Parsha Korach

CLICK HERE for the commentary by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

flamingo amongst swansIn this week’s parsha, Moses faces the most serious revolt against his authority. Led by a Levite, Korach, this revolt is not drawn from the “mixed multitude,” but from elites among the Israelites. Korach claims to be driven by democratic motivations: all of the people are holy, who is Moses to set himself above them? (This was foreshadowed by Miriam’s complaints about Moses earlier in the story.)

Traditional Jewish commentary saw Korach’s revolt as a thinly veiled expression of his ambition and arrogance. In this regard, Moses’s spiritual and political authority is paradoxically grounded in his humility. He has authority because he doesn’t want it.

Rabbi Sacks sees Korach as reflecting hierarchically driven power in human biology and culture — alpha maleness. Korach represents something deeply rooted in human nature. Judaism, as reflected in its defining moment of the Exodus from Egypt, is an attempt to invent an alternative way of constructing society, and to transform human nature. But historically Judaism has had to use hierarchy in its institutions and so has a troubled and problematic relationship to this form of power.

Rabbi Sacks does not explore the connection to gender and power, but that relationship sits almost at the surface of his dvar torah, as he remarks on sociobiological studies of male and female chimpanzees. Judaism has deeply gendered roles built into its religious practices. It is not a big leap to see both gendered roles and hierarchical power as connected and conflicting with Judaism’s central transformative mission.