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Korach: Accepting Torah Leadership

ויקח קרח בן יצהר בן קהת בן לוי...

“And Korach son of Yitzhar son of Kehas son of Levi took…” (Bamidbar 16:1)

The Torah states Korach’s lineage yet stops short of completing the family chain and linking him to Yakov. “Why doesn’t the Torah say ‘son of Yakov’?” asks Rashi. “Because Yakov prayed that his name should not be mentioned in connection with Korach’s uprising.”

Let us understand; what difference does it make to Yakov if his name is mentioned as Korach’s grandfather or not? Korach still remains his grandson and nothing can change that.

There is an interesting Midrash on this Parsha: “What did Korach see that brought him to oppose Moshe? He saw the commandment of the Para Aduma (Red Heifer).” What is the connection between the Red Heifer and Korach’s rebellion?

We can understand this Midrash with the following insight: Each person has within him a holy neshama, a spark of Hashem, which draws him upwards and elevates him. On the other hand, he also has an animalistic spirit which pulls him in the other direction. This is why a person has base desires and bad midos which do not stem from his pure neshama. Our life’s work is to strengthen our neshamos over our bodies and subdue our animalistic inclinations, so that even the animalistic part within us should accept Hashem’s sovereignty.

This can be compared to a person who owns an animal, such as an ox. If he doesn’t guard his animal well the beast may run loose and damage other people’s property, or even harm someone. On the other hand, if the person controls his animal properly he can benefit greatly from its service; an ox that carries his master’s yoke can help plow his fields and enable him to prosper.

The same pertains to our animalistic side. If we control it properly and subdue it to the soul, then we can benefit from it. However, if a person allows his animalistic inclinations to “run loose” then he can degrade himself to the point of acting like an animal! Not only will he pursue dishonorable activities but he may cause tremendous damage to others; a wild animal on the loose can wreak havoc all over! Only if he restrains his animalistic side and places a yoke around his neck, subduing himself to his neshama, will he become truly elevated and reach his ultimate potential as a servant of Hashem.

Korach was a great tzaddik who reached very lofty levels in avodas Hashem. When he learned about the commandment of the Red Heifer, he began to wonder: Why did Hashem choose to use a heifer in order to purify those who have become impure? The way to achieve purity should have been through the influence of a tzaddik, not an animal, he reasoned. Not only that, but in order to qualify for ritual purposes the heifer was not allowed to ever have carried a burden or worn a yoke around her neck.

When he contemplated this issue, Korach came to the conclusion that the animal within us can be elevated spiritually even without it “carrying a yoke” – without subduing it and controlling it carefully. This brought him to throw off the yoke of Moshe. He had known until then that he must submit to the leader, but now he had a new slogan: “The entire congregation is holy!” We don’t need a leader, he argued. We are all holy and completely capable of serving Hashem without carrying the yoke of Moshe’s leadership. The red heifer can purify the spiritually impure even without it ever having borne a yoke – in fact, Hashem insists that it should never have carried a burden. So too, he concluded, we do not have to bear the yoke of Moshe’s leadership.

Korach failed to understand that Hashem revealed to Moshe the secrets of the mitzvah of Para Aduma, as it says: “To you [Moshe] I am revealing the reasons for the heifer, but for the others it will remain an unexplained law.” Hashem told Moshe why the Red Heifer must never have borne a yoke, but this commandment is not for others to understand or draw conclusions about.

This was Korach’s mistake, and this brought him to instigate an uprising against the leader of the Jewish people. He argued that there is no need to submit to our Torah leaders and listen to them. Why, all Jews are holy and wise! Everyone can trust his own judgment! The holy Baal Hatanya compares this to a body without a head. When the people sever themselves from their leaders, they become like a body that is detached of its head.

Yakov was the epitome of humility; his very name symbolizes humility, as it says (Mishlei 22:4) “Eikav – The edge of humility is fearing Hashem.” When a person is humble, like Yakov, then he can attain fear of Heaven and carry the yoke of Hashem on his shoulders. When a person submits himself to the wisdom and rulings of our Torah leaders, thereby practicing humility, then he can serve Hashem. On the other hand, if a person is arrogant and believes in his own wisdom, then he can cause tremendous damage to himself and to his entire generation.

This is why the Torah doesn’t mention Yakov when listing Korach’s ancestry. Yitzhar is from the root word tzohar, meaning light. Kehas can mean to gather people, and Levi connotes a strong connection to Hashem (from the root word meaning “accompanying”). “And Korach son of Yitzhar son of Kehas son of Levi took…” Korach was a tzaddik who achieved many lofty levels, including light, leadership, and connection with Hashem, but he fell short of achieving Yakov – humility. This is why the verse does not continue with the words: “son of Yakov.”

We must learn from this to accept the yoke of Heaven upon ourselves. Then we’ll be able to subdue our animalistic inclination and elevate our soul. Otherwise, the animal within us would be uncontrolled and wreak terrible damage, G-d forbid.

“Someone who takes upon himself the yoke of Torah is spared from having to bear the yoke of the kingdom and the yoke of earning a livelihood.” (Avos) Someone who submits himself to Hashem will be spared from dealing with other types of difficulties and hardships. The person who chooses wisely and carries the right burden will benefit in this world as well as in the world to come.


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