This week's portion is called "Korach". Korach was a Levite and a first-cousin to Aaron, as well as a very smart and insightful person. The rebellion he led followed the return and punishment of the spies, described in last week's reading. The spies were afraid to come into the land where physical mitzvot would become primary. They wished to remain in the desert and continue with their pure spiritual life: eating manna, being protected by the Clouds of Glory, drinking from the Well of Miriam and learning Torah all day. After it became clear that they were mistaken, and that it is imperative to perform physical mitzvot because that is the main purpose of life, Korach rose and said, "As long as the goal was Torah study, who can compare themselves to Moses, the receiver of the Torah. But now we are supposed to focus on active involvement in the world through fulfilling the commandments; in this we are all obligated equally and perform exactly the same actions, so why should they, Moses and Aaron, be above us?"

It may sound admirably altruistic and democratic, but the truth is that Korach himself wanted to be the High Priest, and that he challenged the authority of Moses and Aaron in order to attain his goal. In the end, a hole opened up and swallowed him and the 250 Jewish leaders he had influenced. The name of a Torah portion is always significant; since it is not always the first word, it is not arbitrary. The Lubavitcher Rebbe asks why a portion of the Torah be called after a person who set such a bad example? What is more, we say, "The name of evildoers should rot" (Proverbs 10:7) whereas naming a Torah portion after such a person immortalizes his name, the opposite of the intention of the verse! We have to assume there must be some benefit to naming the portion specifically after Korach, but what is it?

Each of our souls was brought into this physical world…so that we can overcome the difficulties…

While most of the portion is about the disastrous results of the rebellion, we are nevertheless touched by how tenacious and strong-willed Korach was to accomplish his goal and not give up on his dream. His desire to be the high priest is in itself something positive. Similarly, each of our souls was brought into this physical world - an environment where making mistakes is easily possible - solely so that we can overcome the difficulties and use our intelligence and free choice to best serve the Almighty. Each of us is expected to struggle towards the highest level of spiritual service we can attain. The lesson from the parasha, apart from the obvious of not making the mistakes Korach did, is to know ourselves and use the ability that G‑d granted us for the greatest good possible. We should want to be a high priest, against all odds.

Real wisdom…is learning from the mistakes of others as well as our own….

The name "Korach", in Hebrew, is made up of three letters: kuf, reish and chet. The Lubavitcher Rebbe shared an amazing insight: each of these three is similar to the letter hei, the second and fourth letter of G‑d's Ineffable Name (Havayah), yet the minor differences are powerfully significant. The letter hei is made up of three lines. The horizontal line and the vertical line on the right represent thought and speech, while the left vertical line represents action. In Korach's name, the first letter, kuf, has a long left leg that descends below the line; this hints at unwanted and unwarranted additional action, i.e. obsessive behavior, contradicting the prohibition not to add to G‑d's commands. The letter reish has no left leg at all; where there was supposed to be proper action, i.e., reconciliation and friendship, there was nothing. In the final letter, chet, the space between the left line and the right lines has been obliterated; this hints at an impulsive movement into action from thought and speech, without first considering Jewish law to ascertain if the action is appropriate or thinking through the consequences. Each of these three deficiencies contributed to Korach's dispute. Real wisdom, as I was taught, is learning from the mistakes of others as well as our own.

Shabbat Shalom, Shaul

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