“They assembled against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, ‘You take too much upon yourselves, for the entire congregation are all holy, and the Lord is in their midst. So why do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?’ Moses heard and fell on his face. He spoke to Korach and to all his company, saying, ’In the morning, the Lord will make known who is His, and who is holy, and He will draw [them] near to Him, and the one He chooses, He will draw near to Him. Do this, Korach and his company: Take for yourselves censers. Place fire into them and put incense upon them before the Lord tomorrow, and the man whom the Lord chooses he is the holy one; you have taken too much upon yourselves, sons of Levi.’” (Bamidbar Chapter 16:3-7)
It was another tragic episode. As the nation was still recovering from the sin of the spies, a rebellion against Moshe and Aharon was brewing. Korach, a close cousin of Moshe’s, accused him of nepotism and abuse of power. Moshe was so overwhelmed that at first, he could not even find the words to respond; he simply fell down to the ground, sapped of his strength and vigor. Korach told Moshe and Aharon, “Rav lachem (you have taken too much for yourselves). Interestingly enough, a few verses later Moshe uses the same wording telling Korach and his followers, “Rav lachem bnai Levi, (you have much the sons of Levi.)” It appears like a verbal duel. Korach told Moshe, ”You have too much power and influence” and Moshe responded to Korach, “You already have much responsibility and standing.”
The Gemara (Sotah 13b) states:
“And the Lord said to me: Let it suffice for you [rav lakh]; speak no more to Me of this matter” (Deuteronomy 3:26). Rabbi Levi says: Moses proclaimed to the Jewish people when rebuking them with the term “rav,” and therefore it was proclaimed to him with the term “rav” that he would not enter Eretz Yisrael. The Gemara explains: He proclaimed with the term “rav” when speaking with the congregation of Korach: “You take too much upon you [rav lachem], you sons of Levi” (Numbers 16:7), and it was proclaimed to him with the term “rav,” as God denied his request and said: “Let it suffice for you [rav lakh].”
The Gemara refers to the episode at the end of Moshe’s life when Moshe beseeched God for the ability to enter the Land of Israel. God told Moshe, “You told Korach, rav lach (you have enough); I am telling you, rav lach (you have enough).” What does this mean? Did Moshe handle Korach inappropriately? Moshe was the victim not the aggressor.
The great Chassidic master, Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev explains that God was telling Moshe that although Korach was wrong in his approach, his aspiration was noble. Korach wanted more out of life, he wanted to accomplish and be more. Unfortunately, he went about it all wrong. What could have been a noble quest for enhanced holiness became a self-serving, ego-driven journey for honor. Moshe said to Korach, “Rav lach, you have a lot, you are great, you have accomplished so much – stop this foolishness.” Fast forward a few years when Moshe begged God to allow him entry to the promised land. God responded to Moshe, “Rav lach, you have so much. Why do you need to go into the Land of Israel? You have accomplished much! You faced down Pharaoh, you brought down the man, you vanquished some of the mightiest kings of Canaan – it’s enough!” But of course, for Moshe it was not. Moshe begged and beseeched for more – but it was not to be.
Korach was wrong in every way. Yet in certain respects his motivation was pure. He wanted something more for and from himself. His approach was wrong, inappropriate, and disastrous, but on some level his heart was in the right place. This is an important lesson in how we deal with other people. There are times in life when people do and say things which are upsetting and offensive. It is important to take a step back and try to understand where the other is coming from. There is no justification for inappropriate, hurtful behavior. But when trying to deescalate conflict and repair a relationship, it is helpful to try to understand where the other is coming from.
The tragedy of Korach lies in the fact that he truly desired elevated and amplified holiness, he just went about things in the wrong way. When dealing with difficult people it can be helpful to take a step back and try to understand the root and cause of the inappropriate behavior. Harmful behavior towards another is never justifiable but when looking to mend relationships it can be instructive and helpful to strive to understand the motivations of the other.