Aharon HaKohen is distinguished for his love of peace. Korach earned distinction for failing in this area; his name has become synonymous with dispute and divisiveness. Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt”l, found in this story a striking lesson about the danger of argumentativeness and its application to every Jew.
“And he shall not be like Korach and his congregation” (17:5). This verse speaks of two principles. The first is that the memorial created by coating the Mizbeach with the metal from the censers of the dissidents who perished is intended as “a sign for the sons of Israel” (17:3) so that never again should anyone challenge the prerogative of the sons of Aharon as the kohanim of Hashem. The second principle is not to engage in quarrels – not to “be like Korach and his congregation,” allowing ourselves to be motivated by envy or desire for glory or power and thereby cause dissension among the people of Israel.
Thus one purpose of the episode was to serve as a model to warn against quarrels of every kind, domestic or business, between private persons or groups in the community. One should not say that only against Moshe and Aharon it was wrong – but that against others we may quarrel. Or that at least the sin would not be of equal gravity as in the case of Korach. The Torah declares that in every generation all Israelites are held as responsible as was Korach for any form of jealous dissension.
Although this admonition is specifically directed against future claimants to the priesthood, it is actually a general admonition against disharmony and divisiveness, as all admonitions to the nation are also intended for individuals and their private behavior.
All events in the Torah are intended as models and lessons for guidance to individuals in their personal conduct. Rambam writes, “One should hearken to his neighbor’s words and not be obstinate.… Thus the Torah commands (Devarim 10:16): ‘Circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and no longer stiffen your neck’ ” (Moreh Nevuchim 3:33). Although this admonition was said to the nation in reference to certain national misdeeds, it is intended for everyone at all times.
Similar directives for personal behavior are cited by Rambam (ibid.) from various pronouncements concerning the nation. Following this principle, whenever Hashem Speaks to any person in Scripture, or whatever Scripture says concerning an individual or the entire nation, is to be considered as a lesson for the individual behavior of every person and a requirement Hashem demands of all.
Similarly, Rabbeinu Yonah (Shaare Teshuvah 3:17) cites the commandment to “remember the kindnesses of Hashem and to meditate on them, as is said: ‘And you shall remember all the journey’ (Devarim 8:2).” This was said specifically to Israel in general so that the nation would remember the journeys in the wilderness for 40 years (ibid.), yet it is considered an obligation for every person to remember his own journey in life and always to look back with gratitude on Hashem’s many kindnesses to him.
Similarly, the admonition that the king should not become arrogant over his brother-Israelites (Devarim 17:20) is understood (R. Yonah, Shaare Teshuvah 3:34) as an admonition for everyone to follow.
“You have killed the people of Hashem” (17:7). Here the people vouch for Korach and his associates as being as fully accredited as all other sons of Israel. Even though the miraculous destruction of Korach had clearly demonstrated that this was Hashem’s will, they blamed Moshe for proposing (16:18) this punishment. By this statement the people testified that Korach and his company were truly observant and fully loyal Israelites. Had Korach and his associates openly transgressed the least commandment, they would not have been the generous encomium “the people of Hashem.”
In any previous dissension – such as the meraglim or Miriam (17:1) or the complainers (11:1) – Korach had never been named as a participant and it is certain that when Moshe called out “Who is for Hashem, to me!” (Shemos 32:26) and “all the sons of Levi gathered themselves to him” (ibid.), Korach had been among them. Moshe’s prayer to Hashem – “Turn not to their offering” (16:58) – is sufficient evidence of the worth of these opponents.