A Brief Thought on the Parsha: Korach and the Karaites

Karaite ideology can be traced back to Korach. Korach was a man who relied upon his own reasoning to defy Moshe, the symbol of the Oral Law. Korach’s logic might have had merit, but he failed in one key area: comporting with the mesorah.

Korach claimed that a cloth of all blue should be exempt from tzitzit. In bold fashion, he confronted Moshe with a mitzvah that had just been commanded and presented a logical argument to discount its true meaning.

Korach set the stage for the Karaite movement that created their own standard for interpreting G-d’s Torah. They took the Written Law at face value and ignored the Oral Law: the mesorah.

The Karaites “took” (vayikach) the Torah, as Torah is referred to as a kicha – “a taking” in evaluating the “korach” – bald spot, not requiring peyot and they “took” the Torah in terms of not having to wear tefillin on the arm and head, based on logical considerations. 

The proper kind of “taking” is found in next week’s parsha: Chukat. Chukat has a built-in remez to the beauty of the Torah. The verse says, “Zot chukat haTorah... v’yikchu eleicha para aduma temima asher ein ba mum, asher lo ala aleha ol.” We find kicha in the verse which is symbolic of the Torah. Because we are discussing Torah, the verse logically says it’s tamim, complete, a reference to the Torah as well which is “temima.” It’s so tamim that it has no “mum” - blemish - it’s perfection. And the Torah of perfection has no “ol” - yoke on it. For it is man that accepts the yoke of Heaven upon him, but the Torah in its purest form has no yoke or encumbrance on it.

Is it any coincidence then that the Karaites misinterpret the laws of the para adumah? They believe even today that waters can be used to purify, as tumah still exists. They don’t require the existence of a Temple to trigger laws of tumah and tahara as they believe the washing was done even before the Temple existed. Their interpretations were impure.

Korach planted the seeds for the Karaites who applied corrupt interpretations to the Torah. Though the greatest gift we have been given is to deduct sevaras and postulate chiddushim from the body of Torah to reach deep understandings, this analysis can never infringe on torat Moshe that demands a symbiotic relationship between the Written and Oral law.