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The big question about Korach is, with whom was he fighting? At first glance, it would appear that he was fighting over the priesthood, because he accused Moshe of appropriating the priesthood for his brother, Aharon. Also, all of his questions leading up to the fight (i.e. “does a talit of techelet need fringes, and if so, does a house full of books need a mezuzah”) pointed to issues with bringing G-dliness down into the world, which is what the priests (Cohanim) are supposed to do. But, if so, when Korach finally received his punishment, why do we find that his last words were “Moshe is truth and his Torah is true”? If he were fighting over the priesthood, his last words should have been regarding Aharon the priest, not regarding Moshe.

Another question; while arguing with Moshe, why does Korach ask two questions (regarding a talit and a house)? Didn’t he make his point sufficiently by asking the first question, regarding the talit with fringes? What is added by asking further about a house full of books?

The truth was that Korach was fighting with Moshe. Korach didn’t like Moshe to be in the “driver’s seat,” as the leader of the Jews, and therefore he incited a rebellion. But, Moshe was a “man of the spirit,” far removed from mundane matters. It was his brother Aharon, who as the priest, brought matters of the spirit down to earth by enabling the laws of the Torah. Therefore, in order to incite against Moshe, Korach was forced to go through his brother Aharon. Only if he succeeded in uprooting the influence of the priesthood would Korach be successful in dethroning Moshe, who worked through his brother Aharon. But, this was not the first time that division and argument made an appearance in the world.

The first division in the world occurred on the second day of creation, when G-d created the firmament, “to divide between the ‘higher waters’ [Heavens] and the ‘lower waters’ [the oceans].” That’s why when He created on the third day, the word tov (good) appears twice in scripture, in order to emphasize that the third day, which brings together and heals the divisions of the second day, is additionally blessed. The same is true of the third millennium, in which the Torah was given, for the purpose of bringing peace and unity to the world. Before the Torah was given, it was impossible to bring the higher spiritual realm down to the physical world, nor to connect the physical to the spiritual world Above. Only after the Torah was given was it possible to fulfill mitzvoth, which join and unite the physical with the spiritual. The whole purpose of the Torah is to join opposites and make peace, and anything that does the opposite and propagates division and argument is automatically opposed to the Torah and to Moshe.

Korach sought to sow the seeds of disharmony and division. This can be seen in his name. “Korach” means bald, describing a head without hair. Like a talit without fringes, or like a house without a mezuzah, “korach” symbolizes the disconnect between G-dliness that remains transcendent and aloof and a world that is physical. But, that itself can happen in three different ways, corresponding to the three letters of Korach’s name.

The Talmud and Midrashic literature says that this world of action was created with a “hey.” Kaballa and Chassidut tell us that the letter “hey” has three lines, representing thought, speech and action. Thought is the upper horizontal line, and speech (connected with thought but descending downward to this world) is the vertical line on the right side. Action is the disconnected vertical line on the left side, indicating the separation that we in this physical world experience from the realm of the spirit (thought and speech). Under proper circumstances, there has to be a left-hand line. There must be physical actions in the world that are permissible for Jews to be involved in. Simultaneously, our actions must be informed and directed by the realm of Torah thought, and not dip below a permissible level. And finally, we must experience our distance from the One Above enough to yearn for spirituality and to overcome the disconnect between ourselves and G-d.

All of the letters of Korach’s name (the kuf, the resh, and the chet) are distortions of the left hand vertical line of the “hey.” While the rest of the “kuf” remains more or less the same as the “hey,” the left vertical strokes of the “kuf,” “resh,” and “chet” all distort and change the nature of the “hey.” The “kuf” dips below the line, indicating action that dips below the realm of what is permissible according to Torah. The “resh” contains no left stroke whatsoever, indicating a total disregard for the physical world (such as one who is not involved in the physical world). And the left line of the “chet” is joined with the top of the letter, indicating a situation in which we feel no distance from the One Above and therefore no need to strive to better improve our spiritual standing, since we feel already perfected.

And these three spiritual attitudes are represented by the three challenges that Korach threw at Moshe;

1. Does a talit that is made up entirely of techelet require fringes? The talit, in which we wrap ourselves, represents transcendent spirituality, while the fringes bring the spirituality down to intellect and feeling. So, Korach’s question was, if one is entirely imbued with transcendent spirituality, must he also perform physical mitzvoth with spiritual intention? Let the transcendent intention remain in the spiritual realm while the mitzvah is performed mechanically. In that way, the intention will influence the action from afar. Moshe answered in the affirmative. Even a person entirely imbued with spirituality must perform mitzvoth with intention. If not, he runs the risk of divorcing the Torah from the performance of mitzvoth, and ultimately of failure to fulfill the mitzvoth properly. Thus, it corresponds to the letter “kuf,” in which the left side dips below the line, meaning that it is not properly guided by Torah intellect and emotion.

2. If so, Korach continued to challenge, meaning that even one’s physical actions must be guided by Torah, does a house full of holy Torah books need a mezuzah? That is, if one is imbued with both transcendent spirituality and Torah knowledge, need he express it in action at all? Surely, if he knows Torah, his intellect and emotions are permeated with spirituality, and it’s completely unnecessary to express this in deed and action (mezuzah). Here, we see that his challenge corresponds to the letter “resh,” which has no left side, and completely neglects the aspect of physical action.

3. Ӆthe entire congregation is holy and G-d is among them, why do you ‘lord it over’ the congregation of G-d?” (Numbers 16:3). This corresponds to the letter “chet” in which the left stroke, representing action, is connected with the top line, indicating that the person feels no disconnect between himself and G-d, and therefore no need to improve his physical deeds and elevate them to a more spiritual level.

Here, we see a natural progression; first, Korach admitted that physical action is necessary, but attempted to deny that it need be imbued by spirit and intention. That is, why should the spirit instruct and inform the realm of the physical, from Above to below? Let them remain apart, like a talit without fringes.

Then, he attempted to deny the importance of physical action at all. If we are completely inspired by spirit and also understand and feel it (Torah), surely that is sufficient? Why act at all? Why should a house full of holiness need a mezuzah? That’s why he needed to ask both questions, regarding the talit without fringes and then the house full of books and mezuzah.

Finally, he challenged, if physical action is unnecessary, then why do we need the priesthood? The whole congregation is holy, everyone is connected equally to the One Above, and there is no need to bring the spirit down into the physical world. Thus, he completely rejected Moshe’s raison d’etree, that of that of bringing the heaven down to earth. He wished not to heal the divisions between the spiritual and physical realms, but rather to exacerbate them. Thus, his entire existence was opposed to Moshe and the Torah, and he deserved the punishment that he received.

Adopted from Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe ztz’l, vol. 8, p 102 Rabbi David Sterne, Jerusalem Connection in the old city of Jerusalem