Korach rebels. God gets angry and threatens to annihilate everyone except Moses and Aaron. They fall on their faces in protest, saying, “God, God of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin, and will you be angry with the entire congregation?” (Numbers 16:22)
It’s a reasonable question. True, Korach seems to have succeeded in seducing the congregation to follow his lead, but nevertheless he is the sole instigator. Why should all be accountable for the error of one?
The Midrash compares this situation to descending into a “garden of nuts.” (Song of Songs 6:11): Just as a stack of nuts would be destabilized by the removal of a single well placed nut, so it is with the Jewish people; when one is smitten, we all feel the pain. Korach was a bad nut, removing him upsets the stack, but only because the stack is dependent upon him, and not the other way around. Korach instigated; but the people allowed themselves to be instigated.
The happy converse of being a congregation or garden “of nuts” is that error may be neutralized through nonconformance. The author of the Kuzari, Yehudah HaLevi, theorized that the rationale behind the requirement of a minyan (a quorum of 10 for Jewish prayer), is that no one person is likely to produce a pure, perfect prayer. By joining together, the correct prayer of some will compensate for the omissions and errors of others. When each “nut” makes an individual best effort, and resists merely going along with the rest, the service may sound nutty. But add them all together and God gets to hear at least one good prayer.
Rabbi Mitch Levine