Parshat Korach: Numbers 16:1-18:32; I Samuel 11:14-12:22.
I was recently teaching a class about the weekly Torah portion when someone mentioned the rebellion of Korach.
I explained that Korach’s rebellion began when Korach questioned why his cousin Aaron and his lineage should become the priests. Most of the people in the room were surprised to learn that Korach was the first cousin of Moses and Aaron, but that’s an important fact in the story.
The narrative of Korach and his rebellion is yet another story of a family quarrel in our Torah. These squabbles go all the way back to the time of Cain and Abel, when they were the only siblings on Earth and managed to introduce us to the concept of sibling rivalry (and fratricide).
In this week’s portion, we have yet another example of disharmony in the family. Korach stages a rebellion against his cousins, Moses and Aaron. Together with a few co-leaders of the rebellion, Korach gathers 250 men and accuses Moses and Aaron of hoarding power. Korach argues that the entire community is holy, and he questions why Moses and Aaron elevate themselves above everyone else. Korach takes exception with the appointment of Aaron as the High Priest, when they are at the same level in the family tree (both grandsons of Kohat).
Prior to God’s punishment of those involved in the rebellion [spoiler alert] when the Earth opens and swallows Korach and his family, and then a heavenly fire consumes the rest of the rebels, Moses tries to find a peaceful resolution between the two parties. Moses, known as a humble leader of the Israelite people, no doubt was very troubled by the fractured relationship with his cousin Korach. He desperately wanted to end the dispute and make peace within his family.
Unfortunately, this is an all-too-common occurrence in families in our day. So many find themselves in estranged relationships and the pain is severe. We can take comfort, however, in knowing that it is possible to seek reconciliation and put the pieces back together in our fractured relationships. Frequently, reconciliation comes following the death of a loved one, but families shouldn’t wait until that point.
Shalom, peace, is a Hebrew word that is often used when discussing the relationship between nations. However, we should all seek to bring shalom into our families. The disharmony in families in the Torah should serve as an example that the consequences are tragic when relatives feud with each other.
We all have relatives who are difficult to get along with, who challenge leadership roles within the family, who battle over money or who let their emotions get the best of them. However, family should be treated as sacred.
The stories in the Torah of flawed human beings and familial dysfunction should lead us to take the steps to heal troubled relationships. It is far from an easy process and it can take many years, but the first step is always the most challenging. A healed relationship is the reward for putting in the work of reconciliation.
Rabbi Jason Miller is an educator and entrepreneur. He is the founder and director of Kosher Michigan and MitzvahRabbi.com, as well as the president of Access Technology. Follow him on Twitter at @RabbiJason.