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Korach 5770

By: Rav Avigdor Meyerowitz

 "And the sons of Korach did not die" (Bamidbar Chapter 26 Verse 11)Who are they? Professor Yeshayahu Leibowitz [1] would often quote the above verse when discussing the subject of the uniqueness of the Jewish People.  He claimed that the philosophy of Korach did not disappear with the death of Korach as described in this week's parsha, rather it continued to live on in the philosophies of Rav Yehuda Halevi (Kuzari), the Maharal, Rav Kook and their followers. "Within human reality there is no absolute uniqueness.  Jews are human beings like all the rest, and they cannot be peculiar by nature, since by nature we are all - Jews as well as Gentiles - children of Noah.  Jews could not possibly possess aptitudes that are not inherent in man qua man.  The notion that Jewish man is endowed with characteristics that non-Jews lack (the prophetic faculty described by Yehuda Halevi, the ‘soul of the nation’ proposed by Rabbi Kook, and the like) derogates the significance of Judaism.  If by nature there is something special about a Jew that distinguishes him from the Non-Jew, then Judaism is not a task and avocation but a factual datum.   The uniqueness of the Jewish people is a direction and a target.  Were it a reality, it would have no value.  The people of Israel were not the chosen people but were commanded to be the chosen people.  In what does its being chosen consist?  This is made perfectly clear in the wording of the benediction ‘who has chosen us from among all peoples and has given us his Torah’.  The Jewish People has no intrinsic uniqueness.  Its uniqueness rather consists in the demand laid on it.  The people may or may not heed this demand.  Therefore its fate is not guaranteed." [2] Leibowitz negates the idea that there is a metaphysical meaning in the choice of the Jewish people by Hashem.  According to him, Kedusha is something that is demanded of us, and not granted to us.  Jews do not have Kedusha, rather they have a responsibility to strive towards Kedusha. Rav Kook however never claimed anywhere in his writings that "all the people of the nation are holy", "kulam kedoshim".  All the individuals of the nation are not holy; however the Nation as a whole is indeed holy.  By this Rav Kook is not referring to all the individuals that make up the whole, rather to the entity of Knesset Yisrael. [3]  Knesset Yisrael is a holy entity, which is not the case of the individual.  The individual can realize this holiness, but at the same time can choose not to. Rav Kook in fact wrote very harshly against Korach's philosophy.  He argued that if we take Korach's philosophy a step further we should arrive at the conclusion that not only are all Jews equal, and therefore Moshe and Aharon should not be elevated above the rest of the people but that all people and all nations are equal and what is the necessity of having a Nation that is sanctified more than others.   Rav Kook equated Christianity with Korach: "The calling: `all in the nation are holy and G-d is amongst them’ was a mocking call to all the substance of Kedusha and to all the exaltation and readiness that rests in things, that is needed so that the holiness will be well-founded in life truthfully etc. The calling to all nations, even those immersed in the slime of impurity, in the depths of evilness and ignorance, `you are all holy, you are all children of G-d, there is no difference between nations, there is no chosen nation, every man is equally holy’ that is the "Korachism" of humanity. The world has to recognize that not just by one utterance of the mouth, albeit an utterance of faith, is it enough for man to soar to Gan Eden when at the same time the treasure of evil, the murder and abomination, that are entrenched in all the chambers of his spirit, his blood and flesh, remain unchanged.  He therefore thinks that he does not need rectifying or counsel, focus and aspiration, his spiritual sustenance is available for him at all times and in all places."[4] Leibowitz's claim to the equality of mankind is noble, but unfortunately ignores (as Leibowitz often had the habit of doing) Hashem's response to Korach's claims.  "And it shall be that the man whom Hashem chooses, he shall be holy" (Bamidbar Chapter 16 Verse 7). Aharon HaKohen is also the subject of Korach's argument and yet Hashem's response is that indeed Aharon has been chosen and all his descendants thereafter!  One who is not a Kohen can never aspire to be one.   Korach claims that since the nation is holy therefore Hashem is in their midst, in that order, like Leibowitz claims, when one makes the effort to be holy, Hashem (holiness) will be his portion.  However that is not the order in which it happened with Am Yisrael.  We make the Bracha on the Torah "asher bachar banu mikol ha'amim" and afterwards, "venatan lanu et Torato".  The choosing of Am Yisrael which was initiated with the Avot long before Matan Torah was the choice of Hashem.[5]  "This People have I formed for Myself; they shall relate my praise" (Yeshayahu 43;21).  The Maharal points out that the Torah clearly does not state anything about the righteous and pious personality of Avraham Avinu prior to him being called upon by Hashem, exactly to emphasize that point. The choosing of the Jewish people by Hashem is what has instilled in us the possibility to reach that holiness. The idea of being a chosen nation is not a means to sitting back and taking pleasure in that fact, that has no meaning, but rather a calling to realizing your responsibility.   Today, in the "Global Village" it is very important to appreciate equality in all areas; People, Nations, Men and Women and beyond.  This is obviously very important when considering the rights and privileges of all human beings, and we as Jews must be the first to embrace that equality.  But there is also the importance of recognizing the differences between all those things in creation so that each one of them can strive to fulfill their calling. In conclusion, a rather lengthy, though partial, quote of C.S. Lewis from his famous Screwtape Letters:   "Democracy is the word with which you must lead them by the nose….  You are to use the word purely as an incantation; if you like, purely for its selling power.  It is a name they venerate.  And of course it is connected with the political ideal that men should be equally treated.  You then make a stealthy transition in their minds from this political ideal to a factual belief that all men are equal….  The feeling I mean is of course that which prompts a man to say I’m as good as you….No man who says I’m as good as you believes it.  He would not say it if he did.  The St. Bernard never says it to the toy dog, nor the scholar to the dunce, nor the employable to the bum, nor the pretty woman to the plain.  The claim to equality, outside the strictly political field, is made only by those who feel themselves to be in some way inferior.  What it expresses is precisely the itching, smarting, writhing awareness of an inferiority which the patient refuses to accept.And therefore resents.  Yes, and therefore resents every kind of superiority in others; denigrates it; wishes its annihilation.  Presently he suspects every mere difference of being a claim to superiority….  “They’ve no business to be different.  It’s undemocratic.”Under the influence of this incantation those who are in any or every way inferior can labour more wholeheartedly and successfully than ever before to pull down everyone else to their own level.  But that is not all.  Under the same influence, those who come, or could come, nearer to a full humanity, actually draw back from fear of being undemocratic….  They might (horror of horrors!) become individuals….… What I want to fix your attention on is the vast, overall movement towards the discrediting, and finally the elimination, of every kind of human excellence – moral, cultural, social, or intellectual.  And is it not pretty to notice how “democracy” (in the incantatory sense) is now doing for us the work that was once done by the most ancient Dictatorships, and by the same methods?…Once you have grasped the tendency, you can easily predict its future developments; especially as we ourselves will play our part in the developing.  The basic principle of the new education is to be that dunces and idlers must not be made to feel inferior to intelligent and industrious pupils.  That would be “undemocratic.” These differences between pupils – for they are obviously and nakedly individual differences – must be disguised.  This can be done at various levels.  At universities, examinations must be framed so that nearly all the students get good marks.  Entrance examinations must be framed so that all, or nearly all, citizens can go to universities, whether they have any power (or wish) to profit by higher education or not.  At schools, the children who are too stupid or lazy to learn languages and mathematics and elementary science can be set to doing things that children used to do in their spare time….  Whatever nonsense they are engaged in must have – I believe the English already use the phrase – “parity of esteem”….  Children who are fit to proceed to a higher class may be artificially kept back, because the others would get a trauma…by being left behind.  The bright pupil thus remains democratically fettered to his own age group throughout his school career….In a word, we may reasonably hope for the virtual abolition of education when I’m as good as you has fully had its way.  All incentives to learn and all penalties for not learning will be prevented; who are they to overtop their fellows?  And anyway the teachers – or should I say, nurses? – will be far too busy reassuring the dunces and patting them on the back to waste any time on real teaching.  We shall no longer have to plan and toil to spread imperturbable conceit and incurable ignorance among men.  The little vermin themselves will do it for us.Of course, this would not follow unless all education became state education.  But it will.  That is part of the same movement.  Penal taxes, designed for that purpose, are liquidating the Middle Class, the class who were prepared to save and spend and make sacrifices in order to have their children privately educated.  The removal of this class, besides linking up with the abolition of education, is, fortunately, an inevitable effect of the spirit that says I’m as good as you.  This was, after all, the social group which gave to the humans the overwhelming majority of their scientists, physicians, philosophers, theologians, poets, artists, composers, architects, jurists, and administrators.  If ever there were a bunch of stalks that needed their tops knocked off, it was surely they.  As an English politician remarked not long ago, “A democracy does not want great men.”…For “democracy” or the “democratic spirit” (diabolical sense) leads to a nation without great men, a nation mainly of subliterates, full of the cocksureness which flattery breeds on ignorance, and quick to snarl or whimper at the first sign of criticism.  And that is what Hell wishes every democratic people to be.  For when such a nation meets in conflict a nation where children have been made to work at school, where talent is placed in high posts, and where the ignorant mass are allowed no say at all in public affairs, only one result is possible…."[6]Rav Avigdor MeyerowitzQuestions and comments welcome:


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