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Rashi’s second interpretation is that he attracted the heads of the Sanhedrin with enticing words. Chazal describe Korach as a clever man who presented cogent arguments and successfully convinced the heads of the courts to support him. He now openly criticized and ridiculed Moshe. With some, he played the role of the persecuted, with others he was the champion of justice and equality. He understood his audience and attracted a following.

However in order for any rebellion to succeed, no matter its motivation, it must develop an ideology. Korach developed a philosophy of the rebellion. The Torah distinguishes between Moshe’s and Korach’s approaches.


Korach provoked a debate that attracted a curious crowd to watch the spectacle. “Vayikahalu al Moshe v’al Aharon, etc., kulam kedoshim; lamah tisnasu al kehal Hashem.” He challenged Moshe’s authority with simple yet powerful argument: why should Moshe and Aaron usurp all authority for themselves? Korach’s populist message appealed to the people. All the members of the congregation are holy and imbued with spirituality, there was no difference between Moshe and the wood chopper as far as the inherent sanctity of a Jew. Therefore what right do Moshe and Aaron have to elevate themselves above all others? It was the age-old conflict of the equality of men versus selection and election of an individual.

Korach ignored or was unaware of the dual character of kedushas Yisrael: “Ki am kadosh atah l’Hashem Elokecha ubecha bachar Hashem.” Rashi comments that the Torah formulates a dual sanctity: Ki am kadosh atah refers to sanctity that derives from the patriarchs. In addition, Hashem chose you to be a cherished people unto Him. The first sanctity derives from Knesset Yisrael as a living personality (see Ramban in Chayei Sarah). There is a genetic code of sanctity transmitted from our patriarchs via the soul of the Jew. A baby born to a Jewish mother inherits her kedushat Yisrael. The individual who wishes to lay claim to the collective sanctity must draw it from his association with the community, the holy entity. If the community is holy, then the parts that comprise that entity are holy as well. The people derive sanctity by being together as a unit (“am” derives from “with”). This sanctity is not individual, personal or separate; it is a shared communal sanctity granted to children of parents who inherited it from their forefathers.

Korach focused exclusively on the communal sanctity, am kadosh ata l’Hashem Elokecha. He disagreed with Jeffersonian philosophy of the primacy of individual over community. Korach believed community was primary over the individual. Individual sanctity derives from community sanctity. Hence Moshe’s derived sanctity is equivalent to that of the wood chopper.

However Judaism was not satisfied with communal sanctity alone. Community as sole source of sanctity would deny individuality and potential for greatness. The outstanding person cannot develop into a great leader because community sanctity posits that he is no greater than anyone else. The second sanctity of b’cha bachar Hashem Elokecha is exclusive, personal and unique to each individual. To paraphrase Chazal, just like the faces of people differ, their level of individual sanctity differs as well. Kedushat ha’am is based on the integrated and accumulated individual sanctity of the people. The Torah says that you are a component of a great holy community. However at the same time, Hashem chose you as an individual to be a source of sanctity.

Prior to Hashem conferring personal sanctity, community sanctity was favored over individual sanctity. Now that Hashem has chosen you communally and individually, the individual is charged with creating his own kedusha proportionate with his dedication to achieving the ideals of sanctity prescribed by the Torah. Korach’s thesis that the entire community shares equivalent sanctity is shattered once we introduce the concept of individual sanctity. The argument that Moshe, the greatest prophet and individual who ever lived, and the common wood chopper were equivalent, was now absurd.


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Rabbi Joshua Rapps attended the Rav's shiur at RIETS from 1977 through 1981 and is a musmach of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan. He and his wife Tzipporah live in Edison, N.J. Rabbi Rapps can be contacted at [email protected].