Rabbi Neil Schuman

Championing Meritocracy
Reading Parshat Korach, it’s easy to get frustrated. How much proof do the Children of Israel need for the matter to be settled? Why were we so obstinate?
Korach, a Levite, desires to be the Kohen Gadol (the High Priest), and he feels entitled to it based upon birthright. His grandfather, Kehat, the son of Levi, had four sons, Amram, Yitzhar, Chevron, and Uziel. When Moses, who was the son of the oldest brother, Amram, is named leader, Korach feels that the second-highest position, the High Priest, should be passed on to the oldest son of the next brother, Yitzhar, and that would be him. However, that post is given to Moses’ brother, Aaron. Furthermore, Korach is not even appointed Prince of the Tribe of Levi (that goes to a cousin from Uziel, the youngest sibling!) Korach’s jealousy burns inside him. Absolutely appalled by his lack of elevation, he questions whether Moses’ appointments are by Divine decree or not.
We all know that a rebellion cannot be successful if it is “sold” as a means for personal gain; it has to have the strength of social reform. Therefore, Korach rallies all of the others who are disgruntled with Moses’ nepotism and their own exclusions.
Some of them were from the tribe of Reuben who were stripped of their firstborn status when Reuben sinned by taking his father’s concubine.
Some of them were firstborn Israelites, who were upset at losing their firstborn status due to their involvement in the sin of the golden calf.
Others felt more qualified than Aaron for the position since he was involved in the sin of the Golden Calf. A total of two hundred and fifty distinguished men arose to question Moses’ authority.
Eventually, this insurrection is quashed and Moses is validated, yet it took four grand iterations of Heavenly proof to get the point across. Meanwhile, Korach, Datan, Aviram, the 250 contenders, and thousands of others died by Divine decree.
Yet, in our hearts, we hear Korach. It does seem a bit unfair that all the positions of leadership, even among the women (with Miriam), were filled by Moses’ close family.
Yet, if we look at Korach’s cronies, their claim is mostly based upon birthright as well.
Korach is saying that as the firstborn of the second son of Levi, he should have been chosen.
The sons of Rueben are complaining that as the firstborn of Jacob, they should be privileged.
The firstborn Israelites object to the loss of their innate privileges and they want those honors back.
Perhaps, the multiple miracles (earthquake, fire from heaven, Aaron’s staff sprouting almonds, and a powerful plague) affirming Moses’, Aaron’s, and Miriam’s leadership are a Divine statement against birth privilege. In fact, neither Aaron nor Moses was the firstborn of Amram, Miriam was! And back then, a woman being a firstborn didn’t count for anything. The selection of Moses, Aaron, and Miriam cannot be attributed to inheritance; rather they were chosen because of their exceptional character and substantial accomplishments.
Initially I was bothered as to why it took four drastic Divine signs for our ancestors to accept Moses’ authority. Yet it took Western society thousands of years to rid themselves of inherited monarchy to finally cede power to those that are deemed worthy by the public.
Meritocracy in the Torah! Perhaps our stubborn predecessors were ahead of their time!
Shabbat Shalom