“מעלין בקודש ולא מורידים”
The Gemara (Menahot 98a) asks, and from where do we derive that one elevates to a higher level in matters of sanctity? Rabbi Aḥa bar Ya’akov said: This is derived from the verse with regard to the coal pans of the men of Korah’s assembly, in which they burned incense before they were consumed by a fire: “The coal pans of these men who have sinned at the cost of their lives, and let them be made beaten plates for a covering of the altar, for they have become sacred because they were brought before the Lord, that they may be a sign to the children of Israel” (Numbers 17:3).
Initially the coal pans had the status of articles used in the service of the altar, as they contained the incense, and now that they have been made into a covering for the altar their status has been elevated to that of the altar itself.
At first glance, this source seems surprising. In order to go up in Kedusha, we have to start with Kedusha. The pans were used as a means to rebel against Moshe and Aharon. Why would they be considered sacred?
Based on the Netziv’s explanation, we can understand the matter.
There were 3 parties who had very different motivations. Korach wanted power and honor. He was manipulative and used others to achieve his goals. Dotan and Aviram were anarchists. If there was a possibility of causing unrest, they were in.
But the 250 people were actually sincere in their longing for intense Avodat Hashem. Korach’s declaration, כי כל העם עולם קדושים, spoke to them. They were even willing to risk their lives to perform the Ketoret rite.
They were terribly mistaken. We are to serve Hashem in the manner He chooses, not the way we want. Still, there was Kedusha in their pans, and they deserved to be elevated.