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    All the congregation are holy – Korach

    The destruction of Korah, from the 1890 Holman Bible

    Our tradition does not like Korach very much.

    He is a clever man who has gone wrong. He is a rabble-rouser. He is arrogant, ambitious and disrespectful: all in all, one of the villains of Biblical history. So bad is his reputation that he is one of the few Biblical characters after whom no Jewish parent has ever named a child.

    Yet some of his phraseology has become part of Judaism, in particular his arresting statement, “All the congregation are holy”. From this or similar origins derives the accepted custom of calling every Jewish congregation k’hillah k’doshah – “a holy congregation”.

    Korach meant his words provocatively, suggesting that Moses and Aaron had no right to be the leaders when everyone else was at least as holy as they were. But forget the provocation for a moment and you recognise that it is a long established principle of Judaism that all are God’s children and no-one has a greater claim on the Almighty’s attention than any other.

    But you might retort, “Don’t some people have a better yichus, a greater lineage?” Some, after all, are kohanim or levi’im. However, it is not some superior privilege that they possess, but a special task. “Aren’t some people more orthodox, more learned, more devout?”

    It’s true, some make more effort with their religious commitment, but this does not guarantee them a greater share of the Almighty’s attention or favour.

    The fact is that every one of us is made in the image of God and is one of the Divine diamonds. No doubt some of the diamonds could do with some polishing, but a diamond remains a diamond regardless.

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