At face value, Korach’s initial claims seem to make perfect sense. “They assembled against Moses and Aaron, and said to them: ‘You take too much upon yourselves, for the entire congregation are all holy, and Hashem is in their midst. So why do you raise yourselves above God’s assembly?’” (Numbers 16:3).
But surely we are all holy in our own way; why should some be more equal than others? Perhaps the answer to this lies in the first word of “Vayikach Korach” and “Korach took”.
Korach was driven by selfish gratification at the expense of others. Rashi explains he “took” himself to the other side, others add he “took” with him a small band of people. Korach spoke about popularism, yet acted as an elitist. It’s an example of a dispute of impure motives, “not for the sake of heaven”.
We Jews are happy to voice our views in the knowledge plenty of people will disagree but what matters most is the purity of motive behind such views. This is hard to judge, but essential to discern. That is why Korach’s dispute is recorded as machoket Korach ve’adato, the dispute of Korach and his group, implying his elite was racked with infighting.
Parshat Korach teaches us that whenever a dispute arises over community leadership, or anther endeavour, before reaching conclusions we must carefully examine the claims but also the true motivations behind them. On a personal level, as well, every individual must constantly examine the true motivations behind all their spiritual endeavours.
Rabbi Jonny Roodyn is educational director of Jewish Futures Trust