Moses was the leader designated by G‑d to lead the Jewish People, and had very publicly been the instrument for the fulfilment of His plans. This, however, did not stop an insurrection, led by Korach and his two leading accomplices, Datan and Avriam, to challenge Moses’ authority. When the conspirators refused to relent, posing a tangible risk of dividing the Israelites, G‑d decided to make a memorable example of these three men – and the earth opened up and swallowed them and their families inside.

In anticipation of this event, G‑d instructed Moses:

Speak to the congregation saying, ‘Withdraw from the dwellings of Korach, Datan and Aviram.’

The next verses report that this is indeed what Moses did:

Moses arose and went to Datan and Aviram, and the elders of Israel followed him. He spoke to the congregation saying, ‘Please get away from the tents of these wicked men, and do not touch anything of theirs, lest you perish because of all their sins.’1

Rashi quotes the words from the text “Moses arose” and comments:

He thought they would show him respect, but they did not.

What is Rashi trying to explain? The storyline seems clear enough. Moses was told to go to the dwellings of the three main conspirators and warn those assembled there to keep their distance as disaster was about to strike. And the Torah tells us that he did just that. Why would we need any further explanation? Besides, what makes Rashi think that (even part of) the reason for Moses going was to seek respect from the condemned individuals?

What seems most incomprehensible about Rashi’s comment is the notion that Moses would have been thinking about his own honor during the moments before a tragedy was about to occur. Why would Rashi think that Moses would have brought his own interests into the equation?

Some sources2 suggest that Moses was hoping that the men would be embarrassed and seize their last chance to repent; but Rashi makes no mention of repentance. Moreover, the Torah attests that Moses was the most “humble person on the face of the earth.”3 Surely, then, getting respect would be the last thing on his mind!

In fact, Rashi’s comment is so problematic that an entirely new perspective is required. As was his custom, the Rebbe found the key in a small detail.

Rashi’s comment is appended to the words “Moses arose,” when it seems that it should have been connected to the subsequent words, “and went.” After all, isn’t Rashi explaining the reason Moses “went”? Not so, says the Rebbe. We know why he went – the Torah says so explicitly – but we do not know why we are told that he “arose.”

After all, if we are told that “Moses went” clearly he must have risen. How else can a person go from one place to the next if not by rising to one’s feet first? Those words therefore seem entirely superfluous.

Hence, Rashi explains that when it says “Moses arose” it alludes to something more significant. He does not mean merely that he “took to his feet,” but that he “took a stand.” Moses understood that he was now under direct Divine orders to pave the way for the demise of those three men. He recognized that he was not authorized to persuade, admonish, or plead with them to reverse course, so his options were limited.

Yet Moses wanted to do at least one last gesture that could put some doubt into their minds, because he realized that this was their last chance. The problem was that saying another word to them would have been in violation of his instructions. All he was mandated to do was inform those around them of the impending danger.

Thus, “Moses arose.” He decided that he would do something to instill some element of awe into the rebels, in the hope that this would engender some last-minute respect, and save them from their impending demise.

This interpretation of the word “arose” is not entirely new. In regards to the verse “the field of Ephron arose,”4 referring to its purchase by Abraham as a burial site for his wife Sarah, Rashi explains the meaning of the word “arose” as “it experienced an elevation.”

Here too, it has an allegorical connotation: Moses elevated the occasion. In which way did he do so?

It turns out there is a rather significant clue in the text. The verse reads “the elders of Israel followed Moses when he set off to the tents of the three men.” Why was it necessary to say this? How does this detail add to the story? In fact, it is a central element. That is how Moses elevated the occasion. He did not just go himself to get the matter over with. Rather he first “arose” and turned it into a big event, one that would involve all the elders. Moses and all the elders marching in formation would have drawn a huge crowd.

Moses was not permitted to say another word to Korach and company, so instead he led a procession of all the elders of Israel in a show of force and as an act of dignity. Perhaps seeing this impressive sight, they would reconsider, he thought. Thus, says, Rashi, “He thought they would show him respect.” Moses hoped that this parade of dignitaries and a vast assemblage of Israelites would have made an impression and engender some awe – and thereby save their lives. Alas – as Rashi concluded – “they did not.” But it was not for lack of trying.

To think that these three men had led a significant revolt against Moses’ authority. They accused Moses of being corrupt, which caused him great distress. They had already received multiple warnings and had treated them contemptuously. They had run out of chances long ago.

Despite all this, Moses still sought a creative way of getting through to them by turning his walk into a procession. He never gave up trying to inspire in them a change of heart to save them from the destruction they were about to bring upon themselves.

With this act, Moses set an example for us how to never give up trying to inspire positive change in ourselves and others.

Adapted from Likkutei Sichot, vol. 28, Korach I.