Rashi, commenting on the story of Korach’s uprising against Moshe (16:7), cites the question posed by the Midrash Tanchuma: “Korach, who was intelligent – what did he see [that led him] to this foolishness?” The Midrash’s answer, as Rashi writes, is “eino hita’ato” – “his eye misled him.” Korach prophetically foresaw that his descendants would include the great prophet Shmuel, as well as Leviyim who led the singing in the Beit Ha-mikdash. He thus said to himself, “Is it possible that all this greatness will emerge from me in the future, and I will remain silent?!” And so he proceeded to demand a more prestigious status.
The Midrash’s comments should perhaps be read in the light of the famous proverb, “Eizehu chakham, ha-ro’eh et ha-nolad” – “Who is wise? He who foresees the outcome” (Tamid 32a). One of the signs of wisdom is the ability to anticipate long-term results and consequences, as opposed to viewing things from a narrow, short-sighted perspective, seeing only the present moment. Korach, the Midrash observes, was a wise man, and so we would have expected him to foresee the catastrophic consequences of his uprising against Moshe. The Midrash thus explains that it was precisely Korach’s long-range vision that misled him – he looked well into the future, and saw the greatness of his descendants, which prompted him to take action and assert himself beyond the status to which he was presently entitled.
Many have noted that Rashi writes, “eino hita’ato” – that Korach was misled by his “eye,” as opposed to both his eyes. We might explain that a human being’s two eyes symbolize the two different forms of “seeing” with which we are to live. We must have one “eye” focused on the here-and-now, on managing our current situation in the best possible way, and another “eye” seeing the “nolad,” looking into the future with long-range vision. If we look with only the first eye, we will act in a way that might seem beneficial now but will cause long-term harm, and we will fail to dream and aspire, to plan for a future of greatness. On the other hand, if we look only at the “nolad,” dreaming and aspiring without tending to our immediate needs and addressing our current circumstances, we will never reach the glorious future of which we dream.
Korach’s mistake was looking with “eino” – with one eye, without the other. He harbored long-range ambitions without respecting his present limitations. He saw the “nolad” but did not see the present; he had big dreams, but he closed his other eye to his current obligations, which were to serve as a Levi, and not as a kohen.
If so, then the Midrash’s depiction of Korach’s mistake teaches us of the delicate balance that must be maintained between idealism and pragmatism, between bold ambition and a recognition of limits. We must live with both eyes wide open and sharply focused, seeing both ambitious, long-term goals, as well as the limits of reality within which those goals must be pursued.