Korach 5778 – Why Did Korach Lose Our Love? Or, did he deserve it

By: James Rosenberg

There is little love lost for Korach. Sure, there haves always been kvetchers and complainers, people or groups who, for one reason or another were dissatisfied with the established order and were not shy in coming forth and airing their views. We have all experienced them.

But for the first time since the Exodus, opposition to Moses had crystallized around a distinct individual. For the first time, the rebels and plotters had a figurehead behind whom they could coalesce.

Make no mistake, Korach died a horrible death, his followers were exterminated and the rebellion was crushed, leaving scholars and writers for the ensuing three millennia with nothing to do other than join the hit parade and compete in a character assassination of Korach.

Who would be willing to speak up in his defense?

Just Google the name, and in 0.44 of a second you too will agree that it is difficult to find anything positive about the man among the 659,000 references found when I did the search.

Korach was greedy, Korach was jealous. Korach was underhanded, Korach was a megalomaniac. Korach was a rabble-rouser intent on world domination. Wow, talk about a victim of BAD Press;

HE and the President… NO, we won’t go there.

OK – How about Korach the seeker of spiritual enlightenment?

Impossible you say; this was a man who attacked Moses, and by extension challenged G‑d. Who could possibly be willing to speak up in his defense?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe.

In an inspirational essay, the Rebbe suggests that though we may question Korach’s methods and means, there is still much to be admired about his purpose. After all, what did Korach demand – but an opportunity to try out for the position of High Priest?    Was Korach misunderstood?

This may indeed look like an instance of naked ambition, but from a more subtle perspective, couldn’t this just be an example of a man trying to connect with G‑d? Sure, his plan went South when he allowed his reasonable desire for spirituality, to lead him into rebelling against Moses. But, there was nothing wrong with his ambition…

It should be the goal of every Jew to serve G‑d in the finest and most meaningful way possible.

 For me, this theory encapsulates the Rebbe’s unique perspective on humans and humanity. It takes no great brains or courage to join in kicking a man when he is down, And, there does not seem to be a lot of folks out there, actively seeking the opportunity to help people rise again.

From the Rebbe’s viewpoint very, very few people are truly evil or irredeemable. No one is beyond the pale without positive characteristics. The trick is to focus on that which is valuable about a person, building them up in their own eyes, and in the estimation of others, and using that as a platform from which to construct a new world order.

The Rebbe sent his followers out onto the streets to help educate and rescue our lost brothers and sisters not out a sense of duty, or pity, or even compassion, but because he honestly treasured every single Jew and the unique facet of brilliance that every single one of us brings to our national jewel.

The Rebbe’s revolutionary insight on the story of Korach’s insurrection, and the positive spin he put on Korach’s motivations for rebelling, were nothing short of insightful, almost GOD-like.

According to the Rebbe, when Korach challenged Aaron’s right to be appointed High Priest, and demanded his own chance at glory, it was more than a self-serving desire to attack the established order. This was a laudable, though misguided, attempt to connect to G‑d and serve Him in a most spiritually complete way. Korach’s mistake was the method he chose to access G‑dliness, not his aspirations.

If the Rebbe’s premise is correct, and Korach’s original motivation was pure – what else was Korach supposed to do? If a man wants to become the High Priest, and there’s another person currently filling the role, then what choice does he have but to challenge the incumbent for the job?

What indeed was Korach supposed to do? And if his intentions were pure, why did he receive a punishment? The punishment would seem to indicate that it is better to sit back quietly and play whatever role you’ve been assigned, without aspiring for advancement.

In other words, you don’t have to dress like a High Priest or be publically appointed to the role for G‑d to consider you a High Priest. Holiness is a state of mind, not a job description. If you decided right now to dedicate your heart, soul, mind and being to serving G‑d, then your efforts are just as precious in G‑d’s eyes as any woman or man who has ever lived.

Korach could have achieved his goal of accessing spirituality by doing his job to the best of his ability; he didn’t need to challenge Aaron for the title.

Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum suggests that the above leads to a different perspective on the Rebbe’s influence on the world. One of the most often quoted descriptions about the Rebbe was a line that Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks came out with immediately after the Rebbe’s passing: “Many people mistakenly assumed that the Rebbe was interested in creating followers,” observed Rabbi Sacks, “however the Rebbe, as a truly great leader, was more interested in creating leaders.”

It’s thought that the Rebbe wanted each of us to achieve greatness wherever we found ourselves, and by living life to the fullest and bringing spirituality into every moment of the day and into every role we are called upon to fill.

The Rebbe wanted us, individually and collectively, to connect to G‑d. He learned incredible life lessons from every encounter and inspires us to do the same.

Don’t be a leader. Don’t be a follower. Don’t be a Korach or a Moshe. It’s not about the uniform or the title. It’s about being yourself and doing that job to the best of your ability. There can be no higher role than the one you’ve been tapped to play; and, by dedicating yourself to G‑d you’ll be sanctified forever.

I have to thank Rabbi Elisha Greenbaum for much of the inspiration that allowed me to share this D’var Torah with you today. Rabbi Greenbaum leads a Congregation in Victoria Australia.

And, before I surrender the bimah…
THIS Shabbat marks the 24th Anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson of righteous memory. I am not a follower of the Rebbe; however, I do turn to him periodically for guidance.

Shabbat Shalom.