A person’s goals, as well as his complaints, reveal his priorities. His frame of mind, his areas of focus and concern, speak volumes about what he truly cares about. By recognizing our own desires, we gain an opportunity to examine our own priorities and possibly adjusting them.
Korach, according to Rashi (Num. 16:3), complained that Moshe, serving as the effective king of the Jews, appointed his brother, Aharon, as the kohen gadol, the high priest. Korach, a Levite and presumptive contender for the priesthood, desired that position for himself and resented the apparent nepotism. Commentators ask why Korach did not advance a stronger complaint, that Moshe retained the high priesthood for himself.
II. High Priests
The Gemara (Zevakhim 102a) records a debate whether Moshe’s term as kohen gadol lasted only for the seven days of dedicating the Tabernacle or continued for the rest of his life. According to this latter view, why didn’t Korach object that Moshe selfishly kept the high priesthood himself.
Moshe and Aharon retaining the title of kohen gadol at the same time raises another question. The Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Kelei Ha-Mikdash 4:15) rules that two high priests cannot be appointed at one time. Ra’avad, in his commentary to Toras Kohanim (on Lev. 16:32), writes this slightly differently: two high priests cannot serve at the same time, which the Ezras Kohanim says is a biblical law. If so, how could Aharon and Moshe both serve as kohen gadol simultaneously?
III. Two Aspects
R. Yitzchak Sorotzkin (Gevuras Ari, vol. 2 no 237) answers these two questions by distinguishing between two aspects of the high priesthood: function and authority. The Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Kelei Ha-Mikdash 4:20) writes that the position of the high priesthood is inherited like a kingship and other positions of authority. The position of kohen gadol is one of serarah, authority. On the other hand, the high priest performs unique functions in the Temple.
Moshe attained the privilege of functioning as the kohen gadol. However, he never filled the attendant high-priestly position of authority. Lacking that authority, Moshe’s high priesthood never conflicted with his brother’s simultaneous high priesthood. However, every other kohen gadol in history attains both function and authority. Therefore, other than Moshe, no two high priests can exist at the same time because their authorities would clash.
With this understanding in hand, we can explain why Moshe lacked an assistant high priest (segan kohen gadol). The Rambam (Mishneh Torah, Hilkhos Kelei Ha-Mikdash 4:16) writes that the assistant increases the honor of the kohen gadol. The honor due to the high priest is a function of his authority, which Moshe lacked.
IV. Desiring Authority
Based on the above, R. Sorotzkin explains why Korach only objected to Aharon’s high priesthood and not Moshe’s. More than anything, Korach desired respect and authority. He demanded a leadership role. Moshe’s high priesthood was a privilege, a unique opportunity to serve God at the highest sacrificial level. Aharon’s, however, was a position of authority and respect in the nation — and that is what Korach really wanted.
Every person can take the opportunity to examine his own unarticulated goals. Does he strive for positions of authority and honor? Does he wish to be in the public eye? Or does he aim for function, for the highest levels of worshipping God? Does he wish to spend his days in the house of the Lord (Ps. 27:4) or in the house of the political leader? Our goals must be toward function, toward the privilege of serving God. Someone, of course, must serve as the kohen gadol. The model for such a position should be the reluctant servant Aharon and not the power-hungry Korach.