Our Parsha deals with a full-blown disagreement and argument between Korach and our leader Moshe. Korach was offended because he was overlooked when Moshe chose a younger cousin to a prestigious position.
Of course, Moshe chose the younger cousin through the instruction of G-d, however, Korach couldn’t handle it. He became incensed and decided to target and doubt Moshe’s authority as G-d’s prophet to communicate His word.
This was a very serious matter, and Moshe saw that if it were left unaddressed, it would bring catastrophic consequences.
Moshe tried to sit down with Korach and discuss the matter, however, Korach refused to meet with him.
Surprisingly, Korach was not only able to convince his family to go along with him but he was also able to convince his neighbors as well.
Our Sages tell us that Korach was a very smart person, yet despite his intellect, he came up with complaints that certain laws were nonsensical. He presented them before Moshe and Moshe ruled by the book. Korach then made a mockery of his answer.
What happened to Korach? After all, he like the entire nation, witnessed Moshe’s Divinely inspired leadership. He led them in Egypt, as they traveled, at the Red Sea, at Mount Sinai and in his involvement in the creation of the Tabernacle. How did Korach’s thinking ‘go south’ so quickly?
An answer offered is that once Korach felt overlooked and took it personally, he decided to make a big deal over it and try to get his way by fighting with and disputing Moshe’s authority. Because he took this position he forfeited his logical intelligence.
The Mishna in Ethics of our Fathers refers to Korach as the prime example of one entering into a dispute without the consideration of G-d in the matter. Once G-d is not in the picture, things become obscure and the arguments become ridiculous.
I read a story of a couple that had marital strife, and the husband was not acting properly. The great and elderly Steipler Rav o.b.m. heard about it and sent a message for the husband to come speak with him. He ignored the request and the couple got divorced.
Some time later, someone came to the Steipler Rav to ask him information about this divorcee in reference to a Shiduch – dating a girl. Surprisingly, the Steipler Rav said that he is a very good person, just when he is involved in an argument, he loses himself. The person got remarried and it worked out well.
Although the Steipler Rav was personally offended by the person, he was able to disconnect from his personal affront and render clear judgement about the person.
We have our leader Moshe to follow as to how he handled the situation with Korach. As we mentioned, he personally went over and tried to clear things up with Korach. But Korach was stuck in his position and refused to meet him.
The Torah captures Korach’s response to Moshe’s call. Korach didn’t only say “No,” he said, “Lo Na’aleh – I will not ascend.” Our Sages tell us that from here we derive that the Temple and the High Court were on an elevated area.
Commentaries understand that an undercurrent of what Korach was saying was that he was not interested in ascending – in rising above the position and view that he set forth for himself. He was locked in and wasn’t interested in ascending and emerging out of the limited space he created for himself.
The Torah relates that Moshe presented terms to Korach and his cohorts to prove their position of wanting to be High Priests, by offering incense offerings at the Temple. Moshe’s brother Aaron, who G-d chose as Kohain Godol, was to offer one as well. Whoever was the true appointed one would survive and whoever was not appointed to the position would be consumed by fire and/or swallowed into the earth.
Aaron survived, and Korach and his family were swallowed into the ground and his cohorts were burned by a Heavenly fire. Thus, Moshe’s G-dly appointed authority was never contested again.
The aforementioned Mishna tells us that an argument that is for the sake of G-d, lives on, such as the disputes between the great sages, Hillel and Shamai.
Practically on every one of the 2711 pages of the Talmud, there are disputes between Sages. Each one states their position based on a verse, tradition or logic. To the bystander it seems confusing and without a solution, but for those who study the Talmud, it is a beautiful symphony, and a demanding exercise of studying and clarifying G-d’s ultimate gift of a living and vibrant Torah! It lives on, for each opinion is invested with the intent of clarifying and supporting the truth of Torah!