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What We Can Learn From Korach
Sichos in English

Shabbos Parshas Korach; 1st Day of Rosh Chodesh Tammuz, 5750

1. The names of the portions of the Torah are significant. If so, the question arises: Why was this week’s portion named Korach? Korach was not a righteous man, and although our Sages relate that his sons repented, no such statement is made about him. Since our Sages state that “the name of the wicked should be wiped out,” it seems difficult to understand why the Torah chose it as one of the names of the parshiyos, perpetuating it forever.

Ultimately, however, Korach brought about a positive result, strengthening the position of the priesthood, as our Sages said, “Because Korach challenged Aharon’s rights to the priesthood, the Torah came and granted him [i.e., Aharon] 24 priestly gifts, [sealed] with an everlasting covenant of salt.”

This positive outcome is emphasized by the fact that Korach’s sons repented. Nevertheless, this emphasizes only the good that was accomplished because of Korach. From the fact that the Torah names a portion after him, it would appear, however, that Korach himself has a positive and contributory dimension.

The nature of this positive dimension can be understood in the light of a quote from the conclusion of “Hilchos Shmita V’Yovel,” where the Rambam refers to our Torah portion.

The Rambam states:

“The tribe of Levi was not granted an inheritance in Eretz Yisroel...because they were set aside to serve G-d...and He, blessed be He, will provide for them, as it is written: ‘I am your lot and your portion.’ Not only the tribe of Levi, but any individual whose spirit motivates him and his wisdom grants him the knowledge to distinguish himself and to stand before G-d to serve Him and worship Him...is consecrated as holy of holies. G-d will be his lot and his portion forever, and He will provide him with his needs as He provided for the priests and the Leviim.”

This passage requires explanation. First, the expression “holy of holies” is apparently a reference to the High Priest who entered the Holy of Holies. This is a comparison to the fact that each Jew can, in a spiritual sense, reach the level of a High Priest. On the surface, this appears to negate the lesson from Parshas Korach that there can be only one High Priest. The parsha relates that when Korach and 250 colleagues sought to perform a service connected with the High Priesthood, they were punished most severely. Afterwards, it describes how Aharon’s staff miraculously bloomed as an expression of his sole right to this position.

However, this contradiction is only superficial, for the Rambam is not saying that others should seek to perform the service of the High Priest in actual deed, as did Korach and his colleagues, to enter the Holy of Holies and offer the incense offering, but rather, to carry out the spiritual equivalent of the High Priest’s service in his heart and spirit.

There is, however, a more critical problem: The Rambam associates the potential for each individual to choose “G-d for his lot and portion” with the verse — quoted from Parshas Korach — “I am your lot and your portion,” which is taken from a completely opposite context. This verse is part of the latter portion of Parshas Korach, which describes how G-d negated the claim of Korach that “the entire nation is holy and G-d is among them,” and establishes the position of the priests and the Leviim. How can the Rambam quote this verse to indicate that every person can reach these levels? Also, on the surface, the priesthood (and the High Priesthood) appears to be dependent on G-d’s choice. Furthermore, the priestly garments and the anointing oil play a contributory role. If so, how is it possible that through his spiritual service alone, a Jew will reach the level that “he will be consecrated as holy of holies”?

Korach was a clever person, and his desire to be High Priest was essentially positive. Moshe admitted to Korach that he too shared that desire. Indeed, every Jew should continually seek to rise higher in holiness, attaining the heights of service of G-d, of holies.” In this context, Korach’s claim “that the entire nation is holy and G-d is among them,” interpreted by Rashi to mean, “All heard the words of the Alm-ghty at Sinai,” reflects something positive. That is, G-d told the entire Jewish people, “You shall be a kingdom of priests,” interpreted by the Baal HaTurim to refer to the High Priesthood. Thus, Korach’s basic motivation was positive. What was wrong though, was the manner in which he expressed this desire. Instead of nullifying himself to Moshe and Aharon, who were chosen by G-d — thereby drawing down an aspect of Aharon’s holiness — he decided to rebel against them, thereby nullifying his connection with the High Priesthood.

At the beginning of Parshas Korach, Rashi notes that Korach’s entire line of descent is mentioned until — and not inclusive of — the Patriarch Yaakov. Rashi explains that this came about through a special prayer of Yaakov. Nevertheless, as Rashi continues, in Divrei HaYamim Yaakov Avinu is mentioned as the ancestor of Korach. In fact, Yaakov Avinu is referred to there as Yisroel, his more elevated name, emphasizing that Korach actually possesses a unique positive quality.

On this basis we can understand the Rambam’s statements. On the one hand, Korach’s inner desire teaches us that a Jew must always strive for the level of “holy of holies.” Nevertheless, Korach’s mistake — and his quality which should not be emulated — was the manner in which he expressed this desire. Rather than creating a rivalry with the High Priest, ch’v, one should nullify oneself to the High Priest (who is granted his position through G-d’s choice), and in this manner, draw from his holiness.

In this sense, the name Korach is appropriate to use as the name for the Torah portion. Korach represents an extremely high level – the striving of the Jew to reach the highest spiritual peaks. The lesson we learn from Korach is not only to reject his strife-filled approach but also a positive concept, the importance of seeking spiritual peaks.

The appreciation of Korach’s positive qualities, however, has to be coupled with the awareness of the negative qualities of Korach’s behavior.

This can be connected with a concept of general significance. G-d desires that a Jew serve Him on his own initiative, with his own power. For this reason, the soul descends into this material world, where there is a possibility to err. The intent, however, is that a Jew should make a positive choice.

These qualities are reflected in the narrative of Korach. Korach, attempting to reach the level of High Priest, had two choices how to express this holy drive. In practice, he did not choose the proper approach. However, the lesson, to use one’s potential as prescribed by the Torah, remains.

Korach’s story emphasizes two points: Korach’s wisdom, his positive potential, and his foolishness, the strife he created.

This leads to a third point, which is the concept of striving for spiritual peaks, which allows for the possibility of error. This relates to the ultimate level of the righteous, who will (also) turn to G-d in teshuva in the Messianic Era.

2. The above lessons receive even greater emphasis at the present time which is a) within the first forty days during which Moshe ascended Mount Sinai, b) Shabbos Rosh Chodesh, and c) Rosh Chodesh Tammuz. As will be explained, each of these dimensions contains a significant lesson in the service of G-d.

a) Within the first forty days during which Moshe ascended Mount Sinai: Every historical event has lasting significance and in a spiritual sense is repeated each year at the time it originally occurred. In this instance, although this period culminated in an undesirable event, the making of the Golden Calf, during those forty days the Jews were on a uniquely high level. The potential for the descent was given only to allow for the advantage of service on one’s own initiative. Although this advantage was not realized at that time, the failure to do so then does not detract from the spiritual potential nowadays.

b) Shabbos Rosh Chodesh: This represents a fusion of opposites. Shabbos is associated with the weekly cycle of the sun, whereas Rosh Chodesh is associated with the lunar cycle. The two reflect the difference between a mashpia (source of influence) and a mekabel (recipient). This very differentiation, however, also implies that a connection is established between them; the mashpia and the mekabel are united.

The concepts of mashpia and mekabel are also reflected in Parshas Korach. Korach appreciated the positive quality of the recipients. Thus, he asked Moshe, “Why do you raise yourself above the congregation of G-d?” This was a mistake. Although the recipients have great positive qualities, these qualities are revealed when they submit themselves to the guidance of the mashpia.

c) Rosh Chodesh Tammuz: Tammuz is the month of redemption, commemorating the liberation of the Rebbe Rayatz from prison, where he was held for his service of spreading Torah and mitzvos.

This redemption reflects two seemingly contradictory aspects. On the one hand, there is an awareness of the exile which preceded the redemption. Indeed, without this awareness of exile, the term “redemption” would not be appropriate. However, every redemption reflects in microcosm the ultimate Messianic Redemption, which will lift the world beyond the potential for any possibility of exile.

This twofold awareness must be felt by each Jew. Although he is in exile, he is above exile. He does not, in essence, belong there. He was sent into exile by G-d to fulfill a mission. Thus, since “a person’s agent is like the person himself,” and “the servant of a king is a king,” a Jew, like G-d Himself, stands above the exile and it has no effect on him.

Yud-Beis Tammuz contributes an added dimension to the above, as the Rebbe Rayatz writes: “The Holy One, blessed be He, did not redeem me alone on Yud-Beis Tammuz, but all those who love our holy Torah, fulfill its mitzvos, and all who are called by the name Yisroel.”

All these individuals were redeemed; they were given the potential to fulfill Torah and mitzvos without obstacles. The redemption of Yud-Beis Tammuz led to an intensification of the efforts to spread Torah and mitzvos, and ultimately to the Rebbe Rayatz’s coming to America, “the bottom half of the world.” This mission continues through his shluchim spreading Torah in “the bottom half of the bottom half of the world,” Australia, and other outlying regions.

3. The portion of Korach teaches us a practical lesson. To quote the Rebbe Rayatz, “Just as a person must know his faults so he can correct them, he must also be aware of his positive qualities so that he can use them in the fullest degree possible.” A Jew must realize that he is not controlled by exile and can strive to reach the highest spiritual levels, “holy of holies.” Similarly, one must appreciate the advantage of our generation, the last generation of exile and the first generation of Redemption.

This potential should be used to spread the public study of Torah. In particular, these study sessions should be connected with the study of the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah...

It is likewise worthy to mention the importance of organizing farbrengens to celebrate Yud-Beis and Yud-Gimmel Tammuz in as many communities as possible, involving as many people as possible.

These activities will bring about increased Divine blessing, particularly in Eretz Yisroel, by having a government that promises to be strong and to prevent goyim and goyishkeit from entering Eretz Yisroel. This will hasten the coming of the Messianic Redemption, when we will ascend to Yerushalayim and to the Beis HaMikdash. May it be in the immediate future.


Korach’s desire to be High Priest was essentially positive. Indeed, every Jew should continually seek to rise higher in holiness, attaining the heights of service of G-d, “holy of holies.”





Although the Jew is in exile, he is above exile. He does not, in essence, belong there. A Jew, like G-d Himself, stands above the exile and it has no effect on him.



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