Monday, June 07, 2010

A Critique of Pure Reason: Thoughts on Parshat Korach

One of Rav Soloveitchik's זצ"ל most famous drashot is called 'The "Common-Sense" Rebellion Against Torah Authority,' and deals with the Rebellion of Korah (Num. 16, 1-40). In that drasha, the Rav characterized Korah as a populist who sought to undermine Moses' authority through an appeal to 'Common Sense.' [The recording is here and here; a abridged summary is here. Quotations are from the latter.]

'proclaimed that all reasonable people have the right to interpret Jewish law according to their best understanding: "For all the community are holy" (Num. 16: 3). In down-to-earth logic, the lowliest woodcutter is the equal of Moses. This appeal to populism evokes considerable support because it promises freedom from centralized authority; it flatters the people's common intelligence and it approves the right of each Jew or group of Jews to follow their own individual judgment.'

It was not, however, only cheap populism which lay behind Korah's revolt. Indeed, that was not the source of the Rav's ire, either. He objected to the idea that Judaism could be reduced to religious subjectivism.

Korah argued, using the mitzvahof tzitzitas an illustration of his point of view, that the
blue thread of the tzitzit was meant to make us think of distant horizons, of infinity, and of the mysterious link between the blue sea and the blue sky. The mezuzah, he argued, is intended to increase our awareness of God and to invoke His protection over our homes. Why, then, is it necessary to limit this symbolism to one thread or to the doorpost? Why not extend it to the whole garment and to the entire house? If blue, in the case of tzitzit, is able to evoke feelings of Godliness, then total blueness of the garment should certainly be able to do so. The same reasoning applies to the mezuzah.The mitzvahis thus reduced to the level of an inspirational means and not an end in itself. From the standpoint of religious subjectivism and common sense, Korah's argument seems quite cogent.

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