Former Shaliach in Greater Washington
When reading this week’s Parasha, it seems a very simple and easy Parasha to follow and understand. Am Israel sins, they are punished and things go back to normal. Seems like a very straight forward Parasha and a normal reoccurring theme in the Torah. But one must stop and look at the Parasha from a wider perspective in order to see all the events which occur in this Parasha.
When doing so, we see the sin of Korach – he gets punished along with his followers by being swallowed up by the earth. After this unnatural event, Am Israel sins again by blaming Moshe and Aaron for the death of Korach and his followers. They then get punished by a plague which kills a large number of people. Then, G-d proves again he chose Aaron to lead when Aaron’s staff bears fruits while the staffs of the rest of the leasers stay unchanged.
Although it’s a reoccurring theme in the Torah, it’s unusual that Am Israel sins three times, one after the other. One must ask himself how and why did this come about?
It seems very simple to understand what the sin of Korach and his followers was. They didn’t want to accept G-d’s decision and follow the leadership of Moshe and Aaron. But this answer seems to be too simple as we see that Am Israel needs to be proven of Hashem’s decision three times with so many deaths along the way. The Gaon, Rabbi Aaron Kotler gives a different and deeper answer. He says that the sin of Korach and his followers and of Am Israel originates from their desire to be closer to G-d and worship him.
At this point, Am Israel is on a very high level, and as Sforno explains: “holy from head to toe”. Am Israel was on such a high level intellectually and spiritually, they all desired to get closer to G-d and worship him. They all wanted and desired to be his humble servants. Until this point, the work in the Mishkan was given to the firstborns, but there was no punishment of death if it was done by others. When the work was given to the Cohanim, it caused the immediate distancing from the work and worship. They could not bare it, they wanted more.
So why go against Moshe and Aaron? Korach, his followers and Am Israel felt that if Moshe really wanted he could have changed this decision, the same way he changed the decision at the sin of the Golden Calf and the sin of the Meraglim. He could have convinced G-d not to take away what they were used to, what kept them on such a high level and closeness to Hashem.
But that was not the complete picture. If this was just it, and their complaints and requests came just from a pure and holy place, maybe their requests would have been justified, as this is a positive desire. But their sin was their pride. As Levites, they already had a higher level than the rest of Am Israel, they were closer to Hashem and had holier vocation. If they were humble and modest they would have accepted G-d’s decision, but their raised level and pride of it caused them to be jealous. Chazal tell us that Korach was jealous of Elitsafan Ben Uziel who was chosen to be the leader of the tribe. His pride made him believe that he should have been the leader, which led to the arguments, slander and deaths in our Parsha.
We see that although their desire to be closer to Hashem is positive, which could have raised their level of holiness. However, the fact that their desire was infected with selfish desires caused great mistakes that led to destruction and death. Before one complains and asks for things, he must look deep into himself to see whether his desire comes from a pure and objective place, or whether it comes from a personal and selfish desire.