraculously transformed into the paragon of virtue and guardian of democracy who was so concerned for the honor of his people.
The story is told of a medieval monarch who embarked on a search of his empire to recruit the most talented warriors for his royal army. One day, while walking through the forest with his entourage, he observed a target painted on a tree with an arrow stuck directly in its center. Surprisingly, as he continued further along the road, he witnessed another, and yet another; perfect bull’s-eyes. Soon, he had seen nearly a hundred different targets, each one with an expert archer’s arrow lodged exactly at its center. The king was astounded. He had never witnessed such precision marksmanship; certainly, this archer deserved a most honored place in the royal army! After much searching, the king finally stood face to face with the man he had sought. “How is it that you are so masterful with a bow that you literally never miss your target?” the king asked in wonderment. “Oh, it’s quite easy,” replied the young man with a smile, “I take careful aim, shoot, and wherever the arrow lands I paint a bull’s-eye right around it!”
This paradox which our sages have revealed to us in the character of Korach should not seem too unusual to us. How many times have we ourselves come in contact with people whose ostensibly virtuous ideals are merely an outgrowth of their own personal self-interest? However, the lesson of Korach goes far beyond exercising caution and analyzing the motivations of our associates. Rather, the primary message that we should come away with from this week’s parshah is the great necessity for each one of us to be always cognizant of the deeper motivations of our own actions and ideologies. Are the beliefs and policies which we profess to believe in and live by indeed those that we have arrived at through truthful contemplation, or are they merely the puppets of our predetermined desires; the target painted around the arrow?