The Torah describes a disturbing episode that occurred while the Jews were traveling in the desert.
Korach, a man from a prestigious Levite family took issue with his cousin Moshe, claiming that Moshe had appointed his brother Aaron as the high priest on his own volition, not by the command of G-d.
Korach wanted the position of High Priesthood for himself, but since it would have been too obvious that he was vying for his own honor, he convinced 250 respected men from the tribe of Reuven, his neighbors, and laid his claim together with them.
Korach challenged Moshe regarding two Mitzvos.
The Torah tells us that when one dons a four cornered garments he is required have knotted and tied Tzitzis/tassels on each of the corners. One of the strings of each tassel is dyed with Techailes, a specific blue color, if it is available. Our Sages explain that the blue dyed string has associative powers for one to connect to G-d’s Throne.
Korach took four cornered garments and dyed them completely Techailes/blue and asked Moshe if they required Tzitzis/tassels. Moshe responded, “Yes they do.” Korach mocked Moshe’s ruling saying, “If one blue string on the Tassel serves to remind us of G-d’s Heavenly throne, certainly a completely blue garment will remind us of G-d’s throne and should therefore not require any Tassels knotted on the corners.
Another question Korach asked Moshe was, “Is a Mezuzah required to be affixed to the door of a house filled with holy books?” Moshe responded, “Yes it does.” Korach mocked this as well, claiming, if a Mezuzah which has a few holy names of G-d serves as a reminder of G-d and protects a home, then certainly if there are holy books which have many names of G-d, they protect the home and it should not require a Mezuzah at the door.
Upon examining these two laws, we see that they both contain leniencies so Korach felt comfortable choosing them to push his agenda.
Biblically speaking, the Mitzvah of Tzitzis, to have tassels attached to a garment, is only if one desires to don a four cornered garment; one is not required to wear a four cornered garment. Never-the-less, as we know, we specifically wear four cornered garments; the large Talis during prayers, and the smaller pair of Tzitzis which we wear throughout the day.
Korach felt that since one is not necessarily required to wear a four cornered garment which had the Techailes blue string, then if the entire four cornered garment was Techailes blue it already accomplishes the purpose of reminding the person of G-d’s throne and would not require the Tassels and a single strand that is dyed blue.
The same is in regards to Mezuzah. The law is that a Shul and Torah study hall is exempt from a Mezzuzah, (however now we do affix a Mezzuzah to a Shul but without a blessing). Korach tried to equate one’s home which has holy books to a Shul, and therefore argued that it would not require a Mezzuzah.
Both of Korach’s questions were cleverly crafted because there was a certain convincing logic to support his claim and left room for him to mock and discredit Moshe’s opinion. This would draw support for his erroneous claim from his family and the 250 men.
My uncle, Rabbi Moshe Saks o.b.m., explained that in both cases, Moshe’s answer to Korach was he was missing the point of keeping mitzvos. When the Torah requires one to do something in a specific fashion, this is the prescription for how one connects spiritually to the Almighty. It cannot be accomplished any other way, even if one thinks it is a more logical way to connect to G-d.
Korach’s argument was that having more of the blue color in a garment or having many holy books in the home is a bigger and more grandiose way of connecting to the Almighty. His personal interest and agenda to discredit Moshe got in the way, preventing him from understanding that this was not the way G-d wants the Mitzvah to be performed.
The Torah relates that Moshe tried to reason with Korach, but when he saw that his words were falling upon deaf ears, Moshe warned Korach that if he would be proven wrong he would die in a spectacular way. Korach defiantly mocked this as well. The Torah relates that the earth opened up and swallowed him and his family into the ground.
Our Sages tell us that during the event, Korach’s two sons repented and were spared. What gave them the capability to repent? Our Sages tell us that at a particular point during Korach’s rebellion, Moshe approached Korach to amicably discuss the issues, but Korach defiantly refused to meet him. However, when Korach’s sons saw Moshe approaching they stood up in reverence to him. That gesture of respect to Moshe, G-d’s loyal representative to teach Torah to the Nation, stood them in good stead and served to save them at that critical moment when they hovered between life and death!