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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Skorka

Korach - The ambition for power

"The Bible is not man´s theology but God´s anthropology.” This famous phrase of Abraham Joshua Heschel that appears in his book Man Is Not Alone, summarizes one of the basic principles for understanding the biblical text. The Bible is studied to understand the multiple aspects that comprise human life. Genesis 5:1 is explicit: "This is the book of the generations of man," that is: this is the text to delve into in order to find answers to our existential questions.

This parashah tells the story of the revolt of Korach and his followers against Moses and Aaron. It describes their excessive appetite for power, a failure that we can often observe in leaders both past and present.

Korach had good reasons to claim the leadership position of Moses according to the interpretation of the Sages of the Midrash (Rabba, parashah 18; Tanhuma, Korach, paragraph 3), but his main motivation was ambition. Like the despots of all times, Korach sought to attain power by wielding claims that are only partially true.

In Pirkei Avot (5:17), the Sages teach that all debate put forward to honor God will achieve transcendent results. Both those based on other motives will never transcend. And they give as an example of the first situation the controversies between Hillel and Shammai, and of the latter, the arguments put forth by Korach and his followers.

In the book of Judges (chapter 9) the famous parable of Yotam the son of Gideon is spoken to the inhabitants of Shechem who had crowned Avimelech as king over them. Its dramatic message is that those who deserve to be leaders are those who are occupied with multiple productive tasks, while those who only seek power and obtain it generally lead their people to destruction and disaster.

The issue of leadership is as old as the organization of families and societies. The story of Korach comes as a warning that care must be taken when choosing a leader. Despite being a ancient story and easily understandable, this lesson remains a vital issue for humanity right up to the present.

Shabbat shalom!


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