Dr. King and Malcom X

Dear Rabbi,

Those that do not study history are doomed to repeat it. This cliché sums up what is taught in parshah Korach. 

Korach decides he is equal to or better than Moses and Aaron and stages a rebellion against them. He gets 250 of the most important Israelites to go along with him and accuse Moses and Aaron of hoarding all of the power. They took specific issue with the appointment of Aaron as High Priest. Moses proposes that on the following day they all participate in a test which would determine who indeed was worthy of being designated the High Priest. Everyone would bring an incense offering to the Tabernacle, and G-d would make known His choice for High Priest. Moses then attempts to dissuade them from participating in this suicidal test.
Moses then pleads with G-d not to accept the incense offering of the rebellious group. Korach spends the night inciting the Israelites against Moses and gathers them all to the entrance of the Tabernacle to witness the grand spectacle. Other than wanting power, Korach does not offer them any sort of plan to better their condition.
G-d is angered by the Israelites’ association with Korach and wishes to destroy them. Moses and Aaron pray on the Israelites’ behalf and the decree is averted. The earth opens up and swallows Korach and his family, and a heavenly fire consumes the rest of the 250 rebels. Here is where it gets really interesting. Rather than understand who G-d wants in charge, the next day the community complains that Moses and Aaron are to be blamed for the deaths of “G-d’s people.”
G-d instructs Moses and Aaron to “separate yourselves from the community, and I will destroy them in an instant.” There is a plague that strikes the young nation, and many thousands die. Moses then tells Aaron to quickly take the firepan with the incense and go into the midst of the congregation and atone for their sin. Aaron stands “between the living and the dead” and the plague is halted.  
Although the chronology is somewhat different, the overall theme is strikingly similar. We have just gone through a terrible “plague” known as Covid-19. Although we are not completely out of the woods, things are beginning to come back to what we can call “normal”. Hundreds of thousands of Americans died and although he did not cause the initial plague, the former president of the United States, did everything he could to downplay the reality of what was going on and I believe caused many deaths that did not have to occur if he had acted in a rational manner. Many went along with his absurd response and died thinking that the pandemic was not as grave as it really was.
Let us now flash forward to January 6, 2021, and the power hungry about to be ex-president decides to incite an insurrection against his own country for the sake of attempting to keep power. His followers could not accept the fact that someone else had lawfully won an election and would become the new president. People died on this fateful day and now thousands more face criminal convictions for following a false leader that led them astray. So far, this modern day “Korach” has not yet met his fate but let us hope his outcome ends with his inability to take back any of the power he thought he had forever. His followers seemed stuck on following him anyway for the sake of retaking the “power” that they thought they had but other than wanting to keep the power they once enjoyed, they offer no plan to make the lives of their fellow citizens any better.
Will the party that this demagogue is the head of lose all of the power and respect they once held by holding on to him as their leader? Stay tuned to what lies ahead. I started out with a cliché, and I will end with one. G-d works in strange and mysterious ways. Although He no longer is in the overt “miracle business” he showed the Israelites back in the desert, the similarities to what went on in the desert, lead me to think we will know what the Lord will do when the time is ripe.  


Dear Mordecai,

If we're talking about history, the parshah Korah is the best parshah to discuss. It is the best depiction in the ancient world of demagoguery, ideology, fanaticism, and violence. I agree that Korah's animus is directed toward Moses and Aaron because of the creation of the kehunaHowever, Korah is really challening G-d, not Moses or Aaron, isn't he? Korah is the consummate revolutionary. He is not a liberal and does not believe in progress. Why make the world better when it can be perfect?

I think your analogy to our former president makes sense. While he may have represented an extreme in many respects, he was, in others, no different from any other political leader who doesn't guard himself against demogoguery. Political leadership necessarily entails the risk of demogoguery. 

Consider two African American leaders from the Civil Rights Era of the early 1960s: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcom X. Because he was grounded in the Bible's message of hope, Dr. King was capable of changing the political landscape. Whereas, Malcom X offered rhetorical fury that captivated swaths of the black community.

The earth swallowed X up. Nevertheless, his rebellion against Dr. King, comparable to Korah's rebellion against Moses, left a lasting impression on the black community. 

14,700 people died in the plague (17:14). Demogoguery leads to death for those who are caught in its wake. Demogoguery lives off of crowds and relies on the coercive power of the mob to win results. 

Moses and Aaron offered a better, safer, but longer way. Bnei Israel continuously chooses the "nasty, brutish, and short" (Hobbes, chapter VIII Leviathin) way.