Korach’s claim against Moshe Rabeinu was, “all the Jews are holy and God is among them, so why do you lord it over the congregation?” (Num 16:3).  Korach sought the high priest-ship for himself, but he camouflaged his desire with the age-old claim of “equality for all Jews.”  The response of the Torah was decisive – as the Midrash (Tanhuma 5) says, “Moshe explained to Korach that God established boundaries in His world.  Is it possible to mix up day and night?…just as you cannot blur the distinction between night and day, you cannot blur this distinction.”  God created the world with ten utterances, not with one utterance alone, and the result is that there are different tasks and different purposes for all of creation.

The distinctions fall under the category of space, time and soul.  There are distinctions in space, such as the ten levels of holiness mentioned in the mishna (the land of Israel, Jerusalem, the Temple Mount, and within the Temple, etc).  There are distinctions in time, such as the six days of the week and Shabbat, and there are distinctions within soul – such as the division of the Jewish people into Cohanim, Levi’im and Yisraelim.  Peace prevails among all of these categories and distinctions when they all learn to get along together and every category recognizes the boundaries of its neighbors.

However, “cold peace,” characterized by tolerance and “putting up” with the other, without fighting and quarreling, is not sufficient.  The world needs “real peace,” in which we not only recognize and tolerate our mutual boundaries, but we actively appreciate and work constructively with the differences among us.  We must not only “live together,” but perfect and complement one another.  We have examples of that in space, time and soul:  In space, we had the holy Temple that illuminated the entire world, in time, we have the Shabbat which illuminates the entire week, and in soul, we had the High Priest who brought down illumination for the entire Jewish people, and through them, to the rest of the world.

Spiritual cooperation flowed in the opposite direction as well:  The Jews brought sacrifices and came frequently to visit the Temple and see the holy illumination.  In the realm of time, he who works during the week brings more holy sparks to the table and most enjoys the Shabbat.  And in the category of soul, we are commanded to honor and respect the Cohanim, the priests in our midst. So, within the boundaries of holiness, there is not only “cold peace” or coexistence, but must also be active cooperation and mutual respect as well – what we might call “true peace.”

Yet, all of this was not enough for Korach.  He was a wise and spiritually developed man, who sought the highest form of peace and unity of all – peace and unity that comes from erasing the differences and distinctions between the categories of creation.  He sought the unity that occurred when all three of the above came together: In the holy Temple on Yom Kippur, when the high priest would enter the holy of holies.

The only problem with Korach’s wish is that this level of holiness only occurs at one time during the year.  It is not meant to illuminate into this world at all times.  In fact, it will only occur in a permanent way during the time of meshiach.  Right now, in this world, the best kind of unity that we can hope for is when the members of established boundaries and categories respect each other and work together.  That is the meaning of a world that was created with ten utterances.  There is no absolute unity in which all is one simple whole.  There is only compound unity that results from the cooperation and respect that all have for each other.

What happens in our world when the boundaries are erased (as Korach wanted)?  Then, communications break down and chaos results.  Those who are supposed to perform the more elite jobs (in this case, the Cohanim) forsake the communal life (of the Temple, for example) and partake of a more rewarding spiritual life of the individual (as, for example, Nadav and Avihu).  At the same time, those who lack the talents for the job (as for example, those who are not Cohanim, who attempt to fulfill the role of the Cohen Gadol), fall to new lows because they are trying to achieve a task for which they are not equipped, spiritually, emotionally and intellectually.

And that explains the two types of death that were suffered by the victims of Korach’s rebellion.  The Torah is a Torah of kindness, and when it metes out punishment, it is not for the sake of meanness or cruelty, God forbid.  It is for the sake of atonement and expiation.  So, the punishment is meant to match and atone for the transgression.  Those who rebelled against Moshe Rabeinu and sought the priesthood for high spiritual reasons suffered death by burning.  Like Nadav and Avihu, they suffered a death of elevation and ascent in which their soul left their body.  And those who rebelled merely for the sake of meanness and venality suffered a different death – by burial.  Since by their actions they demonstrated that they didn’t know their own limitations, they were put to death by falling to levels that were below them.  Thus, both classes of rebels found their expiation and atonement for failing to accept the boundaries and distinctions with which God created the world.

For more detail, go to www.jerusalemconnection.org

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol. 18, page 202-211

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