By Rabbi Dov Berl Wein
Moshe, who is known as a person of limitless patience and tolerance, forgiving to all and the most humble of all humans, reacts apparently in an uncharacteristic manner to the attack mounted against his personal leadership of the Jewish people by Korach. Moshe’s aggressive stance against the rebels reveals therefore a different motive to that attack than mere office-seeking on the part of the rebels. For after all it was Moshe who himself declared that “would all of the people of Israel become prophets.” He tells Yehoshua not to be zealous in defense of his personal honor. And yet here with Korach and his followers Moshe adopts such a hard line and an uncompromising stance. The Torah always notes for us behavior of great people that on the surface appears to be uncharacteristic of their nature and past performance. Part of the reason for the Torah’s doing so is to alert us to a deeper issue that lies here and not to be satisfied with the superficial and surface statement of facts. And the deeper issue present here is that Korach wishes to convert Torah and Judaism to a man-made, “democratic” faith from its original and true source as being a faith revealed to humans from on high, a faith and life system ordained in Heaven and revealed to humans. Therefore it is not Moshe and his leadership that is the core issue in this dispute but rather it is the basic definition of Judaism – is it Godly or man-made, revealed or invented? And on that basic core issue of Judaism, Moshe sees no room for compromise or unjustified tolerance. It is not Moshe’s position that is at stake here. It is the understanding and true meaning of Judaism and its future that is now at risk.
Even though the Talmud teaches us that the dispute of Korach against Moshe is not one that is destined to last eternally, it nevertheless in the sense that I have described above, lasted until our very day. The struggle to maintain Judaism as a Godly revealed religion is an ongoing one. There are many forces within and without the Jewish world that have attempted and still attempt to remove the Godly revealed part out of Judaism. In spite of all of Jewish history that indicates the abject failure of such an approach, it still persists in our time. It is not an attack on the Orthodox establishment, so to speak – Moshe – that is present here, though on the surface it may be presented as such. At the root of the dispute is the view of Judaism that it is from Heaven given to earth and not merely a clever invention and artifice of ancient rabbis and scholars. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch once characterized the difference between Judaism and other faiths as being that Judaism was a religion given by God to define man while the other faiths were created by man to define God. God is beyond our meager abilities to define or understand. Therefore He gave us a Torah, the Torah of Moshe, in order to aid us to live as proper human beings and as His devoted servants.