"And Korah separated himself” Numbers 16:1

By Rabbi Dr Michael Harris, June 21, 2012

A famous midrash suggests that Korah gained impetus for his rebellion by highlighting the commandment of tzitzit. Korah dressed 250 men in a tallit made entirely of techelet, the turquoise thread placed at the corners of a garment in order to fulfil the mitzvah of tzitzit. Korah and his followers asked Moses whether such a tallit required techelet on its corners.

When Moses replied in the affirmative, they ridiculed him: “If a garment is made of some material other than techelet, a single thread of techelet on its corner is sufficient. How then can it be necessary for a tallit made entirely of techelet to have techelet on its corners too?”

Korah’s point was that Moses’s Torah made no sense and was his own invention. But from a logical perspective, who was right? Was Moses’s position illogical, or Korah’s?

I believe that the correct answer is: neither. Often, this midrash is reminding us, everything depends on the preconceptions one brings to judging a situation. Korah’s preconception was that Moses’s teachings were ridiculous. It was not difficult for him to find evidence to buttress his preconception — he saw the evidence everywhere. It is perfectly logical that a garment formed entirely of techelet should still need a techelet thread. To Korah, however, this was just further proof of Moses’ irrationality.

One does not have to support every policy of the Israeli government to recognise that in our day, Israel is frequently the victim of the Korah-style bringing of preconceptions to the judging of every situation.

As commentators have noted, Korah’s supporters belonged to radically different factions who formed an unholy alliance of all kinds of opposites. And they adopted an extraordinarily self-righteous tone. How reminiscent of the coalition that we too often see ranged against Israel.

Last updated: 1:57pm, June 21 2012