Korach | The Wholeness of Yaakov
Translated by Kaeren Fish
And Korach - son of Yitzhar, son of Kehat, son of Levi - took… and they gathered upon Moshe and upon Aharon and they said to them: "It is too much for you, for all of the congregation are holy, and God is in their midst; why, then, do you hold yourselves above God's community?" (Bamidbar 16:1-3)
The midrash notes that the genealogy is traced back only to Levi:
"Son of Yitzhar, son of Kehat, son of Levi" – but the text does not say, "son of Yaakov," for [Yaakov] sought mercy upon himself, that his name would not be mentioned in connection with their dispute, as it is written: "Let my glory not join in their assembly." (Rashi, ad loc.)
At first glance, the midrash seems to be noting a technical fact – that Yaakov's name is omitted from Korach's lineage, because he asked of God that his name should not appear in connection with this dispute. However, if we look deeper, we find a more fundamental message.
In kabbalistic symbolism, Yaakov represents the attribute of "tiferet." This attribute expresses the harmonious combination of opposing forces ("chessed" and "gevura," or kindness and strict justice), and hence the concept of peace. Yaakov bequeathed to his children the qualities expressed by this trait of "tiferet" – the ability to combine and integrate diverse aspects into a united and harmonious whole in which each finds expression. Owing to this trait, it was specifically Yaakov who was worthy of fathering the twelve tribes, who would establish the Israelite nation in its entirety.
The ability of the Israelite nation to contain and include all of its different aspects in glorious harmony creates an acute sensitivity to even the slightest deviation or falsity. A Jewish soul, a descendant of Yaakov, is disturbed by any deviation from what he perceives as the proper, authentic equilibrium. This is the result of our inborn aspiration to see all elements merged and harmonized. The negative aspect of this aspiration, the desire to ensure the expression of every view and to make room for every "suppressed" opinion, is the resulting multiplicity of conflicts and dispute amongst Am Yisrael.
In contrast, among many other nations of the world there is an aspiration to attain democracy. In a democracy, there is freedom to express any opinion and every idea, but there is no attempt to unite them and to find their common basis or essence. A multiplicity of voices which cannot be reconciled and combined together presents no problem for the nations of the world.
Other nations take the path of dictatorship. Here the principle is that one view suffices, and no others are tolerated.
Am Yisrael is opposed to both of these scenarios. On the one hand, we want to allow the expression of many and diverse views; on the other hand, there is a strong desire for true peace to prevail among the various voices.
Korach is different. Korach's claim does not arise from a quest for harmonious integration. On the contrary, his protest is aimed at uprooting it. In order for harmony to prevail, it is natural that there must be some entity or force that is uplifted above everyone, with the power of uniting them and finding the proper place for each element in the hierarchy. The denial of the need for this regulating factor nullifies the ability to bring about the desired harmony.
The Zohar describes Korach as denying peace and the Shabbat. This teaching would seem to express the idea presented above. Peace is the unity among different opinions; Shabbat is what unifies the shades and hues of the days of the week. By challenging Moshe's leadership, Korach was removing the possibility of peace and undermining the essence of Shabbat.
It is for this reason that Yaakov asks to have nothing to do with this dispute. Yaakov is prepared to be mentioned in the context of any difference of opinion; the aspiration for harmony entails disputes and arguments almost of necessity. However, Korach's claim arises not from the trait of "tiferet," from the quest for harmony, but rather as a challenge to wholeness, to unity, to harmony.
(This sicha was delivered on Shabbat parashat Korach 5731 .)