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Torah from Dixie presents "Cloning in Jewish Law" 

What's the real issue?


by Micah Gimpel
Torah from Dixie Staff Writer

In this week's Torah portion, Korach and his followers rebel against the authority of Moses with an argument which, ostensibly, seems quite valid and fair. Since the entire nation received the Torah, every one of Hashem's people is holy. Korach claimed that there was no reason for Moses to lead the nation since all are equally holy; Moses had no right to call all of the shots.

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In this week's Torah portion, Korach and his followers rebel against the authority of Moses with an argument which, ostensibly, seems quite valid and fair. Since the entire nation received the Torah, every one of Hashem's people is holy. Korach claimed that there was no reason for Moses to lead the nation since all are equally holy; Moses had no right to call all of the shots.

Though this argument is convincing, there are a few issues Korach neglected to take into account which undermine his basic claim. First and foremost, the reason the entire nation is holy is the same reason why Moses is the leader. There was no sanctity within the Jewish people before the giving of the Torah since before that time there was no Jewish people. Hashem created a nation through the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, and in that same Torah Hashem appointed a leader for His nation; Moses was not self-appointed. Secondly, the existence of a leader does not negate the possibility of all being of equal value. A leader can only be as strong as his followers are committed to him. Though Moses is the leader, everyone is still a part of, as much as Moses is just a part of, a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.

These two issues that Korach apparently overlooked are too fundamental to the basic tenants of Judaism for him to simply have forgotten. There must have been some other impetus causing Korach to argue in a way that undermines even his own claim. What caused Korach to argue so poorly?

The Mishnah in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of Our Fathers, 5:20) addresses Korach and his rebellion as follows: "What is an example of an argument that is not for the sake of Heaven? The dispute of Korach and his congregation." Though Korach sounded logical in his argument, his motivations were not sincere. He had an ulterior motive. What did the rabbis see in Korach's argument that led them to say that his intentions were not noble but instead self-gratifying?

Rashi, an 11th century French commentator, in the beginning of the Torah portion explains exactly what led Korach to begin the rebellion. Moses had appointed someone else as the prince, or leader, of the family of Kehat when Korach, by genealogy, should have been the appointed leader. Moses acted only at Hashem's command, while Korach made his calculation based on the genealogy of his family. Accordingly, he was first in line for the position, and he viewed his being surpassed as such a disgrace that he rallied a rebellion against Moses' authority.

His intention was not the betterment of society, but rather self-aggrandizement; he wanted to save face. Since his argument stemmed from a personal insult, revenge substituted for logic, causing Korach to contradict himself even in the argument he used to claim his position. Since Korach was arguing in reaction to an insult, he was more emotional than rational in his thought.

This idea of Korach arguing for his own benefit is also alluded to in the language of the above mentioned Mishnah, where the example given of an argument that is not of noble intentions is that of Korach. Rather than say, "the dispute between Korach and Moses," the Mishnah instead states "the dispute of Korach and his congregation", implying that Korach's intention differed from that of his followers. It is likely, based on the absurdity of the argument, that his followers were also not arguing rationally but rather emotionally. The selfishness and audacity displayed by Korach and his followers is the reason they met such an immediate death.

We must always be cautious in arguing about an issue in which we are personally involved. Sincerity and objectivity are crucial for the end result to be beneficial to everyone. People tend to be biased in their opinions and discussions, and a conceded effort must be made in approaching any contention objectively and rationally in order to arrive at a conclusion closest to the truth.

Micah Gimpel, a native Atlantan and alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta, graduated from at Yeshiva University in New York.

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