The Anatomy of a Rebellion

Why can’t we all just get along? Aren’t we all working for the greater good? Aren’t we all in it for the same reasons, to follow G-d’s will and help out society? Maybe not. Group dynamics are fascinating. Rare is the group that functions positively without disruption or upheaval. Whether it is a neighborhood committee, the office, afterschool activities, or the local school and synagogue, personalities, preferences, egos, and ambitions are the stuff that certainly make life interesting, yet sometimes frustrating, too.

Our Parshah this week introduces us to the prototypical biblical rebel, Korach, who has unstoppable ambition, keen intellect, and a charismatic personality. We learn so much about the anatomy of a rebellion from the narrative within.

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The Parshah begins: Numbers 16:1-2.

וַיִּקַּ֣ח קֹ֔רַח בֶּן־יִצְהָ֥ר בֶּן־קְהָ֖ת בֶּן־לֵוִ֑י וְדָתָ֨ן וַאֲבִירָ֜ם בְּנֵ֧י אֱלִיאָ֛ב וְא֥וֹן בֶּן־פֶּ֖לֶת בְּנֵ֥י רְאוּבֵֽן׃

Now Korah, son of Izhar son of Kohath son of Levi, took himself, along with Dathan and Abiram sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth—descendants of Reuben* to rise up against Moses.

In addition to meeting Korach, we also meet up with Dathan and Aviram, and On ben Peleth. This list contains the prototypes of all members of a rebellion.

There is the mastermind, Korach, who is the brains behind the rebellion, making lofty and compelling speeches about perceived loss of liberties and unfairness by the leadership to attract the masses. There are the troublemakers, Dathan and Abiram, who appear throughout the Bible whenever and wherever there is trouble. Then, there is On son of Peleth, who is an unknown follower who gets swept up in the tides of unrest, and together with others joins the righteous movement for progress and improvement for the people. What a mix!

This is certainly a recipe for disaster waiting to be baked. Sure enough, after a historic showdown, G-d punishes the rebels and they are swallowed up into the earth.

When one tries to elevate himself unjustly, the Divine Providence wills that he sinks lower rather than achieving his goals.

We read Korach every year. It’s our annual reminder to stay far away from disputes that rest on personal agendas and preferences. Obviously, we must make certain not to impersonate Korach, Dathan, and Abiram, but also to not get swept up in the winds of social turbulence like On ben Peleth, too. It never ends well.

The summer is a good time to consider how we want to spend discretionary time during the fall, winter, and spring. There are so many incredible boards and organizations throughout the Federation system to participate in. Korach is the required reading on how not to participate in such groups.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Epstein

Community Scholar in Residence