What Went Wrong?

Korach and most of his 250 men were far from ordinary rebels. The Ari Hakadosh reveals to us that Korach had a lofty soul and will serve as Kohen Gadol when Moshiach comes. So how did he make such a grievous error in judgment? What went so terribly wrong?

Harav Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky, zt”l, the Steipler Gaon, gives an insightful explanation that is extremely relevant to all of us in our day-to-day lives.

Chazal tell us that what led Korach to dispute Moshe Rabbeinu was his jealousy over the appointment of his first cousin, Elitzaphan ben Uziel, as Nasi of Shevet Levi. Korach felt that since his own father, Yitzhar, was older than Uziel, the position should have gone to him instead. What Korach failed to realize was that his desire for the position sufficed to disqualify him for it.

An individual in a position of leadership must approach his responsibilities with an unbiased, altruistic viewpoint. Otherwise, his actions will be influenced by his personal bias. Instead of acting solely for the good of the position, he will seek to further his own interests.

Ironically, Korach was well aware of just how repugnant his selfish pursuit of leadership was. He actually told Moshe Rabbeinu: “The entire assembly — all of them — are holy, and Hashem is among them, so why do you exalt yourselves over kehal Hashem?” Yet when it came to his own desire for honor, he actually started a rebellion over it!

One of the key arguments raised by Korach involved the mitzvos of tzitzis and mezuzah. Korach claimed that if a thread of techeiles sufficed for a whole garment, then an entire garment dyed with techeiles should be exempt. Similarly, he argued that if a mezuzah sufficed for an entire room, a room full of sefarim should certainly be exempt from the mitzvah of mezuzah.

Why was this argument faulty? Why does a garment that is made completely of techeiles need an additional thread? Why does a room full of sefarim need a mezuzah?

It is because the garment itself is not worn only for the mitzvah. There is also personal interest; it clothes and warms a person.

Chazal tell us that techeiles is the color of the Heavens, so that when one wears the tzitzis, he is reminded of the Kisei Hakavod. When the techeiles is a thread whose sole purpose is to fulfill a mitzvah, it does indeed remind us of Shamayim. But when the entire garment is made of techeiles, one will think of himself and his own comfort when he looks at it, rather than thinking of the Kisei Hakavod.

Similarly, a room full of sefarim can’t serve the purpose of a mezuzah. When one learns, he derives personal enjoyment from the sweetness of Torah. The mezuzah is put up only because of the mitzvah; no personal pleasure is derived from it.

The concept of a garment of techeiles is symbolic of the story of Korach.

Korach was possibly more talented than Elitzaphan and, as he argued, he was the son of an older brother. The fact that he “saw” that Shmuel Hanavi would descend from him indicates that he even had ruach hakodesh. But his desire for honor meant that he had a personal vested interest, one that made him unsuitable for leadership.

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We tend to look at others through lenses tinted by our own feelings. In many cases, we are so blinded by our desires that we fail to realize just how biased we really are.

One of the most potent dangers that face us as a people and as individuals is the grave sin of machlokes. We often express outrage at others who are engaged in machlokes, but when it comes to situations in which we are personally involved, we manage to come up with myriad reasons this battle is permissible, if not downright obligatory.

It is no surprise that two familiar characters, Dasan and Aviram, were integral to Korach’s rebellion. These two men had repeatedly stirred up trouble against Hakadosh Baruch Hu, and their vendetta against Moshe Rabbeinu was more than half a century old. Back in Mitzrayim, it was they who had maliciously informed on Moshe Rabbeinu, a mesirah that nearly cost him his life. Moshe miraculously escaped the executioner’s sword but was forced to flee for his life.

When Moshe Rabbeinu was sent back to Mitzrayim perhaps 50 years later to lead Bnei Yisrael out of exile, surely these two should have been left behind. But they followed the people out, and they never missed an opportunity to show ingratitude for their redemption. Now, as Dasan and Aviram helped lead Korach’s rebellion, Moshe actually went in person to their tents to try to dissuade them from their sinful path.

“From here we learn, ‘Ein machzikin b’machlokes — one should not persist in a machlokes,’” Chazal teach us. It appears that this directive has virtually no limits; even when an enemy has tried to kill you, and then has repeatedly risen against you, still, one should not persist in a machlokes!