Even kindergarten child knows the story of how the earth opened its mouth and swallowed Korach and all his followers at the end of the tragic dispute in this week’s parshah.
Our commentators add a symbolic layer to this story: It’s not just that envy doesn’t take us anywhere; it actually eats us up. It makes us sink down, disappear, and become erased. Till this very day, powerful burning envy is “burying” people alive.
Korach enjoyed a high status. He was wealthy – in Hebrew, we have an expression “as rich as Korach” – and played an important role in the tribe of Levi. But he did not see any of this because he was consumed by envy.
Of course, he disguised his rebellion in ideology, acting as if everything was for the sake of heaven and the public good. The kernel of the dispute, though, was his powerful envy of Moshe, Aaron, and every person who seemed to him more senior and important.
Our Sages in Pirkei Avot summed up the lesson of this parshah with a simple dictum: “Envy, lust, and honor take a person out of the world.” That is, envy is not just a bad trait, not simply another problem. It actually takes a person out of the world.
Parshat Korach reminds us that seeing the good we have, and not coveting the good others have, is more urgent than almost anything else.
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Are We All Holy?
“The whole congregation is holy,” Korach yelled at Moshe and Aharon, “Why should you raise yourselves above them?”
Of course everyone is holy, but Korach forgot about the self-improvement track that leads to holiness.
In contrast to Korach’s statement, Moshe Rabbeinu said, “You shall be holy” and gave the Jewish people 613 tasks to achieve holiness.
Korach speaks in the present tense (“Everyone is holy!”) – as if we have already reached the destination. Moshe speaks in the future tense (“You shall be holy!”) because a person must toil to get there.
One speaks about rights, and the other about obligations. One flatters the masses, and the other demands of them and challenges them.
According to Korach, the Torah brought down to the world an automatic form of holiness, whereas according to Moshe, the Torah brought down to the world the potential for holiness – and one must toil to achieve it.