With Privilege, Responsibility – Korah 5779

D'var Torah | Numbers

One of the most enlightening verses in the entire Bible on the connection between preferential treatment and responsibility appears in the Book of Amos. The prophet speaks of the chosen-ness of the people Israel relaying the word of God Who is reported as saying “You alone have I singled out of all the families of the earth” (Amos 3:2). Had the verse ended here it would serve as a declaration of Israel’s exceptionality that, presumably, would entail special latitude. But the verse goes on to add: “therefore I will call you account for all your iniquities.” Professor Robert Gordis once called this the most important “therefore” in the Bible. The prophet has God remarking that because the Israelites are chosen they are held to greater account. With special standing comes increased responsibility, never less.


The Torah anticipated the message in this prophecy. After the Great Rebellion by Korah and his followers, God speaks directly to Aaron. In and of itself a direct communication between God and Aaron is exceptional. Only twice in the entire Torah does this occur: three times here in Numbers 18 and once in Leviticus 10:8 after the death of Aaron’s two oldest sons. But the wording here is strange. God says that Aaron and his sons “shall bear the iniquity of the sanctuary” (18:1). What iniquity could there be? Aaron was vindicated and Korah and his sons were punished (Numbers 16:30-35; Aaron is further vindicated by receiving personal revelation from God). Rather, the word “avon” in Hebrew, “iniquity” in English, does not refer to a sin previously committed. Rather, it is a warning for the future: failure to live up to the responsibility of guarding the sanctity of the sanctuary will result in iniquity.


In other words, Aaron and his sons are given exclusive oversight over the sanctuary. While their oversight is a privilege, it also comes with supreme responsibility. That responsibility must be taken seriously. Aaron and his descendants will be held accountable for their actions. Should they be remiss in their custodial responsibilities they will not be given a pass.


How much better off the world would be if all those in positions of prestige understand that with power comes accountability.


Words to Live By

What lies behind you and what lies ahead of you pales in comparison to what lies inside you.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Rabbi Allen on Twitter