“When Moses heard it he fell on his face.” (Numbers 16:4)
Korach is a trouble maker. That’s why God warns the Israelites to stay away from him: “Separate yourself from the midst of this eidah, or community.” (Num. 16:20) We know an eidah means at least ten people, because last week, the ten spies who badmouth Canaan are called an eidah ra-ah, an evil community (Num 14:27). So when God says, “I will be sanctified in the midst of the Israelites,” (Lev. 22:32), the rabbis connect these three verses to determine the Jewish practice of requiring a minyan, or prayer quorum of ten individuals to read Torah and recite prayers that sanctify God’s name, such as the barchu, k’dusha, and kaddish (Babylonian Talmud Megillah 23b). Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935; the first Ashkenazic chief rabbi in pre-state Israel) wonders, though: if prayer is a private matter between the individual and God, why do we need a minyan at all, and if we do, why does the ruling derive from two stories of rebellion-Korach and the spies?
Kook explains spiritual growth and sanctity require focusing on others, not on yourself (because that honors God, the creator). That’s why prayers require a minyan; without a community of others to benefit, the individual can’t climb to any true spiritual heights. Enter Korach and the spies. In each case, they are punished not only for their behavior, but also for their negative influence on the community. Accordingly, the righteous also are rewarded not only for their good actions, but for their positive influence on the community.
The imperative, k’doshim t’hiyu, be sanctified (Lev. 19:2) is written in the plural. There is no significant hermit tradition in Jewish history because sanctity requires a community.
Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom