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    In defence of Korach

    korah korachHistory hasn’t a good word to say for Korach. So much so that he is one of the company of Biblical villains whose name has never been given to a Jewish child.

    We have Abrahams, Isaacs and Jacobs. I have even known an Esau. But have you ever heard of a child called Korach? That’s the proof of how little we love him.

    But when you actually look at the statements that aroused Moses’ ire, they seem to have a logic about them. Maybe Korach wasn’t so wrong after all, you begin to think. What was his argument?

    If you want details of the confrontation, see the Midrash and Rashi. Korach reasoned like this: If a Jew needs a thread of blue in his tzitzit (it’s a matter of debate whether the thread of blue is a practical possibility today), what about a tallit which is completely made of blue?

    He asked a second question: since a Jew needs a m’zuzah with Torah passages on the doorpost, what about a person whose whole house is full of Torah books?

    What was Korach getting at with these questions? There is an analogy with the wicked son in the Haggadah. Our problem with this son is not his question in itself; the question shows that he really is a clever person. Our problem is with his tone of voice, his hidden agenda.

    The wicked son doesn’t raise a genuine query in a search for knowledge. He is trying to show off, to provoke for the sake of provoking, to shake the system and structure of the community, to undermine the authority of Moses and Aaron and the respect due to God-appointed leaders.

    What is Korach’s sin? Not so much what he asks but how he asks. That is why the Torah says that no-one should be like Korach and his company (Num.17:5).

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