Korach seems to have a case. The people’s leaders, Moses and Aaron, have failed. It is time for them to be replaced. All the people are holy; let someone else take over. I, Korach, offer myself. I have lineage. I have brains. I can do the job. Nominate me!
That’s the argument, and it sounds eminently reasonable. Yet God – and the Jewish tradition through the ages – do not support it: but why shouldn’t Korach have his chance?
In a sense the whole issue boils down to two similar-sounding words, tzitzit and tzitz. The first means fringes, the second means blossom. It is because of tzitzit that we know Korach has flaws in his argument, and because of tzitz that we know he does not deserve to be the leader.
According to the sages, Korach ridicules Moses by saying, “You want a four-cornered garment to have a blue thread? What about a completely blue garment – does that need a blue thread too?”
Not only is the argument populist and without context but its tone is provocative and disrespectful – no ifs and buts, no acknowledgement that Moses has his positive sides, nothing but demagoguery. That’s the issue of the tzitzit.
What about the tzitz? The names of the leaders of the tribes are to be inscribed on twelve rods. The rod which produces blossoms denotes the tribal leader whom God approves. The one with blossoms is that of Aharon of the tribe of Levi.
Not only does the real leader need God’s endorsement; he must also have the capacity to produce results.
Korach is good at talking and rabble-rousing; Aharon is a worker and an achiever.