When do we challenge authority and with what intent?
Our parsha this week includes not one, but two rebellions against Moses and Aaron: one over Aaron‘s priestly authority and the other about Moses‘ civic leadership. Some scholars argue that there are two conflicting narratives woven into one here, and the message is essentially the same: the power-hungry will never prevail.
Korach levels a claim against Aaron & Moses, citing the holiness of every individual and challenging the brothers’ rights to lead above and over others, such as himself. Spoiler Alert: things don’t go well for Korach and his followers. In fact, they get swallowed up by a giant hole in the ground, and their descendants cut off from future inheritance.
A giant hole in the ground and generational punishment seem to be drastic reactions to a challenge of authority, until we take a look at Moses‘ place in this drama. Over and over again, he “falls on his face,” in front of God and on behalf of the people; an action that, in Biblical parlance, connotes humility and fear for the people. If we recall, Moses didn’t want this gig in the first place – he, like all of the good prophets of our tradition, was reticent to take on the mantle of leadership. Perhaps this is God’s litmus test, then: those who are wary of power are the very ones upon whom it is bestowed, and those who grab for it for their own glory are, well, swallowed up by a giant hole in the ground.
– Rabbi Callie Schulman