(206) 527-9399

Korach: Numbers 16:1 – 18:32

“Battle at The Edge of The Promised Land”


We left the Israelites at the edge of the Promised Land last week. Twelve tribal leaders, who had gone to scope out the Land, had come back. Ten to two, they advised against entering into the Land, opting to remain in the wilderness. They argued that more time was needed to prepare. The people weren’t ready to let go of the spiritual retreat that the wilderness afforded. They wanted to stay in that wilderness state a little longer. Above all, they didn’t want to reenter the world, have to raise kids and go to work every day. They wanted spirituality divorced from everyday reality. They wanted more highs, more miracles, more ecstatic moments.

But these were the voices of Mitzrayim, of narrow consciousness, of addictive behavior; the voices of ego that always want more. These voices had turned the wilderness, their spiritual retreat itself, into another narrow place; because when the ego gets attached to wanting more highs, more spiritual experiences, the attachment itself becomes an insurmountable obstacle to experiencing them again, a new place of stuckness.

In the biblical myth, God understands that though He had taken the Hebrews out of Egypt, He didn’t succeed in taking Egypt out of the Hebrews.  Therefore, He decrees that the generation of Israelites that were slaves in Egypt will have to die off in the wilderness; for only beings who had never known slavery could settle the Promised Land. You can imagine how pleased the Israelites were! As we open this week’s Torah portion a revolt erupts led by a member of the Levite tribe: Korach.

“The Hebrew root k-r-ch means ‘division’ or ‘split,’ and our Sages associate Korach…with these tendencies;” writes the Lubavitcher Rebbe in his Likkutei Sichos. Korach is the quintessential splitting and dividing energies of ego who feeds on separateness and control. But, for the ego, it is “divide and conquer.” Not surprisingly, Korach and his followers attempt to overthrow Moses and Aaron—who represent the higher levels of our consciousness. The ego wants to take over; to go beyond what it is designed to do, and let its need for control spill over the many facets of our being. In Torah Moses answers Korach: “Hear me son of Levi. Is it not enough for you that the God of Israel has set you apart… and given you direct access to perform the duties of the Eternal…and to minister to the community and serve them? Now…you seek the priesthood too?” [Num. 16:8-10]

Perhaps this face-off between Korach and Moses is symbolic of the constant inner battle between our controlling, divisive ego, and our accepting, unifying Self; the epic primordial battle between the Yetzer HaRa and the Yetzer HaTov within us. For most of us, it is still the voice of ego that speaks the loudest in our lives, and which—most of the time—obscures the light of our True Self, our inner Moses. We have to keep our practice up constantly and steadfastly just to get Egypt out of ourselves again and again. But that alone won’t be enough. Korach will follow us into the wilderness of our spiritual plateaus, prey on our doubts even as we find ourselves—as the Israelites in our story—at the edge of the spiritual Promised Land, and attempts to take over even our most powerful mystical insights. We must relentlessly guard against its enslaving enticement, always remain vigilantly aware.

In Torah it is the voice of Moses that eventually wins the day. Korach ends up being swallowed by the earth at God’s command, and 250 of his followers consumed by Divine fire. May we, too, heed the voice of our inner Moses, that such might become the fate of our inner Korach as well.

Ken yehi Ratzon.