Korach’s Cunning Strategy

A little truth can go a long way… and, frequently, that’s a problem.

What’s Wrong With the Truth?

The Zohar teaches that for any lie to have a chance, and for any false accusation to pose a threat, they need to employ a kernel of truth. When Korach said, “The entire congregation (of Israel) is holy, and God is among them,” he was touching on the deepest of truths—the immutable inner sanctity, the segula, of every Jew—and wielding that truth for nefarious purposes.

It’s true, deep down there is no distinction in the inner, core kedusha of every Jew; whether that person is Moshe, Aaron, Sarah, Esther or any of us. In the cynical hands of Korach, that truth was used to falsely accuse Moshe of promoting himself and his brother at the expense of others: “Why are you elevating yourselves above the congregation of Hashem?”

Potential and Actual: Not the Same Thing

True, the inner essence of every Jew is remarkably exalted and holy. Yet it’s also true that much of that essence is hidden within the realm of potential; it’s there, but it needs to be nurtured and drawn to the surface of actualization, and that takes time and effort. That time and effort is what our lives are about. Within every seed is a tree, even an orchard: in potential. Korach’s claim was an attempt to blur the line between inner potential and the hard work of actualization.

While there was profound truth to what Korach said about the Jewish neshama and essence, in reality, he was denying a more profound truth. More remarkable than our inner essence is the dramatic reach and potential inherent in that essence. Am Yisroel, each of us and the all of us, has the potential to transform mere physicality—the flesh and fragility of our bodies, the dust and dirt of this world, and the rubble of history—into something noble, exalted, holy, and eternal. Hashem created this world with vast, yet largely hidden potential. And into our hands He entrusted the task of nourishing, growing, and harvesting all that potential. That’s what it means to be nothing less than shutaf b’maaseh braishit, a “partner with God in creation.”

Leadership: Closing the Gap

Despite the beneath-the-surface, soul level truth and reality of Korach's words, in the here-and-now of this world, there was a great gap between Moshe, Aaron, and the rest of the nation. And that is precisely the role of such leaders: To instruct and guide the people. To serve as sources of wisdom and inspiration. To help every individual, and the nation as a whole, to see, and draw out the seed of inner potential to the surface of a beautiful, deep, ennobled, soul-infused life.

Unlike Korach, each of us needs to be open to the wisdom and guidance of those whose wisdom, and life efforts, have enabled them to achieve great heights of personal-spiritual growth, achievement, and actualization. Talmidei chochomim, and the holy men and women who have so much to offer us. The prophet Yirmiyahu (Jeremiah 31:33), tells us that in the future, “People will no longer teach one another … for all of them will know Me, from the smallest to the greatest.” But until that time, we all need a Rebbe, a teacher, and guide.

Korach: Erasing the Gap

Korach’s claim of “The entire congregation (of Israel) is holy, and God is among them… Why are you elevating yourselves above the congregation of Hashem?” was a denial and rejection of the inherent nature of process within the fabric of creation. The world was created with ten utterances, and not one; in seven days, not one, and Avraham didn’t transform into a nation, rather his family slowly grew into Am Segula. Step-by-step process is what our reality is made of. We aren’t born into greatness, rather we’re born with the potential for discovering and growing our latent, inner greatness.

Korach sought to deny the necessity process.

Korach sought to erase what we can be by hyper-focusing on what we are, deep down.

Ultimately, Korach sought to squelch true, virtually unlimited, revealed potential in the name of elevating, above all else, the truth of kedushat ha’neshama, our holy, unbreakable, hidden essence.

Korach’s claim was tantamount to saying “What use are mitzvot, what could they possibly add to an already exalted soul?” In the name of the truth of inner sanctity, purity, goodness, and Godliness, Korach was a direct threat to a world with the potential for actual sanctity, purity, goodness, and Godliness. Yes, the inner heart and soul of man is beautiful, pure, holy, and good; but without the work of process required on the outer, day-to-day, societal, interpersonal dimension of life, then all of Korach’s beautiful words are just that: words, and no substance. Or worse.

In Korach’s world: Tzadik. Rashah. Is there really any difference?

Rav Kook (Orot Yisroel v’tchiyato 15) taught that, “The claim of ‘The entire congregation (of Israel) is holy, and God is among them,’ was a claim that belittled the inner essence of everything holy and exalted and the effort required to to actualize it in life; and this was a threat that could pave the way to the worst things imaginable.”

The Gift of the Gap

The sanctity of the neshama is a gift from heaven. It’s not earned. It’s just there, inside. It’s us; each of us, and the all of us. But to bring out all the remarkable potential inherent in the neshama, that’s not a given. That involves a process. A process that is the work of life that each of us is called to. A process of striving, and effort, and struggle—though founded on the clear understanding that yes, there is within us an awesome soul—a process that enables us to be nothing less than God-like. God-like in our ability to fashion a life, and a world, that is nothing less than the full, brilliant expression of every holy spark of potential in every soul, and the soul of all creation.

And this is our history, our story.

The story of revealing what’s hidden, and latent.

The story of a people that has endured the worst of everything in this world, and yet never stopped striving to bring out the best in the world; it’s soul. A people that understands that no matter what happens to Am Yisroel, that our inner sanctity is always exalted, always in tact, and that the life of our people is about the process of revelation, and redemption; of geula, of drawing our remarkable potential out of the darkness, and into the light.


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Translated and adapted by Shimon Apisdorf