Korach the son of Yitzhar... assembled against Moses and against Aaron...”

-Korach 16:1-3

This parshah raises an obvious question: How is it that an entire portion of G‑d’s Torah is named after a person like Korach? Korach, after all, was a wicked man who failed to repent even before his death. Scripture says, “The name of the wicked shall rot” (Proverbs 10:17), and our sages interpret this to mean that one is not to mention the names of the wicked. Yet here we find the name of Korach commemorated by the Torah for all generations by having a whole parshah called by his name! We must conclude, then, that Korach must have had some special virtue.

When considering the story of Korach’s rebellion, we see that he was motivated by envy of Aaron’s position. Aaron was the High Priest, and Korach was only a Levite. Korach wanted to be High Priest, as it is said, “and you seek the priesthood also” (Korach 16:10; and see Rashi on 16:6, that he demanded the High Priesthood). He wanted to be more than the average Jew or even a Levite. He sought the level of High Priest, of whom it is said, “Aaron was separated to be sanctified as holy of holies... to offer before G‑d, to minister unto Him, and to bless in His Name forever” (I Chronicles 23:13).

The very desire to become High Priest demonstrates a noble aspiration on the part of Korach. In other words, he was a man of lofty and holy aspirations for spiritual accomplishments. This aspect certainly serves as a model for us to emulate.

Moreover, Chassidism explains Korach’s rebellion in context of the future redemption. In the prophecies of Ezekiel dealing with the Messianic era there is a puzzling expression: “Hakohanim-Haleviyim-the Priests-Levites” (Ezekiel 43:19 and 44:15), mixing, as it were, these two separate concepts into a single one. Rabbi Isaac Luria explains this expression by stating that in the Messianic era the Levites will be elevated to the higher status of kohanim (priests).

Korach wanted to benefit from this already, in his own time, and he sought, prematurely, to achieve that status. Here again, this desire and aspiration is essentially good and commendable, and, in principle, should be emulated by every Jew. Korach erred, though, by assembling his followers to rise and rebel against Moses. He thought that by doing so he could, as it were, force the realization of the redemption before its time. He did not realize that it could not happen until the refinement of the world would be completed.

By naming the parshah after Korach, the Torah endorses his commendable traits of aspiring to higher goals and of seeking immediate redemption. These are timeless goals for all of us, even while retaining the caution of our limitations on the practical level.