Korach - Altered Truths

In this week's parsha, we come across the unfortunate incident of Korach and his followers who questioned Moshe Rabbeinu's leadership and were swallowed up by the earth. What's interesting to note is that Korach wasn't the low-life we would expect him to be; in fact it was quite the opposite. The midrash tells us that Korach was as righteous as they come. In addition, the Arizal points out that a hint to Korach's name in the last letters of the line "Tzaddik k'tamar yihfrach". Korach was known as a scholar and righteous individual. So how is it possible that he could've sinned as he did? How could he have stooped so low?

The question, unfortunately, also arises nowadays. There have been certain situations which we've witnessed people of high stature, people who live their lives as models of the Torah communities, yet become embroiled in controversies and behavior which isn't befitting the lowliest members of our society. How could this be? How could people who seem to be so holy stoop so low?

I think we see from Korach's punishment a revelation to what his sin actually was. The midrash tells us that he approached Moshe with a sound and logical argument. He may have been slightly liberal in his ways, yet his desire for innovations to Judaism were logical and seemingly acceptable. The midrash tells us that if one were to travel to the exact place where the ground swallowed up Korach, he would still be able to hear the voices of Korach's followers emanating from the ground, calling out "Moshe emes, v'Toraso emes". We know that HaShem conducts this world with a pattern of "middah kneged middah". It reveals to us where Korach went wrong, that even though he sounded so logical, his arguments lacked the middah of emes. They lacked real unadulterated truth.

Rav Tzadok explains that Korach had come to such a high level that he couldn't find any Yetzer Hara in his heart. Yet even so he was still able to become jealous. So when he went to present his argument to Moshe Rabbeinu, even though it sounded so smart and well thought out, the root of it was his jealousy of Moshe and Aharon. The root of the desired change didn't come from a real position which was l'shem shamayim, it came from a feeling of inadequacy in his own role. It came from seeing Moshe and Aharon and thinking, "Why isn't that me?" It came from a lack of appreciating the situation and role which was given directly to him by the One above and instead choosing to focus on what he didn't have. That's why even though the change he wanted to instill sounded so logical it still lacked the middah of emes. It didn't come from a place of truth and desire to further the desire of HaShem, It came from a desire to further his own agenda and ideologies exterior to the emes.

The truth is, I never understood how certain denominations of Judaism understood the episode of Korach. Other denominations really base their belief system off of making innovations in Judaism to conform to societies standards. For example, in conservtive Judaism, the society as a whole decides which mitzvos to keep and which to push aside, primarily based on the relevance of that mitzvah to the times. In Reform, an individual can make that decision for himself without the consent of the community. Other denominations are basically the same. I never understood how they could conform their beliefs with the parsha of Korach, a parsha dedicated to transmitting of an attitude towards innovations which come from motives not necessarily taking into account the desire of HaShem.

To this end, I remember reading a somewhat disturbing dvar Torah last year from a Reconstructionist Jew. In truth, I'm not completely familiar with their belief system and their relationship with Torah Judaism. Nonetheless, the message of this particular dvar Torah was to be more like Korach. That he wasn't the misled figure the Orthodox Jews made him out to be; rather he was a scholar and revolutionary who was only destroyed because it wasn't the right time for his revolution. The piece posited that we need more people like Korach, more people who question the Sages and Torah dignitaries of each generation and people who change Judaism to conform with the changing times. 

My guess is that this piece was only written because to people who believe that the Torah is meant to teach us the correct way to live, the parsha of Korach needs an explanation. But to a realistic individual, the question has to be asked- Is this explanation coming from a place of truly trying to find out the desire of HaShem or has this person fallen into the same trap as Korach, ignoring the truth in place of something else which justifies a preconceived notion?

It’s very hard to make decisions while remaining objective. Our whole lives are set up in a subjective format. I hear, I think, I will. Everything comes from our own personal perception of the world. We see from Korach that to truly live a life of emes, a person needs to be constantly asking himself a different question- What does HaShem want me to do? We normally already know what we want to do and how we want to act. Our avodah is to make the ratzon of HaShem a reality within us to the extent that His will becomes our will. When seemingly great people fall, it isn't necessarily because they aren't generally righteous. Rather because they still live their lives with their own little voice dictating what they do. They still remain subjective. In this way, they lack a true connection to the middah of emes. The midrash says the seal of HaShem is emes.

For us to get in touch with that seal, to make it a part of ourselves is the only way we can truly be called emes-dik. When we change the way we make decisions from "What do I want?" to "What's the right thing to do?", only then can we act with a sense of emes and truly live the way we were intended to.

 
 

   Yacov Nordlicht