Tag Archives: rebellion

Seeking Korach’s Peace, Part 2

homogenizedKorach apparently desired to bring “peace” by homogenizing all of the Levites with the Kohenim (Priests). However there were two things wrong with that plan. The first is that God did not desire to remove the distinctions between the Kohenim and the Levites. The second was the Korach’s motives were less than pure, both according to Midrash and by how God “reacted” to Korach and the other rebels.

This is the second part of this two-part series. If you haven’t done so already, please read Part 1 and then continue here.

Rabbi Yanki Tauber and Rabbinic commentary states that Korach and his co-conspirators objected to mattanot kehunah, or the “gifts to the Kohanim,” the giving to the Priests of a portion of each Israelite’s crop or the “first shearings” of his flock, as well as the other gifts. Korach felt that all the Levites should be included, and attempted to elevate himself and the rest of the Levites to a level that was never intended for them. While it is noble for anyone to desire to be elevated spiritually, we must do so within the plan of God for our lives. God determined that certain of the mitzvot, the wearing of tzitzit and tefillin, were signs for the Jewish people, so my performing those mitzvot as a non-Jewish Christian, even out of the desire to draw closer to God, won’t do me any good. In fact, if I do so out of ego and the desire to exalt myself before others, I am opposing the plan of God.

Rabbi Tauber continues:

Korach was right: our involvement with the material can be no less G-dly an endeavor than the most transcendent flights of spirit. Indeed, our sages consider man’s sanctification of material life the ultimate objective of creation. “G-d desired a dwelling in the lowly realms,” states the Midrash; “This,” writes Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi in his Tanya, “is what man is all about; [this is] the purpose of his creation, and the creation of all worlds, supernal and terrestrial.” But Korach erred in his understanding of the nature of this “dwelling in the lowly realms” that G-d desires, and the manner in which man can indeed fashion a divine home out of his material self and world.

unworthyKorach’s underlying motivation was a feeling of inferiority and his response to that experience was to lead a “bloodless coup” (though eventually his own blood would be shed) against the Kohenim and against Moses (and against God) by artificially raising himself and the two-hundred and fifty rebels to a level they did not merit. But is it a bad thing to be “lowly?” In Jewish mystic thought, God actually desires to dwell among the lowly. There is no one so insignificant and so humble that God does not desire to dwell with them.

And the Master also taught humility:

“When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for someone more distinguished than you may have been invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then in disgrace you proceed to occupy the last place. But when you are invited, go and recline at the last place, so that when the one who has invited you comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will have honor in the sight of all who are at the table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Luke 14:8-11 (NASB)

Imagine if I, as a Christian, attempted to adopt a role that God had never designed for me. How humiliating it would be for me to be chastised by the Master of the banquet, Messiah himself, and be told to take a lesser seat. Better that I should seek the most humble and unassuming place at the table and if he so desires, the King can invite me to a better place.

And it’s not like the King was not willing to humble himself. Messiah humbled himself in becoming an ordinary human being.

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.

Philippians 2:3-7 (NASB)

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

Mark 10:45 (NASB)

servingThe King came to serve his subjects, even to the point of death. He left Heaven and became a poor human being, wearing flesh and blood rather than his rightful Divinity, even as the Divine Presence descended from Heaven to occupy an “ordinary” tent of earthly materials. It is said that even the Torah is Divine and must wear “garments” in order to become accessible to human beings.

Rabbi Tauber’s commentary says that, unlike modern progressive and inclusionist thought, spirituality within the human population and within the individual human being does take the form of a hierarchy of sorts. The Kohen Gadol (High Priest) does have duties that place him in closer proximity with the Holy, closer than the other members of the tribe of Levi or the rest of the Jewish people. So it is between the Jewish disciples of Messiah and the Gentile followers. No, it doesn’t mean that Jewish people are “better” or “more loved” by God than Gentile Christians, just that their “duties” are such that they have unique opportunities to perform Holiness by certain of the mitzvot that are not offered to the people of the nations who are called by Messiah’s name.

Conversely, as commentary has previously stated, God desires to dwell in the “lowly realm” and thus among the lowest levels of Creation. In that act, God descends to us, and in that very act, God allows us to ascend toward Him, particularly without requiring that we usurp mitzvot that are not our own.

Korach attempted to reverse the order by elevating himself first, imagining that such an act would “force” the Almighty to descend to him. The opposite happened and God “lowered” Korach quite literally into the earth, burying him alive. Whatever peace Korach had hoped to achieve by his defiance was a pipe dream, and whatever peace he had already been granted by God was buried with him.

Ironically, Korach, as a Levite, already possessed a special and “vertical” role as ordained by God, but that wasn’t good enough for him. Christians too have a special and ordained role but we must be diligent to fulfill that role, lest we also lose everything God has given us. If we can’t take care of even a little, how will we be granted greater blessings. Indeed, we’ll lose even what we’ve got.

“And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.’

“But his master answered and said to him, ‘You wicked, lazy slave, you knew that I reap where I did not sow and gather where I scattered no seed. Then you ought to have put my money in the bank, and on my arrival I would have received my money back with interest. Therefore take away the talent from him, and give it to the one who has the ten talents.’

“For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away. Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 25:24-30 (NASB)

I’ve written on numerous occasions, including in Provoking Zealousness, about the special role we Christians have in relation to the Jewish people, to Israel, and to God. A role that no one else can fulfill. A role that is different from the Jewish believers, but one vital to them and to us. Rather than, like Korach, demanding a role that is not ours, we must give it back, take up our own “cross,” and follow the Master of our lives.

returning-the-torahWhen a Christian demands that a believing Jew give up a Jewish lifestyle, give up the Torah of Moses, and give up the mitzvot, it is as if Korach demanded that Moses and Aaron surrender their roles as Prophet and High Priest and join the other Levites or the other Jewish people in the “mundane”. When a Hebrew Roots person demands that they take possession of the specific “sign” mitzvot that uniquely identify the Jewish people as distinct from the rest of the nations, it is as if Korach demanded to become Prophet and High Priest, elevating himself to a level not given to him by God.

In either case, they are violating the purpose of Torah that provides for harmony between different and distinct groups of people while maintaining distinctions.

I know that the Pirkei Avot, the body of Midrash, and the Tayna are not likely to be viewed as having any authority in relation to the lives of Christians and Christian Hebrew Roots followers, but these sources illustrate important principles. We all travel on trails of spiritual enlightenment, following a path carved out for us by God, striving to become better today than we were the day before. This is praiseworthy and desirable, but we must remember that it is God who creates and defines the universe and everything in it, not us. We work in partnership with God but we are definitely junior partners. When we decide to elevate ourselves outside the plan of the Almighty, not only are we trying to become more important than other human beings, but to take the role of God as well.

Nor does Torah endeavor to create a uniform world society: its detailed laws delineate the many different roles (man and woman, Jew and non-Jew, Israelite, Levite and Kohen, full-time Torah scholar and layman, etc.) to comprise the overall mission of humanity.

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber

We are commanded to love the Lord our God with everything we’ve got and to love our neighbor as ourselves. To obey that Torah, we must be humble and servile to our fellows and particularly to our Creator. Everyone who seeks to exalt himself will be lowered, like Korach, and the most humble, like Moses, will be elevated.

Seeking Korach’s Peace, Part 1

korahs-rebellionWhich is a dispute that is not for the sake of Heaven? The dispute of Korach and all his company.

-Ethics of the Fathers, 5:17

But the Torah did not come to blur the distinction between the heaven and earth. In fact, its self-proclaimed task is “To differentiate between the holy and the mundane, between the pure and the impure” (Leviticus 10:10). Nor does Torah endeavor to create a uniform world society: its detailed laws delineate the many different roles (man and woman, Jew and non-Jew, Israelite, Levite and Kohen, full-time Torah scholar and layman, etc.) to comprise the overall mission of humanity.

Indeed, a uniform world could no more represent a harmonious state than a single-hued painting or a symphony composed entirely of identical notes could be said to be a harmonious creation. Like the third day’s “work of the waters” that harmonizes the divisiveness of the second day by means of further delineation, the Torah makes peace in the world — peace between the conflicting drives within the heart of man, peace between individuals, peace between peoples, and peace between the creation and its Creator — by defining and differentiating, rather than by blending and homogenizing.

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
“Who Was Korach?”
Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

I continue to be reminded of several things based on my studies, my transactions on the Internet, and my conversations with my Pastor. The question of the purpose of Torah stands out because it has no simple answer. The Bible is a multi-layered, densely packed container of the wisdom of God as expressed in partnership with human beings. It functions on many levels, most of which are not obvious by a casual reading and often, not even by repeated readings.

For instance, one function of the Torah, according to Rabbi Tauber’s commentary, is to create harmony and peace between those things that are not alike in our world. As stated above, this includes:

…peace between the conflicting drives within the heart of man, peace between individuals, peace between peoples, and peace between the creation and its Creator — by defining and differentiating, rather than by blending and homogenizing.

This takes me to a blog post of Derek Leman’s which I’ve mentioned before: Torah and Non-Jews: A Practical Primer. I’ve already commented on this, but when studying a commentary on Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) Chapter 5, the issue of the purpose of Torah for Jewish and non-Jewish believers came up again, and rather forcefully. It would seem that the commentary on the Korach Rebellion (see Numbers 16) is a prime example of one of the purposes of Torah.

I’m a rather unusual Christian, which you know if you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time. I don’t believe that the Torah was done away with for Jews after Jesus and I do believe that Torah applies to Christians, but only in a specific sense, not in the manner it applies to the Jewish people. In my beliefs, I’m standing between to opposing opinions. Christianity believes (in general, there are exceptions) that the grace of Jesus Christ replaced the Law and that all believers in Jesus, Jews and Gentiles alike, are uniform in grace and no one is required to keep the commandments of the Law. Hebrew Roots believes that the Torah was never replaced by the grace of Messiah and that all disciples of the Master, Jews and Gentiles alike, are uniform in the Torah and everyone is required to keep the commandments of the Law in an identical manner (there are numerous variations to Hebrew Roots beliefs and what I am saying here is meant to be the most generalized expression).

I believe, as Rabbi Tauber states, that the Torah supports the promotion of peace between divergent people groups. In my case, it is intended to develop peace between Jewish and non-Jewish disciples of Messiah Yeshua (Christ Jesus) by defining and differentiating, rather than by blending and homogenizing.

communityIn the “philosophy” of the United States of America, the principle of everyone having equal access to opportunities has been morphed into “equal achievement and acquisition.” That is, everyone should have all of the same stuff and live identical lives at the top of the economic and social status pile, so to speak, regardless of who you are, what you do, how hard you work, and so on.

That’s not realistic.

Neither is it realistic, or in my opinion, Biblical, to expect Jewish and non-Jewish believers in Christ to hop into a metaphorical mixing bowl and have a Sunbeam 12-speed mixmaster applied to their bodies and their identities so that once the mixing is done, everyone is the same, bloody, smooth, creamy consistency. Jews and Gentiles were differentiated by God and we are meant to stay differentiated.

Rabbi Tauber says:

What is peace?

Our Sages have said: “Just as their faces are not alike, so, too, their minds and characters are not alike.” Such is the nature of the human race: individuals and peoples differ from each other in outlook, personality, talents, and the many other distinctions, great and small, which set them apart from each other.

It is only natural to expect these differences to give rise to animosity and conflict. And yet, at the core of the human soul is the yearning for peace. We intuitively sense that despite the tremendous (and apparently inherent) differences between us, a state of universal harmony is both desirable and attainable.

But what exactly is peace? Is peace the obliteration of the differences between individuals and nations? Is it the creation of a “separate but equal” society in which differences are preserved but without any distinctions of “superior” and “inferior”? Or is it neither of the above?

It’s neither. We don’t blend and blur Gentile and Jew and we don’t create individual silos of “separate but equal”. But then what do we have left? Rabbi Tauber leverages the Creation story (another recent favorite of mine) to explain the answer.

This is why, explain the Chassidic masters, the Torah is associated with the third day and the third millennium. The number “1”, connoting a single entity or collection of identical entities, can spell unanimity but not peace. If “1” represents singularity and “2” represents divisiveness, then “3” expresses the concept of peace: the existence of two different or even polar entities, but with the addition of a third, unifying element that embraces and pervades them both, bringing them in harmony with each other by defining their common essence and goal, but also their respective roles in the actualization of this essence and the attainment of this goal — and thus their relationship with each other.

So the “third day” does not undo the divisions of the second. Rather, it introduces a “third” all-transcendent element which these divisions serve. And it is this dynamic of harmony by diversity that “completes” their differences and renders them “good.”

In the Genesis account, God ends a “day” by saying “it was good” … except on the second day? Why the second day?

Because on that day divisiveness was created; as it is written `it shall divide between water and water.'” However, the Midrash then goes on to point out that on the third day the Torah says, “it was good” twice, because then “the work of the waters,” begun on the second day, was completed. In other words, the division effected on the second day was a less than desirable phenomenon, but only because it was not yet complete; on the third day, this divisiveness itself is deemed “good.”

creation2On the second day, God introduced disharmony and divisiveness and then on the third day, he inserted a new element which then created an overarching unity that embraces and pervades the two diverse roles bringing them into harmony without homogenizing them. They remain distinct, and they are bought into peace. And that is good.

Rabbi Tauber likens all this to Korach and the two-hundred and fifty leaders in Israel who rebelled against the authority of Moses.

They combined against Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and the Lord is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s congregation?”

Numbers 16:3 (JPS Tanakh)

Korach apparently desired to bring “peace” by homogenizing all of the Levites with the Kohenim (Priests). However there were two things wrong with that plan. The first was that God did not desire to remove the distinctions between the Kohenim and the Levites. The second was the Korach’s motives were less than pure, both according to Midrash and according to the Torah record.

According to Midrash:

What exactly did Korach want? His arguments against Moses and Aaron seem fraught with contradiction. On the one hand, he seems to challenge the very institution of the priesthood (kehunah), maintaining that “as the entire community is holy, and G d is within them, why do you raise yourselves over the congregation of G d?” But from Moses’ response we see that Korach actually desired the office of the Kohen Gadol for himself!

And according to Scripture:

And Moses said, “By this you shall know that it was the Lord who sent me to do all these things; that they are not of my own devising: if these men die as all men do, if their lot be the common fate of all mankind, it was not the Lord who sent me. But if the Lord brings about something unheard-of, so that the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, you shall know that these men have spurned the Lord.” Scarcely had he finished speaking all these words when the ground under them burst asunder, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up with their households, all Korah’s people and all their possessions. They went down alive into Sheol, with all that belonged to them; the earth closed over them and they vanished from the midst of the congregation.

Numbers 16:28-33 (JPS Tanakh)

I wrote this commentary as a single blog post but it exceeded 3300 words, so I decided to break it in half. Part 2 will be published in tomorrow’s “morning meditation.”