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Korach

"All the congregation are holy, every one of them" Numbers 16:3

    The great Jewish historian of ancient times Josephus tells of an event in his own lifetime which certainly reinforced the holiness of every person:

    "There came to me from the region of Trachonitis [the site of a rebellion against King Herod while he was in Rome], two nobles, subjects of the king, bringing their horses, arms and money which they had smuggled out of the country. The Jews would have compelled them to be circumcised as a condition of residence among them.

    "I, however, would not allow any compulsion to be put on them, declaring that every one should worship God in accordance with the dictates of his own conscience and not under constraint, and that these men, having fled to us for refuge, ought not to be made to regret that they had done so. I liberally supplied our guests with all things necessary to their customary manner of life."

    A thousand years earlier Korach taunted Moses with the words: "All the congregation are holy, every one of them", by which he meant that the power that Moses had should be spread out among the whole of the people of Israel.

    Korach was making a bid for power. Josephus would not. In his day he had power over migrants and refused to use it. It was the power over the people that Korach wanted to appropriate. Korach and Josephus are moral opposites. Moses had respect for the people. So did Josephus. Korach did not.

    At a time when our country is debating how many migrants should be allowed to enter, Josephus's example should remind us of the dignity due to every human being.

    Korach, however, is recalled as a precautionary example in the prayer used to start some Jewish committee meetings: "May none of our controversies rise up like that of Korach, from ambition and self-seeking".

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