Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Korach
To dedicate this lesson



Rabbi Berel Wein

The Mishna teaches us that there is an opinion that the "mouth of the earth" that opened to swallow Korach and his group was created from the beginning of time. The idea here is that not only was this miracle built into nature itself to become operative at the right time and place but that the sin and rebellion that occasioned this disastrous phenomenon also is built into human nature from time immemorial. Jealousy, the thrust for power at all costs, demagoguery and false piety are the stuff of our lives, certainly of our political and public lives. The rabbis stated that all humans feel "burned" by the honor, place and position afforded to others. This is true the rabbis teach us even in the world to come! We resent the success of others especially if we feel that we are much more deserving of that honor and success. Hitler was able to rouse the German people to terrible acts of war and bestial murder of innocents on the basis of jealousy, hatred and the feeling of deep resentment engendered in Germany by the results of World War I and the subsequent Versailles treaty. People feel cheated when they do not feel that they are receiving their just do even if they are wrong in what they feel entitled to. That resentment can fester and lead to disastrous consequences as we see in this week’s parsha. The rage that Korach feels at being slighted as not being chosen for the priesthood and other honors finally boils over in his attack against Moshe and Aharon. And in the midst of a complaining, despondent and rebellious people he finds ready allies for his confrontation with Moshe.

The key to avoiding this pitfall (no pun intended) is the avoidance of arrogance and hubris - in short, humility. Maimonides abhors extremism in anything in life yet he states that when it comes to humility extremism is permitted and in fact desired. Someone who trains one’s self in humility can ignore slights and insults, intended or unintended, and develops a strong self-image that can easily discount the apparent unfairness of reward and punishment in this world. Korach complains out of weakness of his character and not out of true strength and belief in himself or in his alleged cause. Korach attempts to lower Moshe to his own level and refuses to try to raise himself to Moshe’s level. He willingly associates himself with known negative characters and troublemakers in order to buttress his own ego. So the contest devolves into the struggle between Korach’s arrogance and hubris against Moshe’s abject unequaled humility. In such contests throughout human and Jewish history the unlikely victor is always humility and those who practice it. That is the meaning of the words of the rabbis that from the pit of Korach’s demise emanates a sound that declares Moshe and his Torah to be true. Korach’s tragedy is repeated in every generation. But we should not forget that so is Moshe’s triumph.
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