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Parsha Ponderings – Korach – If You Live in Hell, You’ll Live in Hell

ויקח קרח בן יצהר בן קהת בן לוי ודתן ואבירם בני אליאב ואון בן פלת בני ראובן

And Korach, son of Yitzhar, son of Kehas, son of Levi, took, as did Dasan and Aviram, sons of Eliav, and On, son of Peles, of the tribe of Reuven

The opening words of our Parsha, which describe Korach as having “taken” some unspecified item, are difficult to make sense of. What did he take? Why is that what he took not specified? What was it about this “taking” which makes it central to the story of Korach’s attempted putsch?

Rashi, quoting Chazal, tells us that what Korach “took” was himself, meaning that he separated himself from the rest of the Israelites, to take up the charge against Moshe’s leadership.

The question, however, remains. Why could the Torah not simply use the word “separated” instead of “took”, thus avoiding the need for explaining a seemingly incomprehensible word?

Apparently, there is a stark difference between simply “separating” oneself, and “taking” oneself to separate. While the former can be used to describe just about any disagreement, the latter connotes one who had taken all of his talents, brilliance, and energy and channeled them toward the pursuit of a conflict. By “taking” himself, Korach engaged the most gifted aspects of his personality, and utilized them to scheme the rebellion. As our Sages tell us, Korach used all his intellectual prowess to prove Moshe wrong, all his organizational skills to rally the masses, and all his family prestige to buttress his position.

And, as we all know, he met a most dismal end. As the Torah tells it, Korach and his cohorts were sent to the abyss alive, tout ensemble.

Why? What made Korach different from all other sinners, who at the very least merit death?

Perhaps the answer is that while all sins are bad, some sins are worse. The ordinary sinner, sins with the more feeble parts of his personality, which fall prey to the strong pull of evil. He does not, however, make his sin into his life’s mission. Even as reality drags him down time and again, his dreams and aspirations remain in the realm of positivity, and it is there that he seeks to concentrate his talents, with the hope of making something worthwhile of his gifts despite the resistant drag of his faults.

One who sins in this manner, will always retain a prominent element of redeemability, regardless of how deeply he sins. Sure, he may be sent to the Valley of Death, to purge the evil with which he has fused from his soul, yet the “live” aspect of his character, that ever-aspiring body of talents deep within his soul, will forever live on in the realm of eternity, engaged as it was in the pursuit of goals worthy of immortality.

Korach, however, sinned in a much deeper way. By taking his greatest gifts and channeling them toward sin, he had single-handedly self-annihilated. Every vestige of life fit for eternity had been dragged into the employ of evil, and thus, nothing of his character remained to be salvaged for Paradise. Korach could not experience the process of common death, during which the negative is annihilated and the positive perpetuated. Instead, he would have to be sent to Hell alive, for nothing of his character remained too “live” to live somewhere other than the Valley of Death.

The lesson is profound. More than we mustn’t sin, we certainly mustn’t focus our talents on things sinful. While our coattails may occasionally get caught on a sinful something, let us at least make sure that it happens as we are sprinting toward a lofty goal. Let our fancy be caught by projects great, our talents enraptured by pursuits positive, our conscience captivated by causes noble, and we will forever remain ultimately eternal, mortal shortcomings notwithstanding.

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