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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Korach

Parashat Korach

Post - Modernism

Rabbi Yossef Carmel25 Sivan 5765
3045
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The social grouping known as the elite in recent years has been leading a movement stressing the idea that the individual is in the center of society’s concerns. They see religious, ethnic, and national concerns as secondary. The rights of the individual outweigh the obligations toward the public. The uniqueness of each person is not seen as just a piece that fits into a broad mosaic, but takes on an atmosphere of "the world was created for me." In such a climate, the acceptance of an arch-authority, whether political or spiritual, is certainly not taken for granted.

Our parasha is not the first one in which Moshe’s authority was questioned. Eldad and Meidad prophesied publicly, much to Yehoshua’s chagrin. Yet there, Moshe responded that it would be wonderful for there to be more and more prophets (Bamidbar 11:28-29). It is, therefore, somewhat surprising that Moshe reacted so harshly when an important man like Korach (see Bamidbar Rabba 18:3) raised the idea that there should be more sharing of authority in the Israelite hierarchy.

We may need to distinguish between two aspects of Jewish leadership. Torah scholarship is very heavily dependent on accepting the authority of sources and traditions, which are passed down in a chain from previous generations and from leader to leader. This fact gives a tremendous "advantage" to the elders, especially the scholars among them. The younger student has to be willing to make himself subservient to his teachers, those above him in the chain. This phenomenon helps ensure the viability of passing on the tradition, which is especially crucial in the area of halacha. In fact we even have Talmudic statements to the tune that a disciple is not allowed to say anything that he did not hear from his teachers. Serving an elder master, in the intellectual meaning of the term, is a crucial condition to being able to receive permission to someday rule on matters himself.

Prophecy is very different than the transmission of Torah traditions. Firstly, it is very individual. Prophecy was never given to a group. Rather, it is the word of Hashem, which He decides to expose a holy man to. It is so personal that the Rabbis say, "two prophets do not prophesy in one style." The path to attaining prophecy apparently is a personal one of searching and self-attainment in the areas of purity, which brings holiness, which then brings Divine spirit. There is no guarantee that one who follows a tradition of prophets will reach prophecy. To the contrary, prophecy deals with the new and the renewing, not in the old and the static. Thus, Eldad and Meidad’s prophecy, without Moshe’s authorization or permission, did not threaten the tradition of Torah leadership, which ran through Moshe and which was so basic to the survival of Judaism. In contrast, Korach’s challenge to Moshe’s authority did.

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