Parashat Korah- Korah’s Mistake
Parashat Korah tells of the uprising mounted by Korah and his cohorts, who challenged Moshe and Aharon’s leadership over the nation. They argued, "Ki Kol Ha’eda Kulam Kedoshim" – "for the entire congregation, they are all holy!" Every member of Beneh Yisrael is holy, Korah’s claimed, and thus there was no justification for Moshe and Aharon to assert their leadership over the rest of the nation.
G-d Himself stepped in to prove Korah wrong. The ground opened and devoured the leaders of the revolt, and a fire consumed the 250 figures who had confronted Moshe and demanded the privilege to serve as Kohanim.
Let us analyze Korah’s claim, that "Kol Ha’eda Kulam Kedoshim" – every member of Am Yisrael is sacred. Is this correct? Was Korah wrong in affirming the inherent sanctity of each and every Jew?
The answer to this question lies in a distinction between two forms of holiness – intrinsic holiness, and earned holiness.
Every Jew possesses an intrinsic holiness that is equal to that of each and every other Jew. This can be easily proven based on a well-known Halacha (which we hope never becomes practically applicable). If somebody approaches a Jew and orders him to kill another Jew, threatening to kill him if he disobeys, the person must surrender his life rather than obey the command. Even if this person is a famous Rabbi, or a renowned philanthropist who has donated millions to major charity organizations, and upon whom countless Jewish institutions rely for support, and he is ordered to kill a child with severe mental disability, he must refuse. The reason for this law, as explained by the Gemara, is: "Why do you think your blood is redder than your fellow’s blood?" Not even the most important and distinguished person can view his life as more valuable than any other person’s life.
We all possess an equally precious spark of holiness within us. This is why we are commanded to love every Jew, no matter who he or she is, and to never give up on any Jew. We firmly believe that every Jew has a beautiful, sacred soul within him or her, and we believe in that soul’s great potential.
In this respect, Korah was absolutely correct.
His mistake – or one of his mistakes – was overlooking the second aspect of the Kedusha (holiness) within every Jew – the Kedusha that is earned. Alongside our inherent sanctity, we also possess a dimension of sanctity that we earn through our religious devotion, through our Torah study, our Misva observance, and our acts of kindness. This Kedusha, of course, depends on a person’s efforts. This is not shared equally by everyone.
And so while Korah was correct that all Jews are holy, he was wrong in assuming that Moshe and Aharon were no different than any other Jew – because there are two different types of sanctity within each of us: one which is shared equally, and one which is earned.
Korah felt that since all Jews are holy, we do not need leaders, we do not need teachers to guide, instruct and inspire us. But this is incorrect. Our intrinsic holiness does not negate the fact that there are people who have achieved greater wisdom, knowledge and piety than we have, and from whom we must learn. Having a Rabbi with whom to consult and from whom to learn does not reflect a lack of holiness on our part; it is simply a function of the second dimension of holiness, which depends on a person’s achievements.
Korah was correct – we are all holy. But we still need Rabbis, teachers and leaders to guide us and inspire us so we become even greater and maximize our vast spiritual potential to its very fullest.