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We May Be Equal but...

By: Rabbi Barak Bar-Chaim

“They assembled against Moses and Aron, and said to them, ‘You take too much upon yourselves, for the entire congregation are all holy, and the Lord is in their midst. So why do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?’”

This is the external complaint that Korach and his followers lodge against Moses and Aron. Their basic argument is that, since all people are equally holy before God, why should Moses and Aron be in such powerful leadership positions? Korach descended from the tribe of Levy, the tribe dedicated by God for service in the temple. Korach took issue with Moses and Aron taking leadership positions within this tribe. Korach’s followers, on the other hand, took exception to the entire concept of a tribe (Levites and the subset of Levites called Kohanim) being exclusively dedicated to the service of God in the temple. They saw this as blatant inequality.

Our sages teach us that Korach was a very wealthy man. Had he been a poor man, he could have made a similar argument with regards to wealth. The argument would go something like this: You have taken too much wealth, for the entire congregation are all holy, and the Lord is in their midst. So why do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s assembly? There is clearly no end to this argument. Is the argument flawed?

“Yours, O Lord, are the greatness, and the might, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty, for all that is in the heavens and on the earth [is Yours]; Yours is the kingdom and [You are He] Who is exalted over everything as the Leader. And wealth and honor are from before You, and You rule over all, and in Your hand is strength and might, and it is in Your hand to magnify and to strengthen all.” (Book of Chronicles 29:11-12) The Talmud (Bava Batra) interprets these verses to mean that God gives every person his/her position in life and even appoints the person in charge of irrigating the fields (a seemingly insignificant leadership position). Just as God appoints every person to his/her position in life, God decides who will be honored and how wealth will be distributed. It is God that has given every human being different strengths and talents.

It is God that has decided that not every person will be a CEO of a fortune 500 company. God has decided that every ship needs one captain and that too many cooks spoil the broth. This does not imply that the CEO is intrinsically more valuable and precious in God’s eyes than others, nor does this imply that the wealthy are closer to God than others. Hierarchy in society is simply intrinsic to the universe that God created (for reasons that are beyond our human comprehension). Rashi explains that Moses answers Korach by saying: “God has separated borders in His world. Can you change Day into Night? Can you annul this appointment? (Aron to his position of sanctity).”

While it is perfectly acceptable to try to achieve a particular position in life through honest and legitimate means, rebelling against all societal infrastructure in the name of equality is contrary to the natural universe that God creates and will never be successful.