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Keep Yourself In Check

Korach (Numbers 16-18 )

by Rabbi Yehoshua Berman

One of the central events in the parsha is the attempted rebellion of Korach and his cohorts against Moshe and Aharon. Korach claimed that Moshe and Aharon were deliberately taking up all the positions of honor and glory for themselves and their closest family members, and he "indignantly" demanded that the "honor" of all the Jewish People be upheld by stopping this "violation."[1]

Rashi explains that there was a certain position of honor that Korach coveted and someone else received it. His jealousy induced him to conduct his rebellion. As could be expected, Korach's rebellion ended in him and all of his cohorts being terribly punished through special miracles that God performed[2] to prove that indeed Moshe was only doing precisely what he was commanded to do.[3]

Rashi explains that what emotionally fortified Korach in his attempt at what would otherwise be considered absolute lunacy, was a divinely inspired vision he saw that very great people were to descend from him. Korach thought, "Is it possible that I could be the forebear of such wondrous offspring and not be saved and emerge victorious?!" Rashi makes it clear that Korach was indeed a highly intelligent person, and that he nevertheless engaged in this lunacy because of this "reasoning". Of course, as Rashi explains, what Korach failed to realize is that his sons ended up doing teshuvah and thus enabled the future, great offspring to eventually come into the world.

It would seem very reasonable that in order to have such great people descend from him - and to have succeeded in getting so many great people to follow him,[4] Korach himself must have indeed been inherently great - just that he ruined everything by losing himself in his drive for glory. This would be in line with the saying "the bigger they are the harder they fall." Chazal indeed teach us, "Anyone who is greater than his fellow, so too is his yeitzer hara (evil inclination) greater." The higher the spiritual level one attains, the greater his life-tests become, and thus the harder he can fall if he fails to persevere through those tests.

Later in Jewish history we find a very similar such occurrence. Yaravam ben Nevat split off from Rechavam (who was the son and successor of Shlomo Ha'Melech) and became the king of the ten Shevatim. In order to discourage his subjects from being oleh l'regel, he set up two places of worship in other areas and erected golden calves there,[5] thereby becoming the quintessential chotei u'machti for all time.[6]

This is so even though Yaravam was one of the absolute greatest talmidei chachamim of his time; or, perhaps, specifically because he was the greatest. His being the greatest may well have contributed to his ultimate downfall because his tests were that much greater and he did not keep the natural drive for honor in check.

Knowing all this, then, it becomes very understandable that the greatest figure of all human history, Moshe Rabbeinu, was the quintessential embodiment of humility, as the Torah says explicitly about him that he was the most humble person to ever walk the face of the earth. If one is to achieve greatness, then he absolutely must develop and cultivate the trait of humility, because if not, the very greatness that he attains may ultimately cause him to lose everything.

The Orchos Tzadikim says that one who has amassed great Torah knowledge but has the character flaw of arrogantly tooting his own horn and always emphasizing how he is so much greater than others is like a barrel that is filled with the finest vintage wine, just that it has a small hole in the bottom. Ultimately, he will be left with nothing.[7]

Korach was not some wild aberration. He was a completely normal person - actually an incredibly great individual - who fell prey to the completely normal lure of honor and glory. Even great, intelligent people - and perhaps particularly the great and intelligent people - are prone to stumbling into frightening pitfalls from folly. The drive for recognition and honor can cause one to violate the mandates of morality and justice and put one on a path of extremely destructive behavior, a path that one would otherwise consider totally nonsensical. Conversely, one who follows in the path of Moshe Rabbeinu by cultivating and maintaining a healthy sense of one's standing and not falling into the trap of exaggerated self-importance - such an individual is demonstrating a true recognition of the fact that as much as we may do it is as nothing compared to the infinite goodness that Hashem bestows upon us.[8] Such a path brings one to flourish and progress along the straight, logical path of moral deeds and just undertakings.


1. 16:1-3,19.

2. 16:32-35.

3. 16:29-30. Of course, we must understand that the "proof" was for the emotions of the People; for on the intellectual level it is utterly preposterous - after having witnessed the Eser Makos, Krias Yam Suf, and of course chiefly having experienced Maamad Har Sinai - to question the reliability of Moshe as the true and greatest Navi.

4. 16:2. 5. For more about this episode see the D'var Torah on parshas Ki Sisah.

6. Avos 5:18.

7. In the introduction.

8. Rashi (16:1) emphasizes that Korach was upset that he did not receive the appointment that his cousin Elitzafan ben Uziel received as Nasi over the Bnei K'has. In stark contrast, Moshe Rabbeinu tried so hard to get out of being appointed the redeemer of the Jewish People so that his brother Aharon could fill that role instead (Rashi in Shmos 4:10). This, then, is a good barometer of the issue at hand: if you find yourself feeling happy at others' honorable appointments and the like, then you're in good shape. If, on the other hand, you find yourself resenting or feeling threatened by others' receiving honor, then it is time to take serious stock of yourself and work hard to try and root out that negative middah.


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