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 priest, 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.

Authority and Privilege

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I. Priorities

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.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link of New Jersey, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and as Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He also serves on the Editorial Board of Jewish Action magazine and the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

12 comments

  1. Very subtle.

  2. ^What makes it subtle is that it doesn’t necessarily have to be political. Which is a good thing. But I don’t expect that to last very long around here.

  3. It wasn’t intended to be political at all but once Joseph brought it up, I don’t disagree with that application.

  4. “Korach, a priest”?

  5. ” Korach, a priest…” You mean a levite?

  6. Thanks for the catch. You are, of course, correct.

  7. The position of kohen gadol is one of serarah, authority. … Moshe attained the privilege of functioning as the kohen gadol. However, he never filled the attendant high-priestly position of authority.

    It’s a little strange to say the Moshe of all people, the leader of the Jewish people, their king according to some opinions (ויהי בישורון מלך), did not have serarah.

    Anyway, I think R. Sorotzkin’s idea can be greatly clarified by noting that Aharon’s priesthood was hereditary and Moshe’s not. That is the clearest indication that Aharon had a “status”, while Moshe simply fulfilled certain “functions”.

    Also, a big factor in the opposition to Aharon’s role must have been his personal history. Why DID he get to be kohen gadol after chet haegel, you might ask?

  8. To a man with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

  9. Wonderful post. R’Yitzchak was my ‘Eltereh Chavrusa’ in Telshe (10th grade). We learned Gemarah in the evenings for an entire year.

    Back in the 60s – Telshe Yeshiva High School(in Cleveland) did not require attendance at night Seder. But they strongly encouraged learning with one the Beis HaMedrash Bachurim and found us Chavrusos. R’ Yitzchak was about 5 years ahead of me but only about a year or two older – if that). I don’t know how I got to be so lucky then, But I certainly appreciated it then – and even moreso now.

    He is quite brilliant. And although he is currently in Lakewood he ought to by the defacto RY of Telshe.

    A little biographical information about R’ Yitzchok: He is the son of R’ Baruch Sorotzkin one of the three RY’s of Telshe post R’Motel Katz who bequethed that the ldearship position be divided among R’ Gifter, R’ Baruch, and R’ Chaim Stein (currently the official RY of Telshe. R’ Baruch was the younger son of R’ Zalman Sorotzkin.

  10. In all of our work with various mosdos, I think we can all sense those who run away from honor even when deserved vs. those who seem to seek honor regularly.

  11. R’ Aryeh,
    They only seek honor so others will get involved (see (Yoreh Deah 249:13) [those who know me will judge whether this was dry humor]
    KT

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