A Taste of Torah in Honor of Shabbat
by Rabbi Avi Weiss
June 26-27, 3 Tammuz, 5758
The Torah in this week's portion identifies with absolute clarity those who participated
in the rebellion against Moshe. Led by Korah, the group included Datan, Aviram, On and 250
leaders of the congregation (nesee'ay edah).
One wonders why God threatens to destroy the whole congregation (ha'edah)? (Numbers 16:21)
As Moshe asks God, Will you destroy the whole congregation for the sins of
the few? (Numbers 16:22)
Our question is compounded when considering God's response to Moshe -- tell the
congregation to separate from Korah and his cohorts (Numbers 16:24). This is difficult
because the larger congregation was not, as we have pointed out, actively involved in the
From God's command to Moshe it is clear, however, that although the larger congregation
was not active in the rebellion, many remained near Korah and his group, giving the
impression that they agreed with him.
In the words of Malbim, "God answered him (Moshe) that His wrath was caused by the
fact that the standing near the wicked implied that they (the congregation) had condoned
their (the conspirators) actions. By keeping
away they would show that they did not share their views."
In other words, the larger congregation stayed passively near Korah, not actively in
rebellion, but remaining neutral. From a certain perspective, I have more respect
for someone who disagrees with me and voices his/her
opinion accordingly, than someone who remains neutral waiting to take sides depending upon
how things work out-- opportunists par excellence. The former stand for
something, the latter for nothing.
It can even be argued that the larger congregation may have agreed with Moshe, but stood
quietly. I have more respect for someone who disagrees with me and
therefore will not act, than for someone who agrees, but for a variety of reasons does not
act. Indifference, an unwillingness to become involved, more than taking the wrong
position is the greater sin.
This parsha teaches that those who stood neutrally or indifferently near Korah were
punished, as they did not have the backbone to separate themselves from Korah's evil.
Judaism, unlike most contemporary legal systems, insists that it is a criminal offense to
be witness to wrong and sit idly by. (Leviticus 19:16) May we never see evil, know it,
feel it -- and remain neutral or indifferent.
of Torah Index
VISIT THE HIR'S WEB BAYIT
© 5758/1998. All rights
Rabbi Avi Weiss, Hebrew Institute
Comments to Webmaster