Parshat Korach

Torah Reading for Week of June 21 – June 27, 2009

“Hearts and Minds”

by Janet Madden, PhD
AJRCA Third Year Rabbinical Student

The dramatic story of Korach’s rebellion against the leadership of Moses and Aaron begins abruptly: “vayikach Korach“—”Korach took.” Korach’s justification for his challenge to the hierarchy is an appeal to democratic principles: not merely the appointed leaders, but all of the people are holy.

But what is it that Korach took?

Descendent of Levi, cousin to Moses and Aaron, Korach asserts his claim to what he believes is rightfully his. His takeover attempt reveals his political acumen: wandering in a wilderness of inexperience and uncertainty, the people are facing a 40-year sojourn–literally, the journey of a lifetime. That 250 Israelite elders and men of rank are so taken with–or taken in by –Korach, tells us both about the plausibility of his argument and their lack of trust in Moses’ ability to lead them to the Land.

According to the Ramban, throughout the Tanakh, “take” appears in the contexts of advice and thought. And because in the language of the Torah, the heart is the place of the intellect, the Ramban understands “vayikach korach” to mean that Korach takes counsel with his heart to do what it tells him.

Living in a culture that exhorts us to listen to and follow our hearts, I find Korach a potent symbol of our urge to actualize those desires nestled in the place that the poet W.B. Yeats calls “the deep heart’s core.” We are hardwired to synch up our hearts and heads, to rationalize our impulses. And so Korach’s mind effortlessly converts his feelings–ambition, envy, a sense of entitlement, the belief that he has been overlooked, a desire to be and do more—to thought and his thought to action.

But Korach’s story invites us to contemplate the dangerous potential of isolated minds and hearts that are united and unchecked by true discernment, by our awareness of our limitations. For in taking counsel only with ourselves, we look into a mirror: the distortion projected back to us is merely that which we hoped and expected to see.

When Korach and his followers accuse Moses and Aaron of setting themselves above the people, Moses says nothing and throws himself on his face. Both his silence and action speak volumes. But Korach, his mind and heart caught up in the revolutionary fervor of self-righteousness that Yeats calls “passionate intensity,” misses the message. Full only of himself, forgetful of G-d, Korach’s rebellion fails, spectacularly and unforgettably. The earth opens and the rebels and all that is theirs disappear into its maw, a physical manifestation of the internal collapse that has already taken place.

May Korach be for us a reminder to open our hearts and minds to the Source of Wisdom for help in cultivating the discernment that life requires. And may engagement with the process of discernment serve us so that as the Rabbis wished, B’chol yom yiheyu be’eineichem kechadashim – Every day your eyes will be as new!

Leave a Reply