RAV KOOK ON KORACH: THE DANGERS OF KORACHISM
“Now Korach, son of Izhar son of Kohath son of Levi, betook himself, along with Dathan and Abiram sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth—descendants of Reuben—to rise up against Moses, together with two hundred and fifty Israelites, chieftains of the community, chosen in the assembly, men of repute.
They combined against Moses and Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and the LORD is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the LORD’s congregation?” (BaMidbar 16:1-3).
What does the illuminated Torah understanding of Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook ZT”L teach us about the danger of Korach’s attitude and actions? Why did it get such a severe response?
“The ground under them burst asunder, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up with their households, all Korach’s people and all their possessions. They went down alive into Sheol, with all that belonged to them; the earth closed over them and they vanished from the midst of the congregation.” (Ibid, 16:31-33)
In the essay ‘ישראל ותחיתו-Israel And Its Renaissance’ in Orot (Rav Kook’s primary teachings about Israel-published in 1921) Rav Kook addresses Korach’s behavior and its national and international implications to this day. Let us read the relevant sections from Chapter 15:
“The foundation of wickedness…comes to set up a place for the dross of life…to give it greatness and power within the good and holy; not to purify the holy, but rather to defile and contaminate it…Thus the Korachite influence was perpetrated in Israel. Their cry “All the congregation are holy and in their midst the Lord” (Ibid, 16:3) was a cry that mocked the entire content of holiness, and the inner uplifting and preparation necessary so that holiness will be truly established in life, so that it will be protected against any defect and contamination, so that it would not become the world’s greatest oppression.
Therefore it was necessary that [Korach’s band] descend alive into the bowels of the earth, to disappear from the midst of the community and to be forever a sign to mutineers not to emulate Korach and his congregation.”
Rav Kook is highlighting that true spiritual growth and accomplishment requires a deep commitment and constant effort. The very harsh response to Korach and his disciples was a very strong teaching to Israel that spiritual leadership requires tremendous training and character development; it is not a matter of automatic or inherited status.
At this point, Rav Kook extends the focus and discusses ‘הקרחות האנושית-The Korachism of humankind’. How is the attitude of Korach reflected in international attitudes and behavior? How is it hurting the world?
“The call to all the nations, who are sunk in all the mud of impurity, in the abyss of wickedness and ignorance, in the most frightening depths of darkness -’You are all holy, all children of the Lord, there is no difference between peoples, there is no holy, chosen people in the world, all humans are equally holy’- this is the Korachism of humankind...from which humanity suffers, from which ‘the earth reels as a drunkard and totters like a hut, her sin is heavy upon her and she shall fall and not get up any more’ (Isaiah 24:20) until ‘the day will expire’ (Song of Songs 2:17, 4:6) and “HaShem will command the heavenly on high and earthly kings below.” (Isaiah 24:21)…
The world must recognize that one syllable, a statement of theoretical belief, is insufficient for anyone to fly to Paradise, while the entire gamut of evil, murder and abomination, -which is tucked away in the chambers of the spirit, in the person’s blood and flesh- is allowed to remain intact. Consequently he requires no purification or education, no concentration or upliftment…
An end will be put to all of that darkness. The human being will realize that all of his effort must be concentrated on the purity of the soul. The possibility of purity as a national quality requires focused concentration…
[This was the basis of] of the desire to establish one nation on earth as ‘a kingdom of priests and holy nation’ (Exodus 19:6)-to be a demonstration of the supernal divine light that penetrates the lives of people. Only when [this nation will be] strong and free, having returned to its intact and protected state- after all its many manifestations in the past, after all its difficult tribulations, after all its catharses and refinements- [this nation] will return with…all the wealth of its soul and the talents of its life, with all its purity- of flesh, race and belief, with all the content of the divine revelation, which is its inheritance and which is nurtured and broadened by the gift of its land–only then through the inner friendship that Israel will show to the nations of the world despite all the hatred and persecutions it received from them…
Only then will it be apparent to all, that the gift for holiness is not a cheap trinket to be seized by any impure hands, but rather a treasure purchased with awesome toil, with constant self-sacrifice, and through the merit of the holy heritage of parents to children who bear their yoke with love and guard the way of HaShem with all might. Then the fog, the mask, will be lifted off the faces of all the peoples…
‘To You, nations will come from the ends of the earth, and will say: To You nations shall come From the ends of the earth and say: Our fathers inherited utter delusions, things that are futile and worthless. (Jeremiah 16:19) HaShem alone will be exalted on that day, and the idols will totally disappear. (Isaiah 2:17,18) They will not harm nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of HaShem as the waters cover the sea’ (Ibid, 11:19)” (Orot, ‘Israel and its Renaissance’, Ch. 15)
The voice of Korach is loudly resonating internationally. Israel’s return to its homeland and to the world stage is causing a huge stir. It is significant that the severe, hugely inaccurate criticism that Israel constantly receives is coming from the most immoral and dictatorial regimes in the world. Israel and the Jewish people are under constant attack from countries and terrorist organizations that are controlled by “the entire gamut of evil, murder and abomination”.
May we be blessed that soon “the fog and the mask will be lifted off the faces of all the peoples”.
May we be blessed that soon the oppressed people of the world will throw off the ‘utter delusions, futile and worthless’ that control so much of current human life.
May all humankind realize that all our “all our effort must be concentrated on the purity of our soul’.
May Israel be blessed to be guiding lights in this historical unfolding and improvement.
“HaShem alone will be exalted on that day, and the idols will totally disappear. (Isaiah 2:17,18) They will not harm nor destroy in all My holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of HaShem as the waters cover the sea’ (Ibid, 11:19)”
.במהרה בימינו-Quickly in Our Days
Prepared by Rabbi Itzchak Evan-Shayish, www.haorot.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
With much thanks to Rabbi Bezalel Naor, Shlita for allowing us to use selections from his masterful translation of Orot.