Korach: The Origin Of Authority In Judaism

A common denominator exists in Parshat Shlach and Parshat Korach. In both instances, Moshe Rabbeinu finds himself in the minority versus a majority of wicked men who have incited the Jewish People against him.

Such is the case in the episode of the ten spies who returned from touring the land to report of giants and a land that ate up its inhabitants and cried: “We are not able to go up against the people for they are stronger than we”. They despised the good land, the Land of desire, the Land which G-d chose for them, the land which He had commanded them to inherit and live in. They continued to incite the people, until the people broke down saying, “Let us make a leader, and let us return to Egypt”.

The story of Korach is similar. The power-hungry Korach also incited against Moshe (interestingly enough, there are sources which say that the motives of the spies, as well, was fear of losing their high position when entering the land!) Korach succeeded in inciting 250 leaders of the nation against Moshe, claiming that the latter took for himself all the top positions. Together, they convince almost the entire nation that Moshe cheats them by playing favorites with those closest to him. Here, too, we find Datan and Aviram, leaders of the revolt, making statements against the exodus of Egypt and the Land of Israel which are even more extreme than those of the spies: “Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey, (they are referring here to Egypt!) to kill us in the wilderness… In other words, they took the expression reserved for Eretz Yisrael, and applied it to Egypt, the land of impurity and bondage!

On one hand, one cannot doubt that under discussion here are two very great sins which are eternally inscribed in our Torah. On the other hand, we must ask a difficult question: notwithstanding, there was a clear majority against Moshe. Would it not be proper that the majority rule, despite the fact that it would lead to tragedy? After all, if the majority does not decide, than what does? In short, what is the origin of authority in Judaism.

Shevna Defeats Hezekiah in the “Elections”
The question of majority rule is discussed in Masechet Sanhedrin 26. When Sennacherib and the Assyrians invaded the Land of Israel and surrounded Jerusalem during the time of the First Temple, a fierce debate erupted over whether to surrender or not. King Hezekiah, under the prodding of the Prophet Isaiah, refused to surrender despite the overwhelming strength of the mightiest empire of its day, one that swept over every nation it had faced. Shevna, a scribe, and one of the powers of the government, on the other hand, urged surrender. Each group took its cause to the people and this is the background for the following words of the Talmud:

“What does the concept kesher r’shayim, a band of wicked people, mean? “Shevna gathered together and spoke to 130,000 people (who supported him) while Hezekiah gathered (only) 110,000 people. When Sennacherib laid siege to the city, Shevna wrote the following message and sent it by arrow to the enemy camp: ‘Shevna and his party have capitulated; Hezekiah and his party have not.’ “Hezekiah was fearful and thought: ‘Is it possible, heaven forbid, that G-d’s will tends toward the majority and since the majority wishes to surrender, we must too?’ Then there came to him a prophet and quoted the verse: ‘Do not recognize as a band, all that which the people call a band; neither fear ye their fear nor be afraid.’ (Isaiah 8:12) Meaning, this is a band of wicked people, and a band of wicked people is not counted.”

When is a Majority Not a Majority?
We see here a basic principle: The rule, “one must follow the majority” is correct when that majority does not deviate from the Torah and the “halacha”. If it does, then the Talmudic rule “a band of wicked people is not counted” is applied. Rashi explains: “Do not think in your mind, Hezekiah, that Shevna’s group is counted, and that it is considered a majority.” It is not considered a majority! When people band together against the Torah and claim that they hold a majority of supporters, not only is it insignificant, but it is not even considered a majority.

Who Has the Right to Vote
This is the reason why the ten spies were insignificant when pit against a tiny minority of two. This is why there was no reason to be overly impressed when an overwhelming majority stood against Moshe. This is why no one counted the number of supporters in the “Korach camp” in order to “gauge” if Moshe had the backing of the nation. The ultimate authority of the Jewish People is Torah Law. Only one who takes upon himself this law
and acts by it is worthy of being chosen as a leader of the nation. And only such person can have his voice counted when there is a need for a majority vote.

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