Korach - Being Right vs. Being Righteous
We get it. There are probably very few people on Earth right now who are ecstatic about current events. We can list a lot of things that are wrong in the world. A global pandemic, racial injustice and murder, protests, businesses closing all around us. We’re with you, too. It’s tough to keep talking and writing about the same state of the world week after week.
So there are a couple of options: Door Number One: We can drown ourselves in sorrow, explode in panic and question everything and live life like the world really is burning. Or we can choose Door Number Two: “Trust the Process.”
Well, as Eliyahu says, “Let’s talk about it.”
To “trust the process” means that we need to trust each other, trust ourselves, trust what’s happening in the world. It means to trust that our efforts of positivity, faith, kindness and understanding are building (yes even right this second you are building) the accomplishments and achievements we desire and our Creator desires for us. If we choose to rise above the negativity, we can build a solid foundation and a prosperous community.
This means right now, and for the past months, you’ve been building your future, your character, and your journey. So whoever you’ve been (or are), this is your moment to trust the process and double down on being, well…righteous. This week, let’s talk about being right vs. being righteous.
The portion about Korach tackles just that. It’s about a knowledgeable sage, Korach, a pretty righteous dude, who veered off course m-a-j-o-r-l-y when he assumed his world was on fire, questioned and challenged his leaders (Moses & Aaron), and then got punished.
So let’s get to it and talk about why it matters to us today.
Why Did Korach Challenge His Leaders?
This week’s portion starts with the words, “And Korach took.” It’s explained that Korach took himself away from the tribe. In other words, when he developed a certain view of the world and state of affairs, he separated or isolated himself from the group.
During this time, Moses and Aaron, the leaders, had assumed leadership and priesthood. They took all the executive powers. Korach didn’t get any. So, he said, “If this is a democracy, I deserve something.” As a reminder, Korach was knowledgeable. He was a great sage. But he was angry about Moses’ frailty and about the section of the Levites that gave Moses and Aaron everything that he wasn’t getting. He felt left out.
He felt he was right and the other majority was wrong. In other words, he was egotistical and self-righteous at this point. He believed he deserved priesthood, not to stay a Levi, and he was convinced he was right. The Creator, Moses, and Aaron, however, thought otherwise. Done deal, right? No.
Korach Challenged Moses
To shed some light on the matter, we need to raise one explanation from ancient times. Garments, like a “tzitzit” or “tallit”, used to have one blue string. The color used to come from the ink of a snail that was found in the ocean. It is no longer worn this way, as it is not known where this snail exists.
So, Korach challenged Moses with the questions: What if the entire garment is blue? Do you still have to add the blue string? And then he asked, if your house is full of spiritual books and scrolls, do you still have to put a mezuzah on the front door?
What Were Korach’s Intentions?
You may want to insert the eye-roll emoji here because Korach’s challenges might seem petty, but what were his intentions with these questions? Why challenge Moses? One of the best answers comes from Rabbi Yehuda Tzvi Brandwein. He says that there are two ways to worship the Creator. One is worshipping the Creator through trust and certainty “as the ox is to the yoke and as the donkey is to the burden.” This is about people who just believe without knowledge. The other way is through knowledge.
When Korach mentioned the tallit of blue, he wasn’t really talking about the garment; he was talking about the type of worship. In other words, does one absolutely need to worship the Creator if one is certain and believes in the Divine? When he mentioned the scrolls, saying why do I need certainty if I know everything? And now we see it…This reveals the ego and self-righteousness, after all, nobody likes a know-it-all.
How Did Moses Handle It?
Moses answered yes to both questions. At this point, people started making fun of Moses with Korach and Moses answered, quite beautifully, ‘when you have all the knowledge in the world, you can sometimes fall apart from having so much knowledge. That’s when you need certainty. And then if you have certainty in the Divine, you also need knowledge.’
The concept is like fire and water. If you want to heat water, you must use the fire and water together. But if you put the water on the fire, you’ll have neither. They cancel each other out. However, if you use a pot (sidenote: if you see a pot in your dreams, you will have peace in your life) between the water and the fire, you’ll be able to heat your water while maintaining a fire. Just like with the fire and the water, you need to find a way to put both knowledge and certainty together. Korach wasn’t able to do that.
Why Was Korach Not Chosen To Be A Priest?
Moses brought people together and united them. Korach didn’t. In fact he divided them when he made fun of Moses. Simply put that’s not…righteous. He might have been right about his point, but he wasn’t righteous. He didn’t even consider asking the universe what was right and what was wrong.
What Do We Take Away From This Portion?
Many times, life will not treat you fairly. Many times you may be “right”. But we need to trust the process, and in doing so, we become better than right. We become righteous. Whatever is tough in our lives, our relationships, health, finances is exactly what we need to go through to get closer to the Divine, to get closer to who we really are. This is the path of righteousness.Korach tried to take something that he thought belonged to him, the priesthood. God wanted Aaron to be the priest and not Korach, and God had his reasons. Korach didn’t want to know the reason. He just wanted everyone to know that this was unfair. Because of that, it says in the Zohar that whoever chases after something that doesn’t belong to them will lose what belongs to them.Instead of looking at what other people have, we should focus on ourselves. We should focus on being righteous. We have the opportunity to look at the areas that need work.
This week, and this minute, and every minute to come, we have the opportunity to choose a path of being righteous instead of the path of being right. When we accept that we can make our situation better by contributing and uniting, then we will reach our fullest potential. This is a blessing. We are humbled by it. When we trust the Creator with knowledge and certainty, then He will do what’s best for us, we will only see the good side of things. This week, we should think about and meditate on what areas need work in our lives, change those to unite with the path of the world, no matter how wrong its trajectory might seem. Only then can we truly move forward on the path of righteousness inspired by the divine.