Parashat Korah

To Serve With Distinction

Korah's rebellion was based on his inability to appreciate the value of diversity and distinctiveness.

Print this page Print this page

The fact is that people are not all the same.  The most rudimentary glance around a crowded room confirms various degrees of intelligence and strength, different personalities and health.  Great athletes are different than the rest of us, and Nobel laureates do, in the words of the Wizard of Oz, "think deep thoughts with no more brains than you have."  There is a difference.

Korah was threatened by diversity, by specialization, by distinction.  Yet Judaism is based precisely on the celebration of diversity, the importance of distinction.  One can be different and still be equal.  The Midrash Bamidbar Rabbah articulates that insight when it says, "God divided the light from the darkness in order that it might be of service to the world."  Korah's position would be to try to blend the two, to say that light and darkness are basically the same.  Korah would be threatened by their remaining distinct, each contributing in different ways to the maintenance of the world.

But we need distinct periods of night and day.  Both must retain their unique integrity for life to continue. Similarly, the midrash continues, "just as God distinguished the light from the darkness in order that that it might be of service to the world, so God made Israel distinct from the other nations... and in the same manner distinguished Aaron (and Moses)." For Jews to be able to contribute to the world--by living the values and practices that make for a society of sacred learning, divine service, and deeds of love--we must remain distinct.

Not better.  Not isolated.  But distinct. Just as we needed Moses to function as a leader--a part of the people, yet distinct from them--so the world needs Jews and Judaism--as part of humanity, yet also distinct.

Did you like this article?  MyJewishLearning is a not-for-profit organization.

Please consider making a donation today.

Rabbi Bradley Artson

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson is Vice-President of the American Jewish University in Los Angeles and Dean of its Ziegler School of Rabbinical Studies. He served as a congregational rabbi in Southern California for ten years. Rabbi Artson?is the author of The Bedside Torah and co-author of a children's book, I Have Some Questions about God.