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A Luminous Home

The Midrash known as Seder Olam states that the episode with Korach took place after the incident of the meraglim. This raises the question: Why did Korach initiate this argument specifically then?

Korach’s complaint was that all the power was being concentrated within Moshe’s family—Moshe was the leader, while Aharon was the kohen gadol. But Aharon had been appointed kohen gadol much earlier! He also complained that Elitzafan had been declared nasi of Kehas, but that too had happened at an earlier point! So why did he begin his dispute specifically after the story of the meraglim (i.e., after Tishah B’Av)?

Additionally, Korach’s entire argument seems flawed. He claimed that everyone was equal, and that Moshe and Aharon’s positions of power were without merit. Yet, at the same time, his supporters included 250 leaders who never offered to relinquish their positions! How can you disagree with the concept of leadership if you yourself are a leader, and are comfortable remaining one?!

We must say that Korach was opposed (not to leadership in general, but) specifically to the type of leadership characterized by Moshe and Aharon. What exactly was his position?

Korach’s Claim

Chassidus explains that the meraglim contended that only spirituality mattered. Although Eretz Yisroel offered more possibilities for doing practical mitzvos, it would be easier for them to focus their minds and hearts on Hashem in the desert, and they felt it was worth sacrificing mitzvos for the sake of spiritual accomplishments. The meraglim’s downfall highlighted that this view was incorrect: the ultimate goal is to actually perform mitzvos; kavanos without the actual mitzvah are worthless.

It was in the wake of that debacle that Korach demanded to know: If only practical mitzvos mattered, wasn’t everyone equal? Moshe and Aharon’s superiority lay only in the field of spiritual accomplishments, but not in the area of actual mitzvos! He argued that everyone was holy, and that “u’b’socham Hashem”—Hashem’s essence is found within mitzvos, which every Jew performs equally.

This is why he hadn’t offered resistance previously. Earlier, it was assumed that spirituality was paramount, and Moshe and Aharon’s advantage in this area was undisputed. But the meraglim’s mistake brought to light that action is what is most important. That being the case, “madua tisnas’u,” in which way are Moshe and Aharon superior?!

Two Types of Leaders

More specifically, there are various forms of “hisnas’us,” of lifting oneself above others, some of which Korach and his cohorts had no problem with. For example, even if action is predominant, there must be a knowledgeable Rov who can issue rulings. There’s always a need for some sort of leadership, even if it’s just in terms of dictating how to behave. To Korach, such leadership was understandable. But to have someone who is a tzaddik, who is above and beyond everyone else? This Korach felt had no place.

This is why Korach’s followers wished to preserve their own leadership, and they all wanted to serve as kohen gadol. They felt that the kehunah gedolah should be a technical position which could alternate between different qualified leaders. Why the need for a single kohen gadol who is above the rest, with a special connection to kedushah? All you needed was someone to do the avodah in the Mishkan, and for this purpose, any one of the 250 leaders was fit for the task! Aharon’s kehunah, however, was another form of hisnas’us altogether, and it was this type of leadership they could not accept.

There’s an even deeper meaning to their question: When Aharon lit the lamps of the menorah, an action the Torah describes as “elevating the flames,” he was simultaneously elevating the neshamah of every Jew, inspiring them to yearn for higher levels and to draw ever closer to Hashem. So they asked: “Madua tisnas’u,” what is the point of this elevation? Why is it important that a person fulfill a mitzvah with excitement and kavanah when all that matters is action? Why should a Jew strive to reach higher levels of spirituality?

Essence and Light

Moshe responded to their claims by saying: “Let morning come, and Hashem will notify who belongs to Him and who is holy, and He will bring him closer to Him.” It appears as if Moshe was simply responding to their suspicion that his and Aharon’s power were his own idea, proving it untrue through the test of ketores, which would demonstrate who was the one Hashem had chosen. But what was the actual flaw in Korach’s reasoning?

The clue can be found in Moshe’s reference to “boker,” the morning.

We know that Hashem desires a dirah, a place where He can dwell. How do we create this dirah? There are two components.

Let’s take an analogy from a human king. When he appears before a crowd, he must look beautiful and exude a royal appearance. However, this is not his true essence; his mode of dress must match the crowd’s idea of splendor, and is not who he truly is. His abode, however, is a place where he can simply be himself.

But then there is a second component to a dirah: it must be bright. Being oneself in the dark is not much of a dwelling; there must be light.

The dwelling place Hashem desires similarly consists of both elements.

One aspect of the dirah is that it must be a dwelling place for Hashem Himself, and this is accomplished specifically through practical mitzvos. A spiritual activity is limited to the capabilities of the person experiencing it, whereas mitzvos are where Hashem placed His essence, allowing Himself to be reached through them, and those are His quarters.

But additionally, there must be brightness. It’s true that we can access Hashem’s essence through wearing kosher tefillin, but does our mitzvah shine? Only if it’s done lishmah, for Hashem’s sake. A mitzvah without kavanah is like a body without a neshamah; without the right intentions, the mitzvah is soulless and doesn’t shine.

This is true for mitzvos but especially for Torah. If a person studies Torah and lacks the proper intention, it lacks brightness, but it’s possible for there to be a worse scenario: if he studies for an ulterior motive (for example, to receive honor), the Torah is in exile among the kelipos.

The Proper Balance

When Moshe mentioned “boker” he was alluding to the need for brightness. It’s true that it’s crucial to perform physical mitzvos in the most meticulous manner, and they are the way we access Hashem’s essence. However, we also need hisnas’us, to strive to elevate ourselves to greater spiritual levels, and that’s when it’s “boker,” Hashem’s dirah is bright.

The two parshiyos of Shelach and Korach teach us the proper balance in avodah. Some might contend that it is feelings that are most important, and although we must certainly perform mitzvos, the exact particulars don’t need to be emphasized that much. Parshas Shelach teaches us not to make the meraglim’s mistake, and that Hashem chose to be found in the physical.

Conversely, some might argue that only our actions matter, and that there’s no need to learn Chassidus and serve Hashem with the heart. “Saying the words of the siddur is enough,” they claim. “There’s no need to develop a feeling for what’s being said.”

Parshas Korach teaches us that this is incorrect. Saying the words of davening must be complemented by the avodah of davening. When both elements are combined, we create a dirah that is a dwelling place for Hashem’s essence, as well as being bathed in light.

For further learning see לקוטי שיחות חלק ד’ פרשת קרח.