Table Talk: Korach
The Power of Passion: Each of the 250 followers of Korach was willing to take the Incense Test: Only one person would survive. Only Aaron or one of the 250 would live and be chosen as Cohen Gadol. Each knew and appreciated the greatness of Aaron. They witnessed his accomplishments during the consecration of the Mishkan. Each knew that Aaron was pure, holy, and a man of great integrity. Yet, each also believed that he should be the Cohen Gadol. These men did not simply aspire to the role. Each believed that he was the One. He would live. He could stand up against Aaron before God and win. None minimized the risk of the Incense test. They failed. All 250 died, but their fire-pans were holy. They were melted down and used as a cover for the Altar. Their passionate desire to attach to God, despite the sin of rebellion, was honored. The Torah, critical of their choices and behavior, does not minimize their conviction and passion. The Talmud does not minimize the powerful convictions of the Sadducees, who were wiling, year after year, to die in the Holy of Holies, rather than follow the decisions of the Rabbis. They would rather be dead than sacrifice their convictions. Passionate convictions can be dangerous; just think “Jihad!” We often minimize the convictions of those with whom we disagree. On this Shabbat, on which we are warned to avoid Machloket – Arguments – reflect on those with whom you disagree and wonder: “Would you use their melted fire-pans to cover the Altar?”
The earth swallows up Korach and his family and the people are angry with Moshe. The fire of God consumes the 250 would be Cohen Gadols and the people are angry with Moshe. God strikes down those who argue with Moshe and the people are angry with Moshe. Nothing works! Finally, they take 13 staffs; one from Aaron and one from the leader of each tribe, and they wait to see which one will sprout overnight. I don’t want to ruin the novel, but Aaron wins again. This time, the people are convinced. Why does this, and only this test, serve to convince the people?
This portion offers powerful insight into what made Aaron the ultimate lover of peace: Thousands of Jews were dying in a plague and Moshe urges his brother to take an unauthorized Incense Offering and run into the middle of the camp in order to stop the plague. Aaron took one look at the pan and remembered that two of his sons died because of an unauthorized Incense Offering. He recalled that just hours ago 250 spiritual giants died through the Incense Offering. And now Moshe is telling him that this deadly offering will stop a plague! Aaron did not hesitate. He listened to Moshe and the plague stopped. He had always associated the power of the Incense Offering with death, and yet, in an instant was able to change his perspective 180 degrees and appreciate its power to stop death. Aaron was capable of seeing things from different perspectives. How did that allow him to bring peace between husbands and wives and between two people arguing?