This week’s Parasha, Parashat Korah features a showdown between Korah and Aharon HaKohen. Korah accuses Moshe Rabbenu of seeming nepotism and unfair distribution of leadership. He explains how Aharon and the Kohanim have taken over in the form of a dynasty, not leaving room for others to serve HaShem on that rank. After Moshe Rabbenu suggests a duel between Korah (and his men) and Aharon in offering ketoret (incense), the ground opens up consuming Korah, his wife, his children (who in the courts of heaven and earth are not deserving of punishment) and all their possessions. Benei Yisrael are warned not to even go near anything associated with Korah or to touch their possessions. Following this ground-breaking event (literally), a plague sweeps over Benei Yisrael taking 14,700 neshamot (souls) with it. One may ask themselves, why such a harsh punishment? What did Korah do that he and his entire family should be not only isolated but literally obliterated from this earth? Was he not simply asking to serve Hakadosh Barukh Hu in the highest form possible?! Korah had a valid point!
To understand the graveness of Korah’s sin, we can begin by juxtaposing his personality to that of Aharon. Aharon was known to be ohev shalom ve’rodef shalom, loving and seeking peace between friends and between husband and wife. His warmth was felt by everybody who approached him and by all those he approached. This was the exact characteristic which qualified him to become not only a Kohen, not only a Kohen Gadol, but the first Kohen Gadol, the one who would set precedence for the rest of the Kohanim for generations to come. From Aharon we learn to establish peace among ourselves.
Korah resembles the opposing extreme. Korah came to cause mahloket, division, among Benei Yisrael. When he approached Moshe, he was not actually interested in gaining status in order to serve HaShem; he wanted to gain control and prove who really should be sovereign. Korah tried to undermine Bnei Yisrael’s prime authority; he didn’t want to JOIN it, he wanted to BEAT it! This is the difference between Aharon and Korah; while one worked to bring Klal Yisrael, the other attempted to only tear it apart. This is why HaShem had Aharon and Korah face each other in dispute; to show who is truly deserving of authority- one who brings shalom, peace, to the people around him or her. Aharon, who embodies peace and love, is seen later on in the Parasha to have his staff blossom into almonds overnight from all the other staffs of the leaders of the Shevatim (tribes). Additonally, in this very Parasha, HaKadosh Barukh Hu gives the first and best of the animals and crop to the Kohanim. The offerings brought to HaShem go to straight the Kohanim; HaShem, gives it to them from His own. HaShem tells them that the land they will dwell in is not their inheritance, instead HaShem HIMSELF is their inheritance and he will provide for them.
This same ground that brings Aharon and the Kohanim their sustenance also swallows Korah and his followers. We can now begin to understand why Korah’s punishment was so severe. Korah did not do things in the name of HaShem, he didn’t do thing leshem shamayim. He didn’t do things to glorify HaShem’s name, nor did he exactly promote peace between members of Am Yisrael. He wanted to climb the hierarchy because of a personal vendetta and for his own prestige, not for the sake of serving Hashem. He brought forth destruction and division thus deserving to be treated as such. A person who acts like Korah doesn’t only deserve to die but his legacy is also to be obliterated; all traces of his family and inheritance were eliminated from this world never to be seen again.
We learn that no matter what level we are on, whether we are a Kohen, Levi , or Yisrael, we can serve Hakadosh Baruch Hu, to our fullest potential as long as its leshem shamayim, for the sake of glorifying the name of HaShem and promoting peace where we tread foot. May we always have the Koah to be like Aharon HaKohen and in his Zekhut to always have shalom, peace in our relationships with others and of course, with HaShem.
Wishing everybody a Shabbat Shalom u’Mevorakh!