The Temple Institute: Temple Talk: Tammuz 3, 5769/June 25, 2009

Korach: The Man Who Wanted it All

Korach had it all: He was fabulously wealthy, highly intelligent, he had been to the finest schools, he was impressively handsome, charismatic, a mesmerizing speaker and a mover of men. Korach was a scion of the tribe a Levi, counted amongst the distinguished leaders of the fabled Kohati clan, whose Levitical responsibilities included the most prized of tasks: the transport and placement of the Ark of the Covenant, the golden ark which contained the tablets of the law which Moses brought down from Sinai, in the Holy of Holies.

Korach had it all, but he wanted more. The Midrash teaches that it was his Lady Macbeth-like wife, driven by ambition, who egged him on to open rebellion. But he no doubt would have easily rebuffed her provocations had his own passions not already been enflamed. Korach wanted the one thing he didn't have - the priesthood. Not only was it the one thing he didn't have, but it was the one thing that Korach's wealth, intelligence, good looks and charisma could never obtain. For the priesthood was granted not to Korach, but to his cousin Aharon, and his descendants, by no less an authority than G-d Himself.

Therefore, Korach's rebellion wasn't merely against the authority of Moses, or against the privilege of Aharon. Korach's rebellion was against the G-d of Israel. As our sages point out, one cannot rebel against the authority of the G-d of Israel without ultimately denying creation itself. Little wonder, then, that Korach's punishment was nothing less than an aberration from our normal expectations of how the created world works, when the earth opened up and swallowed both Korach and his band of rebels, whole. Again, our sages have noted that the very "mouth of the earth" that swallowed Korach up was created especially for this one task, in the twilight hours of the sixth day of creation. Did Korach really think that he was something new, something special, unanticipated by G-d since the beginning of time?

Korach truly did lack something, but it wasn't the coveted priesthood. Korach lacked all the qualities that Moses and Aharon possessed: humility, deference to others, obedience to G-d. It was these qualities that enabled Moses to quickly counter the growing uprising, divide the rebels, and readily despatch of Korach himself. If Korach felt he could engage Moses in a battle of ego and prestige, enticing Moses into playing according to the rules which he, Korach, could best manipulate, he was dead wrong.

Korach, whose name has become a byword for squandered potential, nevertheless, provides for us an invaluable lesson as to what transpires when one allows for vanity to be his guide. But it is Moses, who once again, steers his people safely clear of the snares of demagoguery, and the base instincts to which silver-tongued divisive speech leads. Humble, soft-spoken, "heavy-tongued" Moses, the ultimate shepherd, sensitive and open to every individual appeal, (see Numbers 9:6, 27:1), knew a beast of prey when he saw one, and acted quickly to diffuse the danger. Many try to take the reins, but it is Moses who leads the children of Israel: "Happy is the people that is in such a case. Yea, happy is the people whose G-d is HaShem." (Psalms 144:15)

Tune in to the week's TEMPLE TALK as Rabbi Chaim Richman and Yitzchak Reuven discuss Korach, a man destined for greatness, who could have been remembered as a righteous individual, but his vanity and his materialism got the best of him. Who was Korach and what was his real problem? Why did he attack Moshe and Aharon and make ridiculous, baseless claims against them? Also, the new month of Tammuz, what it has to do with Korach, and a Rosh Chodesh lesson from the great Rebbe Nachman for us all to take home and apply.

Part 1
Part 2