| Korach

Im Bryiah Yivrah, But if the Lord creates a creation, and the earth opens its mouth, patzta et piha, and swallows them and all that is theirs, and they descend alive into the grave, you will know that these men have provoked the Lord” (Bamidbar 16:30). The death of Korach was not going to be a natural one. The notion of creating anew hearkens back to Breisheet and G-d's creation of the world. In fact, so unique is the concept of creation ex nihilo that the word barah, create, appears in only one other place in the Torah, upon the giving of the Torah – the moment which marked the purpose of creation.

Our Sages proclaim (Avot 5:5) that the “mouth of the earth” was “created” just as the process of creation was coming to an end and the first Shabbat, the day the earth must rest, was set to begin. Apparently, Korach's actions were an attack on creation itself, and ridding the world of Korach and his henchman was integral to the ongoing existence of the world.

It is not only the theme of creation which links Korach to Breisheet. “Now you [Cain] are cursed from the earth that, patzta et piha, opened its mouth to take your brother's blood” (Breisheet 4:11). The term ‘pazta hadamah et piha'–the earth opened its mouth–appears in the chumash only in relation to Cain’s killing of his brother Hevel and the attempted coup by Korach.

Interestingly, both Hevel and Moshe are described as roeh tzohn, as shepherds. And Cain, the oved adama, the one who worked the earth, is cursed through the earth: “when you work the land it will no longer give you its strength” (Breisheet 4:11). Clearly, the Torah wants us to connect these two stories.

“Jealousy, lust, and honour remove a man from this world” (Avot 4:21). Cain and Korach, both desirous of honour and full of jealousy towards those who were chosen in their stead, epitomize this concept. While the Torah does not say so explicitly, it appears that their grievances were further fueled by the fact that it was their younger relatives who superseded them. Korach, already smarting from the fact that his two cousins Moshe and Aharon had “usurped” power for themselves, was incensed when his younger cousin Elizafan ben Uziel was appointed head of the Kehat family (see Rashi on 16:1). Cain and Korach sought personal acceptance and glory, whereas true leadership is exemplified when one is willing to sacrifice one's self and seeks only the glory of the community.

Our Sages teach that Korach attacked the mitzvah of tzitzit[1]. Tzitzit are meant to ensure that we “do not follow your heart and eyes in your lustful urge” (Bamidbar 15:39). As Rashi points out: “the eyes see, the heart desires and the body commits sin.” Korach and his ilk are not willing to accept any form of limitations. We see, we like, and we do. This too has its roots in Breisheet and the “original” sin in the Garden of Eden. “The woman saw that the tree was good for eating and a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable as a source of wisdom, she took of its fruit and ate” (Breisheet 3:6).

“It is not good for man to be alone.” This proclamation by G-d Himself is not just true of the husband-wife relationship but reflects man's needs for partnering. Oh chevruta oh mituta, give me a friend or give me death, proclaims the Talmud (Taanit 23a). Yet that same need for companionship can drive man to seek dominion over his peers, seeking power, honour, and to make a name for himself. The ability to create meaningful relations with others is what gives life meaning and purpose.

The notion of uprooting personal jealousies is rooted in creation. Our Rabbis note that the moon was made second fiddle to the sun due to its unwillingness to share the skies with the sun. "They were created of equal size, but that of the moon was diminished because she complained and said, 'It is impossible for two kings to make use of one crown'” (Rashi, Breisheet 1:16). 

The process of the Egyptian exile began with G-d's command to sanctify the moon, to rectify that sin of jealousy. This command was given to Moshe and Aharon as a team; redemption can occur only when personal aspirations are cast aside for the benefit of the community.

“You shall not be like Korach and his congregation” (Bamidbar 17:5). Korach, the Rabbis note, was “a very bright man”. Tragically, instead of using his talents to make a positive creative mark on this world, he followed in the path of Cain. While Cain was destined to be “cursed from the earth” Korach, who learned nothing from the events of the past, was to be swallowed up by that same earth.

Korach and Cain before him, thought that it was they who were the centre of the world. We are but mere dust – “you will return to the ground, for it was from the ground that you were taken. You are dust and to dust you shall return” (Breisheet 3:19). If we can keep that fundamental fact of creation in our minds, we will merit to emulate Moshe, the greatest of leaders who was “very humble, more so than any man on the face of the earth”.

[1] This is likely due to the juxtaposition of the mitzvah of tzitzit and Korach’s rebellion.