WHO IS HOLY?
When Korach makes a bid to be leader of the Jewish people, he doesn’t assert that he is wiser, richer or more powerful than Moses. He simply says:
“All the community are holy. What right do you have to assert yourself over the rest of us?” (Bemidbar 16: 3.)
In one sense, Korach is right. We are described as a holy nation. As members of the Jewish people, we each share in that intrinsic holiness. If that is the case, then it is wrong for one individual or group of individuals to have unelected rights over all the others, be it royalty, power or priesthood.
The late Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik (d. 1993) points out that where Korach was wrong, and, indeed, intentionally wrong, was that there are also resources of holiness in every individual Jew, depending on his or her personal qualities. The verse in the Torah that describes us a holy nation has two parts:
“For you are a holy people to the L-d your G-d, and the L-d chose you [singular] to be His treasured nation.” (Devarim 14:2.)
G-d gave the people of Israel a national holiness. In addition to that national holiness, sanctity accrues to the individual according to their effort. Moreover, there is a reciprocal benefit. The outstanding individual strengthens the nation as a whole through the holiness he has worked for.
Where Korach was artful was that he simply focussed on what he had in common with Moses and Aaron. The error he created in the minds of the people, that their individual qualities could be ignored, could not be left unchallenged. Moses and Aaron were chosen for leadership and priesthood precisely because of their unique personal holiness.
The ground-breaking repudiation of Korach could not be more dramatic. Korach, and the individuals who supported him, were completely eliminated.
We are all holy, as a result of our national identity. Our challenge is to bring our personal qualities of holiness to the fore for the benefit of the nation as a whole.