Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Korach
To dedicate this lesson
Hirsch At Your Table

Political Ego

A brief Dvar Torah on the Parsha, based on R. Samson Raphael Hirsch’s Torah Commentary


Rabbi Matityahu Clark

ויאמר משה אל קורח שמעו נא בני לוי. המעט מכם כי הבדיל אלוקי ישראל אתכם מעדת ישראל להקריב אתכם אליו לעבוד את עבודת המשכן ולעמוד לפני העדה לשרתם. (Nm 16:8-9)
Moshe sets the stage for a test to determine who shall be God's chosen emissaries. He uses the well known and accepted duty of the Kohen Gadol, the bringing of the incense, as the means to prove who should be the legitimate religious leaders of the people. If indeed everyone is equal, then these claimants should be able to perform this special service. Before the test, Moshe tries to reason with Korah, pointing out that his tribe of Levites had been given a major role in the service of the Mishkan and of the entire nation.

One can deduce from reading in this verse of Moshe speaking to Korah and subsequently to Datan and Aviram that the revolt represented two factions with separate agendas. Korah claimed that his family was slighted by the arbitrary choice of Aharon as the father of the Kohanim. He acknowledged the special status given to his tribe, the Levites, but he wanted more for himself and his family. Using the pretext of equal rights, he demanded the priesthood to satisfy his own ambitions.

Datan and Aviram, on the other hand, did not care about the K'huna/priesthood. They did not participate with the two hundred and fifty claimants in the incense test. Their goal was simply displacing Moshe as the national leader. They joined with Korah because they thought that both factions together could more effectively achieve their goals.

It is interesting to note that the verse uses the word ויאמר and not the stronger word וידבר. This implies that Moshe spoke gently with Korah and tried to explain to him the exalted position that has been given to the entire tribe of Levi.

The word ויאמר is from the root א-מ-ר which means "to organize speech to be heard and understood." The word וידבר is from the root ד-ב-ר which means "to combine separate items into one." It connotes developing and delivering coherent speech even if there are no listeners.

Moshe knew that Korah did not truly understand what the Levite job description represented. This can be seen in the double phrase of לעבוד את עבודת משכן ד'/to service the Mishkan, and לעמוד לפני העדה לשרתם/to stand and service the community. These two phrases serve as a mission statement for the Jewish public servant, and they define the highest and most honorable position in the community. By erecting, looking after, protecting and transporting the Mishkan and all its furnishings, the Levites were performing a major national service. The key words in Moshe's explanation are עבודה and שרות both of which connote "service" to others.

The words לעבוד and עבודתare from the root ע-ב-ד which means "to work subject to another's will." The word לשרתם is from the root ש-ר-ת which means "to serve and free others from labor." The word העדה is from the root י-ע-ד "to arrange" a task.

A community is united by a common mission. Thus, service to the community implies understanding needs and purposes and working towards the goals that have been set as community priorities.

Copyright © 2014, Matityahu Clark. All Rights Reserved. This is an excerpt from the forthcoming Hirsch At Your Table, a collection of brief divrei torah based on R. Samson Raphael Hirsch’s Torah Commentary.
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