The Torah portion of Korach is named after the individual who led a revolt against Moshe and Aharon. How is it possible that an entire Torah portion, including the many parts that do not deal with Korach and his revolt, should be named after an unrepentant rebel,1 an evil person “whose name is not mentioned”?2 We must perforce say that Korach possessed some merit, for which reason the portion is named after him.

Korach and his band revolted out of their desire to be priests3 — High Priests.4 The Midrash5 tells us that in trying to dissuade them from their folly, Moshe said: “We have but one G‑d … and but one High Priest; the 250 of you all desire to be High Priests?! I, too, desire to be one!”

Moshe was thus telling them that while their desire was proper and laudable, it was also unrealistic, since there could only be one High Priest at any given time.

Korach’s quality will be even better understood according to the exposition of the Alter Rebbe.6 Our sages inform us7 that in the Time to Come, the Levites will become Kohanim. Korach, the Alter Rebbe explains, desired to bring about this change during his time. “He was, however, sadly mistaken, for this manner of conduct can only come about when all is purified and refined.” Thus, Korach’s intent was indeed lofty; he desired to reveal in his times that which will only be revealed in the Time to Come.

Herein lies the difference between Korach’s error and that of the spies, who returned — as related in the previous section of Shlach — from spying out Eretz Yisrael with a negative report about the land.

The spies’ underlying motive for their unglamorous report was a good one as well — they much preferred the wholly spiritual lifestyle that they enjoyed in the desert to the more mundane existence they would have to lead upon entering the land. They were, however, greatly mistaken, for G‑d’s main desire was that they perform physical mitzvos in Eretz Yisrael.8 The spies’ error thus lay in their very approach; they were conceptually wrong.

Korach, however, was not wrong in theory, for what he desired — that the Levites be Kohanim — is in fact what will exist in the Time to Come. It was only that his timing was off.

The reason for the Torah portion’s title will be understood accordingly. It stresses the positive aspects of Korach — his desire for the High Priesthood, and his desire to transform the present into the splendid future.

These positive aspects of Korach are also alluded to when Rashi9 explains the words “Korach took” to mean “he took himself ,” i.e., he reached into the very depths of his soul.

Moreover, Rashi traces Korach’s illustrious lineage not only — as the verse does — to “Yitzhar, the son of Kehos, the son of Levi,” but also to Levi’s father, Jacob.

There are a number of important lessons here. First, we should strive to emulate Korach’s desire to become a High Priest. However, together with this desire to reach the greatest heights, we must also know that we have to descend within the world of Torah and mitzvos, and that indeed, “deeds are above all else.”10

Yet another lesson: When we meet a Jew whose conduct is similar to Korach’s in the simple context of the verse, we are not to think: “What possible connection have I with such an individual? How can I possibly descend into ‘the pit’ to rescue him?”

Rather, we learn from this section that even a Jew whose actions are of the lowest order has an illustrious ancestry embedded deeply within him. Even such an individual can be roused to proper behavior and performance of mitzvos, for the inner recesses of even such a person’s heart remain steadfastly bound to G‑d and His Torah.11 All this person has to do is “take himself” in hand, and he will succeed in revealing his wonderful inner qualities.

Based on Sefer HaSichos 5748 , Vol. II, pp. 500-505.