Korach – The Three B’s of Religious Life

Behavior, Belief, and Belonging are seen amongst theorists as the three core and interrelated elements of religious life, otherwise known as the three B’s. They are manifest in the emphasis we put on Mitzvah observance - Behavior, on our principled Emunah - Belief, and our sense of community and connection with Klal Yisrael - Belonging. How do these three elements interrelate?

Kol Yisrael yesh lahem cheilek l’Olam Habah. “All of Israel have a portion in the world to come (Sanhedrin 10:1).” The exceptions to this rule include those who fail in two of our three categories: one who is deficient in Belief - the heretic who denies G-d and Torah, and one who lacks Belonging, the isolated who deny themselves community. As Rambam (Hilchos Teshuva 3:11) wrote: “A person who withdraws from the community, even though he has not transgressed any sins, as he has separated himself from the congregation of Israel and does not fulfill mitzvot together with them, does not take part in their hardships, or join in their [communal] fasts, but rather goes on his own individual path as if he is from another nation and not [Israel], does not have a portion in the world to come.”

On the other hand, Rav Soloveitchik and others have noted the correlation of all three categories in the Haggadah’s response to the wicked son. “Ul’fi she’hotzi es atzmo min haklal, kafar ba’Ikar.” As he sits on the sidelines watching others participate in the Pesach observance - Behavior - we equate his withdrawal from the community of practice – Belonging - as tantamount to heresy - Belief.

Our Parsha’s story of Korach offers another angle on that correlation. Korach is the consummate heretic, denying the veracity of the prophesy of Moshe. That denial moved him to separate from normative Jewish practice in basic areas such as tzitzis and mezuzah (see Tanchuma Korach 2). Yet, Korach is most strongly identified by his divisiveness, his readiness to sow discord amongst and to separate from the Jewish people.

Though it is difficult to identify one of the three B’s as the most basic, their relationship clearly underscores how our faith and observance are bound up with our commitment to community. Torah beliefs and practice are the glue of community, and the nurturing framework of community provides critical support to our system of belief and practice. And while over the last two centuries debates have raged as to whether the Jews constitute a nation or a religion, the tragic story of Korach demonstrates that this is a false binary, and that in truth – as Rav Saadya Gaon famously expressed, “ein Yisrael umah ela baTorah,” our national identity and belonging is inextricably tied to the beliefs and behaviors contained in the Torah.