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Bald Rebel Swallowed by the Earth

June 7, 2010 – 10:41 pm18 Comments

By David Werdiger

Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of the Chabad/Lubavitch movement, had a favourite saying, “One should live with the times”. His intent was not that Judaism should be adapted to fit the times. Quite the contrary, he meant that people should study and seek a pertinent message from weekly Torah reading.

This coming Shabbat, coinciding with the Limmud Oz festival, we will read the Torah portion of Korach. It is named for Moshe’s cousin and the leader of a rebellion against the rule of Moses and Aaron immediately following the episode of the spies and the resultant decree that the Jews spend forty years in the desert.

Korach set about challenging Moshe with a question about the laws of mezuzah. He asked, “Does a house filled with holy books require a mezuzah on the door?” Logic would dictate that if one scroll on the doorpost is sufficient to fulfil the obligation of mezuzah, surely a house full of holy books would not need something on the doorpost as well. The question behind the question was actually this: God had declared all of the Jews as holy, so why must one (Aaron the High Priest) be considered “more holy” than everyone else?

He expected Moshe to reply that the house would not require a mezuzah, which would support his view that there be no special role of High Priest that was “more holy” than everyone else. However, Moshe responded that a mezuzah is still required. At this point, Korach claimed that because the answer went against logic, Moshe must have made it up himself (so I guess he had a punt each way on the response). From there, the dispute escalated, and in the end, Korach and his followers were swallowed up by the earth.

Korach was a fascinating individual. The Midrash and Talmud say he was very smart, and had a valid claim against the establishment. It also states that he (as his name implies) was bald. What significance does this have to the whole episode?

The argument between Korach and Moshe is considered the prototypical rivalry. Ethics of the Fathers contrasts this to the Hillel and Shamai, who were adversarial scholars of the Mishnaic time, and whose opposition continued to their respective schools. But what is really the difference? What makes one dispute good, and another bad?

Like many biblical episodes, we can take a far deeper look into the story and see that a “cosmic event” was actually taking place. An event with that links back to the days of creation, and the key Kabbalistic structures and attributes.

To delve further into this absorbing episode, and bounce around between sources from the Torah, Midrash, Talmud, Zohar, and whatever else David can dig up, please come along to Limmud Oz this Sunday at the special time of 7:30pm (St Kilda supporters may find this more stimulating than watching their team struggle at Subiaco against Fremantle). David is also part of a panel session called “Jew Media” on Monday at 1:15pm, and disavows any knowledge of how the title for the session came about.

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