This week we read the story of Korach and his rebellion and the positioning of Aaron as priest. They were both of the tribe of Levi; both had come out of Egypt together and been present at the revelation at Sinai and the miracles that accompanied our journey.
There are many ways of looking at Korach the man. Was he genuinely incensed about the promotion of Aaron as head of his own tribe? Korach is, in many ways, a modern man. He uses Machiavellian cunning to achieve his aims. He plays upon fear, suspicion gathering co- conspirators. He places others, including whole families, in peril.
Was he being democratic? He questions why someone should be regarded as especially holy when he says:
You take too much upon yourselves, for the entire congregation are all holy
In the Sephardi world the story of Korach is set out in the Ladino work, “Me’am Loez”. Korach's rebellion against Moses is seen as revolving around the issue of appointing leaders of the tribes. Korach believed that he should be the chieftain of the Levites. He pointed to the status of his ancestors, his wisdom, and his wealth. Moses thought otherwise. Korach tries to undermine the will of God by reference to rational arguments rather than to follow the flow of revelation at Sinai. What he was unable to understand was that God wanted Aaron and his descendants to serve him as emissaries for the people not as leaders of a tribe. The word “kehunah” representing priesthood, indicates responsibility not elevation of status.
Within the people are a tribe, the Levites, and within them is established an inner group, the Cohanim, whose lives are given over to the holy.
We no longer have priests and we certainly no longer have a high priest. That title came from a misreading of Kohen Gadol (great Kohen) translated by Martin Luther from the Latin “sacerdos magna” (great priest) into the word “Hohepriester” or high priest. This was then taken up by William Tyndale in the 16th century and now has become common usage.
Most synagogue communities have their names preceded by the letter “kof” repeated twice. ק ק
It stands for Kehilah Kedosha, (holy congregation). We come together not as Korach, to promote ourselves but to quote Korach’s own words:
For the entire congregation are all holy