Friday, June 20, 2014

Korach: "We're All Individuals!!!"

I’ve written before about how Korach, under the guise of egalitarian protestation, used his own prophetic vision to advance his personal position to get what he thought was rightfully his at the expense of those who were deluded enough to follow him and the democratic pretensions he actually didn’t believe in, or care enough to even give credence to.

Even if he himself didn’t believe what he was preaching, “kol ha’edah kulam kedoshim” being the catchphrase employed, it might be interesting to compare this case of Biblical democratic pretension to another: the story of migdal bavel.

The catchphrase there, as pointed out by the Netziv, was devarim achadim.  In HaEmek Davar Bereishis 11:4, he asserts that Tower-era Babylon prefigured the Iron Curtain in its legislation: “..if some would leave they might adopt different thoughts…[] so they saw to it that no one left their enclave…[] anyone who deviated from devarim achadim would be sentenced to burning…”  Judy Klistner refers to this as “coercive conformity”.

We see a lot of this, particularly on the Left and in academia, to the point that former Mayor Michael Boomberg admonished a graduation audience at Harvard about the disturbing trend of "liberals silencing voices "'deemed politically objectionable.'"   On the Right, it didn’t start with “You’re either with us or against us”, but the recent primary-season brouhahas between Tea Party and Chamber of Commerce candidates—and the insistence in some Republican enclaves that the party dedicate itself to a unitary religious vision—indicate for the tendencies for groupthink in those quarters.

That being in the word at large, how does this “vision” translate to the Jewish world?

One can note the difference between the respective Divine paybacks:  Korach dies. The dor haflagah doesn’t.   Why is Korach’s punishment so much more draconian?

He used religion to do it.  He not only held himself up as the leading light of egalitarianism, he held himself up as that of religious egalitarianism.  Despite the fact that he had ascended to his then-already lofty communal position because of his DNA [as Moshe pointed out to him], and his assertions of “kulam kedoshim”, he also intimated he would make changes to mitzvos, both bein adam lamakom [the “talis she’kulo techeiles”] and l’chavero [his rantings about tithing as an onerous system of taxation were a surefire way to score political points with the public].

There are many ways conformity can be introduced into religious practice, from all corners.   There’s no reason to point them out [although one might say that because there are so many of them—as Professor Lawrence Kaplan might say, “Which Da’as Torah?”—conformity is an impossibility].  But if someone tried to use “kulam kedoshim” as a justification…

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