By Rabbi Avi Shafran
Sneering cynicism. Self-glorification in the guise of advocacy. Ostentatious observance cloaking rank jealousy. “Democracy” in the pursuit of evil ends. Haughtiness pretending to the selfless pursuit of justice and truth.
What do all those things bring to mind?
A) The parsha we read on Shabbos.
B) Much of the “Orthodox Jewish” blogosphere.
Both, you say? You win.
Korach is a good example for our times. Good, that is, in the sense that he perfectly exemplifies the similarly “populist” contemporary congregation that breeds under the rocks of Blogistan.
We deserve to be free from our so-called leaders, Korach announced-and, even without the benefit of an instantaneous electronic soapbox, attracted followers to “the cause.” We are perfectly capable, he declared, to their excited panting, of sitting in judgment over those who claim to have been designated to stand at the helm of the Jewish ship. The entire people are holy, after all. All of us heard the voice of Hashem at Har Sinai. All of us are able to see things for ourselves as they really are, not as our “leaders” tell us they are. Moshe and Aharon were “chosen” to lead us? Please. We know better. Surely you do too.
In fact, the Korachites broadcast, we have good reason to suspect some not-so-nice things about our so-called leaders, things that show them to be not only unworthy leaders but uncaring, corrupt, and worse. Have you heard, for instance, about what Moshe, the “chaste” and “modest” man, has been up to in his free time…?
The rabbis, they proclaimed sagely, are just protecting their perks. We don’t need such “leaders” telling us how to conduct our lives and what or whom to respect. We know better than they do, we see more clearly than they. They are the establishment. We, after all, are The People.
And the truly religious ones, too; just ask Mrs. Ohn ben Peles, whose uncovered head we would not countenance. We’re the ones who really care about all Jews, about Jewish values, about Jewish children. Our “leaders,” by contrast, are clueless, if not worse.
Sound familiar? Of course it does.
Yes, there are responsible Orthodox Jewish bloggers, who seek to share community news or ideas and observations with others, and to post informative, not libelous, readers’ comments. Some explore concepts in Jewish thought and law, others focus on Jewish history and society.
The Korach blogs, though, are a separate category. Their anger, snideness, half-truths, and bald lies attract like-minded people like rancid meat draws flies. Together, the bloggerei and their devotees march proudly into what they believe will be a bright, shiny future, one devoid of the old bearded men who so vex them.
They’re not insincere. They believe what they say; that, in fact, is the greater tragedy. Korach, too, was convinced that he was right. Why else would he have summoned all the people to witness the “showdown” with Moshe? Did he think for a moment that what happened was even a possibility? Surely not.
But sincerity is no guarantee of rightness. Evil that recognizes itself is a rare bird.
Perhaps that’s part of the meaning of the strange admonition “Do not be like Korach and his congregation” (Bamidbar, 17:5), which Rav (Sanhedrin, 110a) sees as a warning against fomenting strife among Jews. We don’t find any such warning against being hedonistic “like Lot” or hypocritical “like Esav.” Why a special prohibition here? Might it be because of the natural pull that “populism” propelled by cynicism and slander can exert, and the ease with which even fine people can be swayed by professions of righteousness and sincerity? Because Korach-ism is a particularly easy (forgive me) hole into which one can fall?
The modern-day disparagers of Torah scholars and selfless communal leaders aren’t likely to change (though we must never give up the hope that they will). They may be too certain that they “know the score” and that they can’t possibly be misguided.
But one hopes that those who have ever come across the knights of Blogistan’s defamations and obloquies and found themselves impressed by the apparent sincerity with which they are proffered paid attention when the Torah was read on Shabbos.
This article is republished from last year.