His Final Undertaking!
By Rabbi Label Lam
And Korach took… (Bamidbar 16:1)
Find the motive - and you’ve got the motive. (Groucho Marx – On crime
What had Korach done to deserve infamy? What was his tragic flaw?
According to our sages he made many uplifting and true claims about the
worthiness of the Jewish People. He stated that all Jews are holy since we
had all heard The Almighty speak on Sinai. He only questioned the need for
Moshe and Aaron to be the King and the Kohen? It sounds like a legit
question. Why should he be swallowed alive into the earth for asking basic
Apparently, his appeal was so attractive that he induced 250 heads of the
Sanhedrin to join forces with him. This was no foolish bunch of thugs. The
best and the brightest followed him to the grave. Where was he wrong and
how did they fail to detect it?
A man enters a bakery hurriedly and asks the attendant how long it would
take to make a brand new cake. He was told to return in one hour. An hour
later he’s back in the store and he looks disappointedly at the
cake. “Maybe I didn’t make myself clear. I would like the cake in the
shape of the letter “K”!” “Come back in a half hour!” He’s told! He
promptly returns a half hour later and looks critically at the results. “I
wanted it to be covered with bright pink icing and fancy flowers!” He is
advised to wait a few more minutes. After a short while he is shown the
finished product made according to his specs. Sensing his approval, the
relieved attendant then asks as he does routinely, “Shall I put it in a
box like this? “No!” he replies, “I’ll eat it here!”
Korach’s tragic flaw is sadly reflected in this silly joke. Sure he spoke
of lofty matters, and many good people were persuaded by his seductive
rhetoric but fundamentally he was gravely mistaken. How so?
The Torah doesn’t delay a word in telling us where the fault line
lies. “Vayikach Korach”-“And Korach took…” He was a taker. His motive in
creating malcontent amongst the people was for his own hidden agenda. He
wanted a title like “Kohen Gadol” for himself. All those convincing
speeches he delivered with all their subtle profundity were ultimately
self- serving. He wanted for himself a slice of the Kovod, the great
glory. He baked that big fancy cake and it was for him to eat in the here
and now! He was “taking” albeit under the pretense of a “fairness
Rabbi Dessler posits the thesis that at any given moment a person is
either a giver or a taker. One is either motivated by some transcendental
tendency to care and share or he is animated by an animal urge that
centers on the self. The outer actions may not clearly betray the
underlying motive, though. One may need a mind reader or a real prophet to
truly tell even about himself.
One of the perks of being on the road a lot is that I get to see lots of
different bumper stickers. The one I like the most and honk with approval
at describes the essence of Torah Living: “Think global! Act local!”
Seeing that we are each, in a nutshell, a microcosm of the universe, our
moral imperative is to be an actor here and now for the sake of everywhere
else. Korach was thinking local but acting globally! He was talking up a
game of concern for the spiritual welfare of the entire nation but his
interest in doing so was as local as local could ever be. He was
effectively campaigning for his own Kovod!
Korach wasn’t just a mover and a shaker. He was fundamentally a taker.
When he was suddenly taken from the world he took many decent people down
with him obviating the need for an undertaker. Tragically and whimsically
this turned out to be with a capital “K” his final undertaking!
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Label Lam and Torah.org.