Adapted from
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VIII, p. 114ff;
Vol. XVIII, p. 187ff;
Sefer HaSichos 5748, p. 499ff;
Sefer HaSichos 5750, p. 526ff

What Korach Really Wanted

The name of this week’s Torah reading, Korach, provokes an obvious question: It is written:1 “The name of the wicked shall rot,” and on this basis, our Sages state2 that a person should not be named after a wicked man. Why then is an entire Torah reading named Korach? For with this title, Korach’s identity is perpetuated forever, since the Torah is eternal.

Among the explanations given is that Korach’s desire was, in essence, positive. Korach wanted to be a High Priest, to experience the absolute closeness with G‑d that results from entry into the Holy of Holies. Indeed, when Moshe responded to Korach, he did not tell him this objective was unworthy. On the contrary, as Rashi relates,3 Moshe said he shared the same desire; he also wanted to be a High Priest.

Moreover, at Mount Sinai, G‑d told the Jewish people that they are “a kingdom of priests,”4 and our Rabbis interpret5 this to refer to the level attained by a High Priest. Every Jew has this potential within him.6

As such, Korach’s complaint was based on an essential truth:7 “The entire congregation is holy; G‑d is in their midst.” Every member of the Jewish people has a spark of holiness. Korach and his followers wanted this spark to flourish. Indeed, they were willing to risk everything, even their lives, for such a heightened spiritual experience. Therefore, even after Moshe told them that bringing the incense offering would mean their deaths, they did not hesitate.8

Naming the Torah reading Korach highlights the potential for spiritual growth which each of us possesses, and the desire we should show to make this potential manifest.

Intent vs. Action

This explanation is, however, insufficient, for good intentions are not enough. It is primarily our actions and not our intent which G‑d judges. Whatever Korach’s intentions may have been, he created a controversy which resulted in the death of thousands of people. It does not seem proper to immortalize this message as the name of one of our Torah readings.9

Moreover, the very name Korach is associated with division. The Hebrew root קרח means “division” or “split,” and our Sages10 associate Korach, not only in fact, but also in source, with these tendencies. Division runs in direct opposition to the purpose of the Torah, which “was given solely to bring peace to the world.”11 Why does a name synonymous with division serve as one of the names of the weekly Torah readings?

A More Comprehensive Oneness

The resolution of this question depends on the definition of unity. Absolute, elementary oneness is impossible in our material world. As Rashi comments:12 “The Holy One, blessed be He, has defined limits in His world. Can you turn morning into evening?” Every entity has its own distinct nature.

The concept of division need not, however, run contrary to our endeavors toward unity. On the contrary, unity is more complete when it encompasses divergent entities, each with a nature of its own.

This is the intent of the peace which the Torah was given to establish. Not that differences should not exist, but that they should merge in synergistic harmony. There is thus a place for Korach in the Torah—for the Torah teaches that division can serve a positive purpose, and that diversity need not lead to strife.

Making Our Own Decisions

Nevertheless, G‑d desires man to achieve this multi-faceted unity on his own initiative. He gives man the power and the responsibility to accomplish this goal, and the free choice to determine the direction of his efforts. This is also reflected in Korach’s conduct. He saw that after the sins of the Golden Calf and the spies, Moshe had prayed to G‑d and had averted Heavenly decrees. Similarly, Korach felt that although G‑d had granted Moshe and Aharon their positions, it might be possible through sincere prayer to effect a change and achieve his own spiritual ambitions.

He simply made the wrong choice. Rather than further unity by heightening the people’s connection with Moshe and Aharon, he took a different course. Instead, of seeing their potential harmony, he caused differences to clash.

Korach never realized his mistake. His children did, however, proclaiming:13 “Moshe is true, and his Torah is true.” They realized that the truth which Moshe taught is the means to bring about unity among our people, and enable every individual to fulfill his potential.

A Matter of Time

From a mystic perspective,14 it is explained that Korach’s desires reflected the spiritual heights to be reached in the Era of the Redemption. Then the Levites (Korach’s tribe) will be elevated to the station of priests,15 and the entire Jewish people will reach pinnacles of spiritual experience, for “I will pour out My spirit upon all flesh.”16

The rewards of that age cannot, however, be attained prematurely, but only as a result of our Divine service. It is only through our selfless devotion to the Torah of Moshe and the directives of “the extension of Moshe in every generation”17 the Torah leaders of our people that we can elevate ourselves and the world to the point that “the world will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d.”18