2000Amid the murmuring of all the Jewish people, a "champion" emerges from the leadership whose name is Korach. Korach questions the stature and authority of Moshe Rabbenu, who, by his own admission, is not a willing nor probably a charismatic leader. Moshe has a pattern of not defending himself in circumstances such as these. In Numbers 12:1, Moshe allows God to defend him when Aharon and Miriam complain about his Kushite wife. Here Korach utters a challenge and Moshe "flung himself on his face."
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Parashat Korach: Numbers 16:1-18:32
6:1 Now there betook-himself Korah son of Yitzhar son of Kehat, son of Levi, and Datan and Aviram, the sons of Eliav and On, son of Pelet, the sons of Re'uven
2. to rise up before Moshe with men-of-stature from the Children of Israel, fifty and two hundred, leaders of the community, those Called in the Appointed-Council, men of name.
3. They assembled against Moshe and against Aharon and said to them, "Too much (is) yours! Indeed, the entire community, the entirety-of-them, are holy, and in their midst is YHWH! Why then do you exalt yourselves over the assembly of YHWH?"
4. Now when Moshe heard, he flung himself on his face.
During that time Moshe is given his script. The Holy One tells him what to do and only then does Moshe rebuke Korach and the sons of Levi. Why does Moshe hesitate before speaking? Why does he fall upon his face as the immediate response to this insurrection?
Pirkei Avot 5:17
"Every controversy that is in the name of heaven, will endure in the end; but one that is not in the name of heaven, in the end will not endure."
Which is the [kind of] controversy that is in the name of heaven? Such as was the controversy between Hillel and Shammai. And, which is the [kind of] controversy that is not in the name of heaven? Such as was the controversy of Korach and all his congregation.
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What is an example of a controversy that is in the name of heaven? What is the opposite of that?
Korach, as a Levi, has special status within the community. He and his congregation are acknowledged leaders. His argument is also irrefutable. God does dwell among the entire people. They are all holy. What does give Moshe the right to be prince, since he was never elected?
The Rabbis teach that Korach's argument was not going to endure because there was nothing in it that was remotely for the sake of heaven. Even if one is only concerned about physical survival-- one could argue that this too, is for the sake of heaven-- as God, too, wishes for the survival of his people, but in this case nothing of value would endure from this debate.
Moshe instead prays and then chooses to rebuke Korach and contend with his minions in the context of passing judgement upon the insurgent community. It is only when he speaks for God that he can be assured that this is for the sake of heaven. Moshe never does say what legitimates him as leader, he only decries the illegitimacy of a rebellion of arrogance, insensitivity and wanton self-interest. Moshe will not engage in the argument, but he will take his instructions from heaven and respond accordingly.
Hillel and Shammai represent two very different temperaments and backgrounds. Much of their respective worldviews certainly emerged from their personal circumstances, but their desire was always to both use their experience and transcend it in order to arrive at what they thought was proper and true. The arguments endure because of the character that resides behind the logic.
The litmus test was not who was right, but who wished to be right for the right reasons. In this contest they both emerged victorious and hence the famous statement: "These and these are words of the Living God."