The story of Korach and his cohort is at its core a lesson in how a series of half-truths and implied facts can lead to one big lie. Korach questions the legitimacy of Moshe’s leadership in an ill-fated attempt to claim that role for himself. He gathers around himself a group of like-minded malcontents who feel slighted by Moshe and Aharon’s position of power. They make a bold accusation.
“They assembled together against Moses and against Aaron, and said to them: ‘You take too much upon yourselves! For the entire assembly – all of them – are holy and Hashem is among them; why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of Hashem?’”(Bamidbar 16:3)
It is true that the entire congregation of Israel is called upon by Hashem to be his “kingdom of priest and a holy nation.” (Shemot 19:6) The half-truth lies in the continuation of the same passage where Hashem clearly designates Moshe as His appointed leader. “Hashem said to Moshe,’Behold. I come to you in the thickness of the cloud, so that the people will hear as I speak to you, and they will also believe in you forever.’”(Ibid, v.9)
According to the Midrash, Korach even disputes the veracity of Moshe’s legal rulings, implying that they are illogical and of his own creation, manufactured for his own purposes to control the people. This is another half-truth, since we know that many of the Torah’s laws are statutes that defy our full comprehension. They reflect the Divine Will, not the caprice of Moshe.
Nonetheless, many in the Israelite camp except this false narrative and challenge Moshe’s authority. Moshe’s response is to seek a civil discourse to resolve this dispute. He wants to meet with the disputants, but they respond, “Lo Na’aleh – We will not go up (to meet you).” (Bamidbar 16:12).
The unfortunate and predictable result of this intransience, engendered by a false narrative, is not resolution, but death and destruction.
Our sages teach us, Ma’aseh Avot siman la’banim – the experiences of our ancestors are a foreshadowing for later generations.
Indeed, the Palestinian narrative, regarding Gaza in particular, that has been ingested by so many for so long is also a false narrative based on half-truths and big lies. Attempts to negotiate a resolution have been repeatedly rejected. A most poignant example was the painful disengagement from Gaza in 2005. Israel removed its citizens and its military presence from Gaza in a unilateral withdrawal and gave autonomous control to the Palestinian Authority. Israel left farms, greenhouses and other turnkey businesses intact with the intent that they would be used to support the Gazan economy. Within days the produce was torn from the ground, the greenhouse were burned down and the businesses destroyed. Within months the citizens of Gaza voted Hamas into power, an organization that rejects the state of Israel and calls for its destruction in its charter.
And in the wake of Hamas, death and destruction.
Rabbi J.J. Schacter points out that there is an epilogue to the story of Korach’s rebellion. All of the tribes come to the “tent of meeting” and present a staff with the name of the head their tribe inscribed on it. Hashem tells Moshe that the staff of the true leader will blossom with almonds. After all of the death and destruction brought about by Korach, the Torah wants to teach us that there is another way, one that does not need to be a zero some gain, one that can found in the tent of meeting. All it takes are willing partners.
Rabbi Howard Zack is spiritual leader of Torat Emet in Columbus.