The first recorded rebellion in the Torah takes place in this week’s Torah portion. Korach, when complaining to Moshe, states in Numbers 16:3: “Ki kol ha’aidah kulam kedoshim” (“The entire congregation is holy”). Rashi explains that Korach was referring to the fact that all Jews were at Sinai and heard God speak. That being so, he claimed, we are all equal and should therefore all have equal access to the Mishkan.
To this Moshe responded, “Indeed, we are all holy; nevertheless, there is a need for clear delineation of which role each person has.” As the saying goes, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Similarly, clear roles make for good productivity. More importantly, each person is created by God for a unique purpose. Knowing what our roles are and living up to those roles allows us to fulfill the purpose for which we were created.
Korach was arguing for a system of equality, for everyone to be treated the same and given equal access to the Mishkan. While it sounds ideal, it ignores the individual needs of each person and the ability to provide everyone with the unique set of tools required to achieve their personal mission. Worse, equal treatment does not lead to equality because it gives people too much or too little of the resources they need to succeed.
Moshe, in contrast, was arguing for a system of equity. Not everyone has the same role, and therefore not everyone has to be given the same tools in order achieve their purpose; rather, everyone must be given the unique tools required to carry out their unique mission. This leads to true equality, enabling every person to achieve their potential.
This week will mark the 27th yahrzeit of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory. The Rebbe personified Moshe’s approach. While seeing the holiness that defines every person equally, he was still able to discern the unique needs of each individual, and he encouraged everyone to utilize their unique talents and circumstances to fulfill the purpose for which God put them on earth.
Interestingly, at the end of Parshat Korach, the Torah tells the tribe of Levi (Numbers, 18:20), “Ani chelkecha vnachlatecha” (“I am your portion and your inheritance”). The Rebbe was very fond of the following commentary of Maimonides on this verse: “Not only the tribe of Levi, but any one of the inhabitants of the world whose spirit generously motivates him, and who understands with his wisdom to set himself aside and stand before God to serve Him and minister to Him and to know God, proceeding justly as God made him, removing from his neck the yoke of the many reckonings which people seek, is sanctified as holy of holies. God will be His portion and heritage forever and will provide what is sufficient for him in this world like He provides for the priests and the Levites. And thus David declared [Psalms 16:5]: ‘God is the lot of my portion; You are my cup, You support my lot.’”
Every individual has the ability to reach the state of Aaron the High Priest, not by taking his job as Korach insisted, but by using their own circumstances and utilizing it completely for the service of God. PJC
Rabbi Yisroel Altein is the spiritual leader of Chabad of Squirrel Hill. This column is a service of Vaad Harabanim of Greater Pittsburgh.