Make no mistake. Korach did not start out as a jealous, power-hungry man who chose to rebel against Moses and Aaron because of personal ambition. In fact, the Kabbalists explain, Korach had a deep philosophical dispute with Aaron’s approach to spirituality.

Korach’s argument went something like this: Spiritual light is only a manifestation of the Infinite Source of light, just as the sun’s rays are emanations of the sun. But in the sun itself, there is no light. In order Korach did not start out as a jealous, power-hungry manto see the essence, the light must be submerged in its source. Only darkness can truly capture the essence of the Infinite Source.

Korach resented Aaron, specifically because Aaron was in the light business. Aaron spent his days lighting the menorah in the Tabernacle as well as lighting the metaphorical menorah in the heart of every Jew. Aaron was all about inspiring people to ignite spiritual light in their lives through the study of Torah and the observance of mitzvahs, to spend time and energy on spiritual pursuits, and to illuminate their souls with a love for G‑d. Aaron was the embodiment of the Divine attribute of chessed, kindness/sharing/light.

Korach believed that Aaron’s approach to increasing spirituality missed a deeper truth.

Korach argued, “Give me the job of high priest, and I will introduce a completely different model of spirituality. I will teach that no matter what the people are engaged in, they are still holy: ‘The entire congregation is all holy, and the L‑rd is in their midst.’1 There is no need for spiritual light. No need to inspire people to yearn to cleave to their source in heaven. No need to seek inspiration to escape the lure of the material. What I will preach is the celebration of the physical. It is precisely because the physical represents an absence of spiritual light that it is capable of directing our attention to the essence, to the Infinite Source of both darkness and light.”

Korach viewed light with disdain. In his view, darkness was what encompassed the absolute truth of the Infinite Creator.

According to Korach’s plan, the people would live a materialistic life, without the burden of seeking spiritual inspiration. Eventually, more and more people would come to appreciate what Korach understood. They would understand that they could be satisfied with materialism as a testament to the fact that G‑d cannot be expressed in a limited measure of light.

Where did Korach go wrong?

Let’s begin by pointing out what he got right:

He was right that darkness has a higher source than light.

He was right that the material has a higher source than the spiritual.

And yet, his philosophy was completely wrong.

He was wrong because in order to understand the truth of darkness, a person needs light. Yes, indeed, the material is the greatest manifestation of the essence. In the messianic era, the material itself will express its source, as the prophet says, “All flesh together shall see that the mouth of the L‑rd spoke.”2 Yet the only way a person can crack the shell of the material and connect to Where did Korach go wrong?its source is by subjugating the material to the spiritual.

Only when we allow Torah to illuminate life with spiritual light, with a yearning for holiness, will we be able to appreciate that the material is an expression of the essence of G‑d. Only a soul inspired by Aaron can reveal and connect to the superior essence of the body. Only light can reconnect the darkness to its lofty source.

A soul illuminated with spiritual light can find G‑d wherever it looks. Not only in the light, but also in the darkness; not only in the holy, but also in the mundane; not only in heaven, but also on earth.3