In his final words to his sons before his death, Yaakov turns to Shimon and Levi and condemns their violence, presumably referring to their attack on the city of Shekhem after the city’s prince abducted and defiled their sister. Yaakov then declares that his “name” and “honor” should not be associated with their “council” and their “assembly” (49:6).
Rashi, citing the Midrash (Bereishit Rabba 98:5), explains that when Yaakov speaks of “their assembly,” he refers to the group that would later be formed by Korach, a great-grandson of Levi, who led a revolt against Moshe and Aharon in the wilderness. Yaakov’s wish, that he not be associated with this group, was fulfilled through the absence of his name when the Torah introduces the story of Korach’s uprising. As Rashi notes, the Torah (Bamidbar 16:1) introduces Korach as “Korach, the son of Yitzhar, the son of Kehat, the son of Levi,” without going one generation further and identifying Levi as the son of Yaakov. By omitting Yaakov’s name when tracing Korach’s lineage, the Torah fulfilled Yaakov’s desire to be dissociated from this sinister plot devised by Levi’s descendant.
Interestingly enough, the Midrash, as cited by Rashi, then proceeds to observe that later in Tanakh, Yaakov’s name is, indeed, mentioned in reference to Korach. In Sefer Divrei Hayamim I (6:18-23), we read of Heiman, a grandson of the prophet Shemuel who was among the Leviyim assigned by King David to sing in the Beit Ha-mikdash. The verses there in Divrei Hayamim trace Heiman’s lineage back to Korach, who is identified as “the son of Yitzhar, the son of Kehat, the son of Levi, the son of Yisrael.” Whereas Yaakov’s name is omitted in the context of Korach’s uprising, it is mentioned in reference to Korach’s descendant who sang in the Beit Ha-mikdash.
The lesson that emerges, perhaps, is that the need to condemn wrongful behavior must not blind us to positive behaviors which deserve praise. Although Yaakov wanted to ensure that he would be entirely dissociated from Korach in regard to his revolt, his name was included in reference to Korach’s family’s involvement in the Beit Ha-mikdash. His prophetic condemnation of Korach’s uprising did not lead him to overlook the positive contributions Korach’s family would make in the future. Too often, we frame people and entities in simplistic, black-and-white terms, writing off those in whom we find something distasteful. The Midrash draws our attention to the fact that Yaakov distanced himself from one aspect of Korach’s family but warmly embraced and identified with another, teaching us that we can and should respect and admire the positive characteristics of those with whom we strongly disagree on certain matters, and identify with and praise their positive aspects even if we find it necessary to condemn their negative aspects.