This week we read the infamous story of Korach and his band of rebels who inflamed the community and began a dissent against Moses and the leadership of Israel. Some say that he was motivated by jealousy and spite because he had been overlooked for a leadership position and that he was seeking greater power and control. Others however point to the fact that what Korach was saying was not so rebellious, in fact, in many ways, it is in line with our own feelings about equality and leadership. Korach says to Moses; “stop placing yourself above the community, for we are all holy people!” in other words, “Moses, you are not so special just because you are in charge, so get over yourself and stop lording it over us and remember we are all the same, we are all holy!” It seems reasonable. God has already told us we are holy because God is holy, so in some ways we are all behind Korach. Yet, Korach meets a tragic, yet spectacular demise as the ground opens up and he and his followers are swallowed by the earth! Not exactly the ending you would hope for someone who was speaking the truth. This leads the commentators to say that something must have been wrong with Korach’s statement and his intentions for his fate to be being swallowed by the earth.
One of the commentaries suggests that the problem with Korach’s statement is a subtle one but within the subtlety lies a great chasm of difference. Yes, we can all become holy but we are not intrinsically so. Korach’s mistake was assuming that there was something special about everyone without having to put any effort into making it so. We all have the potential for holiness but it is our actions and behavior which will determine whether or not that potential is realized. Korach was looking for the easy answer, the simple solution and therein lay his problem. Korach was a rebel at heart, a person who wanted to stir up trouble for its own sake, to challenge leadership by offering a simple catch phrase, but the phrase was too simplistic. It takes hard work and concerted effort to reach a level of holiness. We can all do it, that is true, but it is not bestowed upon us as an act of grace, it is something which we each earn through our behavior towards each other. The commentaries ask then, how do we become holy? Why does God command that of us? They respond that it is possible to be a “scoundrel within the commandments.” That is to say, that it is possible to perform every commandment to the letter but to do so in a mean spirited and cruel way. The command to be holy is the overarching principle about the way we should behave, that every commandment we perform we should do with compassion, kindness and goodness. It is then that each of us will become holy. May we always be a holy community, striving for goodness, kindness and compassion.