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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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  • CZG says:

    Rabbi Telsner,
    your the best and a hero. who the hell is [Name removed by editors]  tell him to leave Shul
    Eds: As noted in our moderation policy, personal insults, particularly when unrelated to substantive comment, will be removed by the editors.

  • ariel says:


    I see you’ve attracted the most intelligent members of the community already, judging by the first 2 comments ;)

    I believe Korach also asked if a talit (the beged) is entirely t’chelet, do the tzitzit also need t’chelet?

    What I find interesting is that every community has their own Korach or three…ah yes, shule politics. Will you be speaking about that as part of the lecture?

  • Ariel,

    Yes, Korach’s question about tzitzit had a very similar theme – if just four threads of tchelet (blue dyed thread) are sufficient, surely a whole garment made of tchelet should not need tzitzit at all. Do you think Korach was the first communist?

    The shiur is under the Limmud Oz streams of “Torah Lishma” and “Spirituality and Mysticism”, rather than “Politics” or “Community Engagement” – my intent is to gain an insight into the spiritual essence of machloket/dispute. I’m sure there will be some kind of moral lesson in there for good measure. :)

  • ariel says:

    Yaakov, that’s a complement!

    Eds: This comment refers to a previous comment by “Yaakov” which has been removed because it contained factually incorrect (and therefore potentially defamatory) information about an individual.

  • ariel says:

    Yaakov, thanks for the lashon hara contribution.

    David, were you “thrown out” for saying “yechi” or for not saying it?

    Eds: This comment refers to a previous comment by “Yaakov” which has been removed because it contained factually incorrect (and therefore potentially defamatory) information about an individual.

  • Ariel,

    As you may have gathered, I was not thrown out of the Yeshivah Shul, and what Yaakov/CZG/MS is alluding to actually had nothing to do with my views with regards the “Yechi” sign.

    Are you coming to Limmud for some Torah Lishma?

  • ariel says:

    Sincere aplogies, David.
    I was merely treating their comments with the ridicule they deserve.

    Unfortunately, with World Cup opening weekend, I won’t be able to make it to Melbourne as I’ll be up all night learning a from the latest edition of sefer Hilchot Regalei  Zahav-Yarok. By HaGaon HaChacham Pinchas Lowy…

  • Naftoli says:

    David, it looks like the brain-dead crazies have found this website too!
    Moderator:  I admire your desire to be respectful to everyone taking the time to post comments but I believe that in the case of the disruptive people above you should delete all their comments.  They add nothing to the discussion and in fact drag down the whole tone of this site.

  • Thanks to all those who attended the sessions I participated in at this year’s Limmud Oz, and thanks to the organizers of the event and the sessions.

    With hindsight, there may be a connection between the Korach vs Aaron / spiritual Left vs Right dynamic and the session discussion on how Jews are portrayed in media today (The Age vs The Australian), although with regard to media, there does not seem to be any equivalent to Moshe who can bring harmony to that conflict.

  • malkmus says:

    David, perhaps you could explain exactly what is the relevance of Korach’s supposed baldness.

  • malkmus,

    (guess you weren’t at the session *grin*, so briefly …)

    Korach’s name has a common root with the word for baldness, which is used in Prophets to describe the “firmament”, which is the prototypical separation or machloket that God created on the 2nd day. In addition, it is similar to the expression used to the Torah to describe tearing out one’s hair (in grief), which is again symbolic of division.

    You might consider Korach’s baldness a physical manifestation of his spiritual essence which is associated with division and the attribute of gevurah. No, this doesn’t mean that all bald people like picking fights!

  • malkmus says:

    Hmm. Perhaps you should make that clearer in the article. It comes across as being a rather anti-baldite piece.

  • Sorry if you got that impression … I’m all in favour of ultra-short or no hair (for men, anyway). The article was a teaser for the lecture at Limmud Oz, so deliberately left a lot out.

  • malkmus says:

    Glad to hear it!

  • frosh says:


    You raise an important issue concerning not encouraging hatred against the bald community.

    As per this link, I’m sure Larry David would agree with you.

  • frosh: You’re the one who should be taking “credit” for the provocative title, not me!

  • frosh says:

    I wonder if Larry David would have considered Korach “part of the bald community”

  • malkmus says:

    The bald community is a minority group.

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