By Rav David Silverberg
The Gemara in Masekhet Sanhedrin (110a) tells, startlingly, that during the time of Korach’s uprising against Moshe, the married men of Benei Yisrael suspected Moshe of violating their wives, and they even went so far as to warn their wives not to be found going into seclusion with Moshe. Whereas the Torah speaks only of Korach and his followers challenging Moshe and Aharon’s rights to their respective positions of leadership, the Gemara relates that the story was even uglier, as the people accused Moshe of regularly committing adultery with the nation’s women.
On the surface, the Gemara’s comment simply demonstrates the extent to which people will go in their effort to besmirch and defame their rivals, or those against whom they have grievances. The charge of Moshe’s sexual misdeeds was baseless, but this is how far Korach was prepared to go in his campaign to overthrow Moshe by arousing the people’s mistrust.
There may, however, be a deeper, allegorical meaning of the Gemara’s comment. Perhaps, the Gemara refers here to the people’s objection to what they perceived as Moshe’s infiltration into their private lives. The Torah’s laws govern every aspect of our lives, including our professions, social activities, finances, and family relationships. The charge that Moshe violated the nation’s women may allegorically refer to the alleged “invasiveness” of Torah law. The people claimed that they felt “violated” by the Torah’s presence in their most personal, intimate affairs, by its restricting their conduct even in the most private areas of their lives.
This claim comes into clearer focus when we consider the fact that Korach and his followers approached Moshe to demand the rights of the priesthood. They argued that the Torah imposed itself upon their private lives, where they felt it did not belong, instead of obligating them in the public, formal setting of the Mishkan. They wanted a system of laws and obligations involving formal ceremony and ritual, but not one which dictated the way they conducted their personal affairs.
Of course, this objection was fundamentally mistaken. The Torah is observed primarily in our ordinary, day-to-day affairs, and only secondarily in the “Mishkan,” in formal settings such as the synagogue and the like. We show our devotion to God by conducting all our affairs, both private and public, in subservience to His will. Far from “violating” our privacy, the Torah’s presence in our personal lives elevates and enhances them, transforming our ordinary, mundane activities into acts of holiness. Whereas Korach’s followers argued that their private lives should remain “off-limits” to religious laws and principles, we believe that to the contrary, religious laws and ideals are specifically intended to uplift and refine our private lives, infusing them with meaning, dignity and sanctity.
Originally appears on VBM