I was sitting with a group of people yesterday when someone asked me to share a Torah thought. Put on the spot, I repeated an idea that I’d written up a few years ago (see here).

In my brief talk, I had described the Rebbe’s revolutionary insight on the story of Korach’s insurrection, and the positive spin he put on Korach’s motivations for rebelling. According to theWhat indeed was Korach supposed to do? Rebbe, when Korach challenged Aaron’s right to be appointed High Priest, and demanded his own chance at glory, it was more than a self-serving desire to attack the established order. Rather this was a laudable, though misguided, attempt to connect to G‑d and serve Him in the most spiritually complete way. Korach’s mistake was the method he chose to access G‑dliness, not his aspirations.

One of the guys sitting at the table with me immediately threw out a thought-provoking question that seemed to challenge the basis of my speech. If the Rebbe’s premise is correct, and Korach’s original motivation was pure, he asked, what else was Korach supposed to do? If a man wants to become the High Priest, and there’s another person currently filling the role, then what choice does he have but to challenge the incumbent for the job?

I was thrown for a minute. What indeed was Korach supposed to do? And if his intentions were pure, why did he receive a punishment? The punishment would seem to indicate that it is better to sit back quietly and play whatever role you’ve been assigned, without aspiring for advancement.

Then I remembered a law in Maimonides that the Rebbe would often quote. Immediately after detailing all the laws and privileges that pertain to the priests and Levites, Maimonides declares:1

Not only the tribe of Levi, but any one of the inhabitants of the world whose spirit generously motivates him and he understands with his wisdom to set himself aside and stand before G‑d to serve Him and minister to Him and to know G‑d, proceeding justly as G‑d made him, removing from his neck the yoke of the many reckonings which people seek, he is sanctified as holy of holies. G‑d will be His portion and heritage forever and will provide what is sufficient for him in this world like He provides for the priests and the Levites.

In other words, you don’t have to dress like a High Priest or be publically appointed to the role for G‑d to consider you a High Priest. Holiness is a state of mind, not a job description. If you decided right now to dedicate your heart, soul, mind and being to serving G‑d, then your efforts are just as precious in G‑d’s eyes as any man or woman who has ever lived.

Korach could have achieved his goal of accessing spirituality by doing his job to the best of his ability; he didn’t need to challenge Aaron for the title.

I’d like to suggest that the above leads to a different perspective on the Rebbe’s influence on the world. One of the most requoted descriptions about the Rebbe was a line that Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks came out with immediately after the Rebbe’s passing: “Many people mistakenly assumed that the Rebbe was interested in creating followers,” observed Rabbi Sacks, “however the Rebbe, as a truly great leader, was more interested in creating leaders.”2

However, I would respectfully differ. I don’t believe the Rebbe’s goal was to create either followers or leaders. The Rebbe wanted each of us to achieve greatness in whichever sphere we find ourselves—not by leading orHoliness is a state of mind, not a job description following, but by living life to the fullest and bringing spirituality into every moment of the day and into every role we are called upon to fill. A follower who fulfills his or her purpose is just as much a High Priest as leaders who are doing their job correctly.

The Rebbe wanted us, individually and collectively, to connect to G‑d. He learned incredible life lessons from every encounter and inspired us to do the same. He discerned the greatness in every individual, even in Korach, and helped transform the world and our worldview.

Don’t be a leader. Don’t be a follower. Don’t be a Korach or a Moshe. It’s not about the uniform or the title. It’s about being yourself and doing that job to the best of your ability. There can be no higher role than the one you’ve been tapped to play, and by dedicating yourself to G‑d you’ll be sanctified forever.