Parshat Korach is the archetype of Jewish self-destructive behavior. A naked power play, couched in terms of holiness and halacha (the back story is that Korach presented a bogus question about talit and tzitzit to Moshe), Korach tried to leap over Aaron and seize the High Priesthood. Not content to challenge God’s structuring of the Jewish People, Korach just had to add ad hominem attacks against his own cousins.
As if we hadn’t, in the previous parsha of the meraglim, spies, learned the consequences of narcissistically insisting that we “know better” than The Creator, Korach, our very own biblical narcissist par excellence, gathers a group of supporters, including the yes-men (or, in relationship to Moshe, the no-men), Dotan and Abiram, a crowd of two hundred and fifty “princes” as well as an additional fourteen thousand seven hundred men, all of whom perished. Remember, this was from a total Jewish population at the time of six hundred thousand!
It’s not that Israel and the Jewish People cannot tolerate challenges. As we all know, Jewish tradition, beginning with the Mishna, has always been transmitted through debate. But we learn from Avot (5:17) which explicitly distinguishes between makhloket, debate, aimed at clarifying reality and makhloket aimed at personal power or belittling another, that there is a difference. One strengthens us all and leads us closer to Geula, Redemption. The other, for which the Mishna intentionally chooses Korach as example, leads to plagues, to destruction (as we know, the Second Temple was destroyed and our people exiled for two thousand years which is not yet completely over, for the sin of sinat chinam, pointless fratricidal hatred), chaos and death.
A famous story is told of the late Satmar Rebbe, a leader, I must say, I had little fondness for (because he actively discouraged his followers before the Shoah from escaping to Palestine). When Hubert Humphrey ran for President in 1968, he visited many leading religious leaders. On his way to visit the Satmar Rebbe, his advisor told him to not mention Israel to the rabbi. Humphrey was shocked and asked him what that was all about. “Aren’t all rabbis and Jewish leaders great supporters of Israel? Isn’t Israel always at the top of their political agenda?” The advisor merely said that this was a different kind of rabbi and that he should just ask about his local community.
The moment Humphrey walked into the Rebbe’s presence, the Rebbe asked, “So, what’s your position on Israel?” Humphrey was dumfounded and replied, “My advisors told me to avoid all mention of Israel, that you were a different type of Jewish leader. And the first thing you ask me is my position on Israel! I don’t understand.”
The Rebbe replied, “In the family, we argue among ourselves. To the outside world we are one.”
Would that Satmar of today, as well as the Jewish Left of today, as well as the American Jewish community and their communal organizations of today remember the critical place that Israel occupies for all of us, religious and secular, affiliated or not, and furthermore understand the vital need for Ahavat Yisrael, our mutual love for each other. If we only focus on this, imagine how much Jewish blood might not be tragically shed.