Yitzchak Ginsburgh
Head of Gal Einai Institutes, authority on Kabbalah and Chassidut

Left Right Left

Moses is right. Korach is left.
The Torah is the golden mean that connects them

The uprising of Korach and his followers against Moses and Aaron has become a symbol of dispute for all generations, “Which is a dispute that is not for the sake of heaven? This is the dispute of Korach and his entire congregation.”[1] Their intimidating end comes when the earth opens its mouth and swallows them up. Is there any hope for them?

Korach in Contrast to the Spies

In the previous Torah portion of Shelach Lecha, the spies sinned because they preferred to stay in the wilderness, detached from mundane reality. They chose living in a sheltered spiritual greenhouse over developing the agriculture of the Holy Land and creating a prosperous independent kingdom. The Zohar states that the spies were concerned about their personal status. In the wilderness, they were highly respected leaders. They were afraid that when the Jewish People entered the land, they would lose their prestige.

Korach’s sin was different. He was not opposed to establishing a state in the Holy Land. He was peeved by the fact that God had ordained his first cousins, Moses and Aaron, as leaders and not him. So, Korach contrived a new philosophy that captured many hearts. Based on the true claim that the entire congregation is holy,[2] he canvassed a campaign that would allow the people to choose their leader for themselves. He openly confronted Moses’ leadership, demanding elections. Long before the ancient Athenians arrived on the scene, Korach invented democracy!

Korach was confident that his wit, his status, his notorious prosperity and his excellent public relations would attain him a clear victory. He gained some fine successes and according to the most up-to-date public opinion polls, his democratic philosophy still rates sky-high… However, Korach’s political career ended abruptly when the earth swallowed him and all his followers alive.

Left Vs. Right

In current political jargon, “left” and “right” are common concepts. We might think that these terms originated at the time of the French Revolution. Yet, right and left are fundamental concepts in Kabbalah. Just as the human body is divided between right and left, the entire system of the sefirot is based on the right-left axis. Modern science upholds the fact that left and right are absolute, independent physical properties. The Zohar[3] teaches us that Aaron (and Moses) belongs to the right. Korach was a leftist.

The highest right-left pair of sefirot are chochmah (the sefirah of wisdom) on the right, and binah (the sefirah of understanding), its counterpart on the left. In the human body, they correspond to the right and left hemispheres of the brain.

Chochmah receives the initial flash of insight in the mind. It deals with abstract ideas and principles that are difficult to perceive. In contrast, binah develops ideas into detailed descriptions that can be envisioned in the mind’s eye and eventually put into practice. Whereas the right is concerned with lofty principles, the left deals more with activation from below.

Which Has the Greatest Power?

Moses brought the Torah down to earth from God above. The Torah is full of wise instructions as to how to behave: do this and don’t do that. The Torah is the essence of Divine wisdom, on the right.

Korach claims: With all due respect to Moses’ Torah, and his ability to teach abstract principles, when it comes to dealing with reality, I take the lead. I can build institutions, an army, a working educational system and leadership and achieve better results in practice. And, he is right (although he remains a leftist)!

The First Flaw: Separation

What then is the problem with Korach’s approach? The Zohar finds three points of criticism for Korach’s view.

The first issue the Zohar takes against Korach is that he disregards the right. He attempts to sever the right from the left as if he has no need for it. He is so self-assured in his success, that he makes no plans for a true coalition with the right. Let them discuss essence and principles to their heart’s delight, in practice, their talk is inconsequential. The left with its pragmatic approach will take control of politics and art, the media and education, and every other facet of the Jewish state in the Holy Land. The institution is mine. I can, therefore, silence the right altogether. I can label their speeches about “Divine law” and eternal principles as dark and primitive. The ruling ideology will be: What the public says is law and there is none beside it. As long as I am in power, reality is my god and God’s law means nothing to me.

The Second Flaw: Taking Over

The second issue is that Korach wants to rule so completely that he not only disregards the opinions of the right, he pressures the right to conform to his position. He approaches the right with a persuasive suggestion to collaborate with him. You have your say and I will have my say and together we can create a leadership, as long as you are my underdog… This is not a true coalition. Whether consciously or unconsciously, his true intention is to subjugate the unique essence of the right. Korach expects the right, which justly represents the laws of the Torah, to bend itself beneath the dominance of the left. Korach’s rule proposes to transpose the essential truth to folklore that can be remolded to the demands of the public. At most, it is nothing more than a pretty embellishment.

Third Flaw: There is no Peace

In Kabbalah, in addition to the right and the left, there is a middle axis. This is the most significant axis of all. One of the most important qualities of the central axis is peace. Peace balances the tendencies towards right and left in a harmonious blend. “Peace” (שָׁלוֹם) means “wholeness” (שָׁלֵם). The Torah is not only associated with the faculty of wisdom. In general, it is located on the central axis of the sefirot. It is a complete way of life.

The third issue with Korach’s democracy is the absence of peace. His attempt to take control of the Jewish People is a dispute for argument’s sake, and the gravest example of “A dispute that is not for Heaven’s sake.”[4] More than Korach and his congregation want to take over the leadership and the priesthood, they want Moses and Aaron out.

Korach does not believe in true unity between left and right. For him, Jewish solidarity is a naïve dream. In his mind, dispute is a matter of fact and one’s best interest is to exploit it.

Because Korach’s dispute was for the sake of dispute and because it brought Moses’ God-given mission into question, there was no choice but to find an effective way to reject it, “And they descended alive into the abyss.”[5]

Inter-inclusion

In the brain, the right hemisphere controls the left side of the body and vice versa. Neither of them works alone. The right hemisphere includes an integral affinity towards the left, and the left includes a tendency towards the right.

Just as the right and left hemispheres of the brain function together, so too, in the long-term, we cannot do without the left. However, in its current state, after its descent into the abyss, it must be rectified before we can allow it to reappear. Discovering the right-ness that lies dormant in the left and the inert seed of left-ness in the right is the key to uniting them.[6]

In Kabbalah, chochmah (the sefirah of wisdom) relates to the father principle and binah (the sefirah of understanding) relates to the mother principle. The right is relatively male, and the left is relatively female. In Chassidic terms, like chochmah and binah, man represents essence and woman reflects reality. The man deals with ideals and principles. Sometimes he hovers over reality without quite touching it. A woman knows how to take control and turn ideas into reality, “The wisest of women constructs her home.”[7] Kabbalah teaches us that every man is inter-included with a feminine aspect and every woman is inter-included with a masculine facet. Nonetheless, in the man the totality is male and, in the woman, the totality is female To create a happy marriage, each partner must find in him or herself an aspect of the opposite gender.

Similarly, to incorporate both left and right on the political scene, we need to find the leftist aspect of the right- wing and the rightist aspect of the left-wing. Then they will come together in harmonious union.

In the words of the abovementioned Zohar, we need to “Include the left in the right.” Like the right hemisphere that controls the left hand, Moses’ right lends the tone, sets the values and deals with the essence. By his side, we need Korach, who knows how to develop the abstract ideas into working models so that our national leadership will be right-handed.

Abundance from above passes through certain Divinely selected figures. Korach’s statement that “The entire congregation are all holy” rings true because the entire congregation represents reality in its rectified state.

Korach Will Flourish Like A Date Palm

Unity between right and left originates in keter (the sefirah of crown), which lies above chochmah and binah. The collective soul-root of the entire Jewish People, rightists and leftists alike, stems from this sefirah. Keter is the source of the middle axis, where we find peace.

In a democracy, power is shared, and allocated to different segments of society. Societies adopt democratic systems when they wish to allow conflicting values and goals to co-exist. In the body, following the principles of democracy would wreak havoc. If each physiological system had to compete for its own requirements, peace would never be achieved, “There is no peace in my bones because of my sins.”[1]

By correctly integrating the right and the left hemispheres of the brain, we empower the central nervous system to respond correctly and in good timing to internal and external stimuli. Similarly, true solidarity between left and right political factions can be achieved by appointing a central control system in the form of a Divinely ordained monarchy that is accepted by the entire nation.

Both the souls of rightists, who follow Moses, and leftists, who associate themselves with Korach, sing the “Song of Shabbat,”[2] which concludes, “A righteous individual shall flourish like a date palm” (צַדִּיק כַּתָּמָר יִפְרָח). The final letters of these three words spell Korach (קֹרַח). Indeed, the Arizal[3] teaches that Korach’s soul will eventually be rectified when he uses his pragmatic leadership talents to help create a truly Jewish state run according to Torah law.

Korach’s descent into the abyss was not his final word. Alive from his underground grave, he cries out, “Moses is true, and his Torah is true!”

Photo by Rommel Davila on Unsplash

[1]        Psalms 38:4.

[2]        Psalms 92.

[3]        The Arizal explains that the soul roots of Moses and Korach are the souls of Cain (Korach on the left) and Abel (Moses on the right).

[1]        Pirkei Avot 5:17.

[2]        Numbers 16:3.

[3]        Zohar Vayikra 158a.

[4]             Pirkei Avot 5:17.

[5]             Numbers 16:30.

[6]        See the Heichaltzu discourse of Rebbe Sholom Dov Ber Schneerson.

[7]        Proverbs 9:1.

About the Author
Rabbi Ginsburgh was born in S. Louis, Missouri in 1944. He initially pursued an academic career in mathematics and philosophy, later studying Torah under the guidance of several great sages–most notably, the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Rabbi Ginsburgh made Aliyah to Israel in 1965. His familiarity with mathematics, science, philosophy, psychology and music has enabled him to lecture throughout Israel, relating the ancient wisdom of Torah to many currents trends in academic thought and art.
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