Parshat Korach: Why Give a Good Thing a Bad Name?


By Rabbi Levi Druk


This week we read the parshah of Korach, named after Korach, who led a rebellion against Moshe. Korach challenged the priesthood of Aaron, ultimately leading to his own demise.

This leads to a curious question: Why name a portion of the Torah after an evil person?

The Talmud teaches (Yoma 38b) that one should not name a child after a wicked person, which is derived from the verse in Proverbs (10:7) “the name of the wicked shall rot.” If this is true in general, how much more so does it stand correct with regard to Torah! After all, there is no greater way to perpetuate someone’s name than by naming an entire portion of the eternal Torah after him!

The Lubavitcher Rebbe suggests (Sefer Hasichot, 5750) that Korach had a positive and redeeming quality, in light of which we name the portion after him.

Korach’s motive was that he yearned to serve G-d as a Kohen Gadol (Numbers, 16:10), something Moshe himself said he desired (Rashi 16:6). In fact, Maimonides notes (Shemita, Chapter 13) that every individual should strive to spiritually be like a High Priest. “Not only the tribe of Levi,” he writes, “but any one of the inhabitants of the world whose spirit generously motivates him and he understands with his wisdom to set himself aside and stand before G-d to serve Him and minister to Him and to know G-d, proceeding justly as G-d made him, removing from his neck the yoke of the many reckonings which people seek, he is sanctified as holy of holies.”

This yearning to connect with Hashem in the most holy of ways is a positive trait, something we should all remember and emulate.

Korach’s error was in acting like a High Priest and not subjugating his will and channeling his drive to serve G-d the way Moshe taught him to. Nevertheless, the desire in and of itself is something commendable and enviable.

This teaching from the Rebbe, whose 26th yahrzeit is this week, is also an example of his Ahavat Yisrael. The Rebbe sought and found the positive and the admirable characteristics in every Jew, both past and present. We too must seek to do the same. When we are able to look beyond another’s shortcomings and appreciate their qualities, then we can truly come to love our fellow as ourself.

Rabbi Levi Druk is the director of Chabad of Downtown & Young Jewish Professionals-Baltimore.

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