In this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Korach, Korach and his band stage a rebellion against Moses and Aaron saying, “You’ve gone too far. Why do you raise yourself up above us?” When Moses hears, he falls on his face. He puts it to G-d to decide. This ends badly for Korach and his followers. History views Korach as a jealous demagogue, and we are meant to learn from his mistake continually. His fire pans are incorporated into the alter as a reminder to be humble.
Korach presents us with a challenge. He is arrogant and tries to take power from Moses. On the other hand, some of what he says rings true. “All the community are holy,” he says. Well, isn’t that true? Doesn’t the Torah tell us in Parshat K’doshim, “You shall be holy, for I, G-d, am holy”? If you look closely, though, you will see that there is an important difference between Korach’s words and those in K’doshim. The Israeli philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz notes that Korach doesn’t understand that holiness is a process. Holiness isn’t something that we are, it is something that we strive to become. If we are already holy, as Korach believed, we have no more work to do, no more purpose in our lives. Holy means set apart for a sacred purpose – the act of setting ourselves apart, of seeking sacred purpose to our days, is a process, not a state of being.
Korach missed something else. In the wilderness, Korach had a role, a job to play. Moses did too. Korach’s jealousy blinded him to the importance of his own work, of what he had to offer. Strange to think that arrogance and jealousy would actually mean that he wasn’t valuing himself enough, but by refusing to see the significance of what he was already invited to do, he doomed himself to always be less than his potential.
On this Shabbat, let us think about how we can engage in the process of holiness, becoming more true to our own best potential, so that in the end, we will leave this world better than how we found it.