Here we have yet another rebellion – this time mostly aimed at Aaron. Korah, the leader of this anti-Aaron movement, argues that the whole community is holy and therefore all should perform the same rites. He rebels against the priests being a class above all others, asking “why are you different from and above us?” The parshah makes clear that a rebellion of this nature is not to be tolerated. Moses tells those rebelling that they’ve gone too far and that God will deal with them – which he does. All of those who rebelled are swallowed up by the earth and taken to “sheol” and/or consumed by fire. Doubting the order of things is not only frowned upon, but the narrative inscribes a real sense of danger: to question authority is to die. Yet many of us might really identify with Korah. We do take issue with the idea that some within Judaism – first priests who handled the sacrifices and then the rabbis who superseded them after the temple destruction made central sacrifices impossible – are above all others. We want members of our community to be empowered. Indeed, we believe that no one is intrinsically worth more than any other.
Traditional interpretations of this parshah suggest that an individual who tries to seize power instead of going along with community can be dangerous. Included in the analyses of the parshah are questions and discussions of how much it is fair to punish the group for the actions of one individual, or a few. Do we bear guilt for one another’s choices? Where does individualism infringe on the rights of the group and vice versa? The text wrestles with the power balance between individuals and community. Its answer is adhering to strict hierarchy to keep the peace. This is not our answer, but these are still our questions.