Moshe and Korach embody, what is known in Kabbalah, as the line to the right, and the line to the left. What’s interesting is how these Kabbalistic “lines” shed light on current affairs. The Torah, however, is sourced in the “middle line” that transcends both right and left and which aims to unite the two.
Parashat Korach relates the sharp dispute between Korach with his followers and Moshe and Aaron, a dispute that would become symbolic for the future “What is a dispute that is not for the sake of heaven? This is the dispute of Korach and his followers” (Avot 5:17). The saga ends intimidatingly, with the earth opening up and swallowing Korach.
In order to properly understand the grievance raised by Korach and his followers, we must turn back to the previous Torah portion Shelach whose central theme is the sin of the spies. The spy’s main fear was to enter the land. Entering the land—which entailed dealing with practical day to day reality—scared them. They preferred to live ascetically in the desert under a protective spiritual shield then enter into the life of “king and kingdom.” The Zohar adds that they were also concerned with their individual status: In the desert, they thought, we are respected leaders. Who is to say what will happen upon entering the land, when each man will turn to his apportioned plot of land and begin to live in relative isolation, a state of affairs described repeatedly in the Prophets as, “each individual under his fig tree and under his grape vine” (1 Kings 5:5).
Korach’s quarrel was of a different nature—Korach had no fear of entering the land, quite the contrary, he relished the confrontation. Rather, he openly contested Moshe Rabbeinu’s leadership saying: “Let us make elections!” He invited the party in power—who had never been democratically elected—to see if indeed they held the favor of the population and would be able to be victorious in a popular vote. Korach was confident in his intelligence, his status, his wealth, and his sophisticated PR, thus, Korach was sure that democracy would inevitably propel him into the nation’s top spot. Unfortunately, his repeated successes, unstoppable climb in the polls, and increased public approval all ended with his descent into the abyss, literally.
Right and left; masculine and feminine
Until now we dealt with the facts, the Zohar however, provides us with a glance behind the scenes in understanding the deeper motives underlying the dispute. The Zohar explains that Parashat Korach is the struggle between the “left” and the “right.” The left represented by Korach and the right by Moshe.
Surely now you have the urge to yell out “can we leave out politics please?!” You may relax, the Zohar was written long before the introduction of the political terms “right” and “left.” The Zohar is speaking about the metaphysical “right” and “left” and not the political “right” and “left”. While consistencies between the two (politics and metaphysics) are sure to exist (for everything in the world has a spiritual source from whence it originates) these two are not entirely similar. We leave it up to the reader to draw his or her own parallels.
Returning to the Zohar’s explanation: right and left are fundamental terms in Kabbalistic wisdom, which have great implications and application. In general, the supernal sefirot are structured on a right-left axis (similar to a human body and anything else in our universe, as has been proven recently by scientists)—more accurately, they are described as the right axis and the left axis. This contrast is vivid when observing two pairs: the sefirah of wisdom (חָכְמָה) on the right axis, and on the opposite left axis the sefirah of understanding (בִּינָה) and the sefirah of loving-kindness (חֶסֶד) on the right axis, and on the opposite left axis, the sefirah of might (גְבוּרָה).
These are, as of yet, empty terms, and to sense their true meaning we must consider a strong parallel between the right and the left axes to masculinity and femininity: the right axis relating to masculinity and the left axis relating to femininity. Of course, we are now speaking in general terms, for in truth practically everything we find is comprised of both masculine and feminine. We too—both men and woman—are made up of masculine and feminine aspects: in every male there is included a female aspect and in every female there is included a male aspect. But in the male, the masculine aspect dominates, therefore he ends up being a man. Whereas, in the female, the feminine aspect dominates so she ends up a woman.
Masculinity and femininity are two different worlds (which hopefully meet and do not collide). To capture their differences in a sentence would be impossible. For the sake of our discussion we will view them based on these following features: the right-masculine aspect will be defined by the desire to affect reality from above; this is associated with abstract vision that is meant to determine reality. By contrast, the left-female aspect will be defined by attention to reality itself; a woman knows very well, what she is saying, how she should be dealt with and how she should be led.
In Chassidic terminology, the man is about essence while the woman is all about existence. The man engages in ideology and principle and at times can remain aloof, while the woman knows how to build (Proverbs 14:1), “Every wise woman builds her home” (חַכְמוֹת נָשִׁים בָּנְתָה בֵיתָהּ). Again, it must be emphasized that masculine and feminine are inter-included, meaning we are comprised of both masculine and feminine characteristics. For example, if I wished to establish a school—my masculine side would develop a grand vision while my feminine side would succeed in taking the necessary steps to implement the grand vision.
Moshe and Korach
How is all this connected to this week’s Torah portion?
Relative to one another, Moshe is distinctly right-masculine and Korach is distinctly left-feminine. Moshe brought down the Torah for us, and in it we are dictated from on high what we are to do, and what we are not to do, how this should be done and how that should not be done. Korach, on the other hand, represented the nation: he assembled the nation in the desert (“and he assembled the nation before Moshe”), with calls for equality (“for all in the assembly are holy”), and accuses Moshe’s of unfairly distributing positions of power (“and why should you rule over God’s congregation”). The Torah is essentially and fundamentally masculine; Korach and the nation he purported to lead is realistic and fundamentally feminine (according to one Midrash, the one behind the entire rebellion was none other than Korach’s wife!!)
One would think that the right-masculine axis yields a great deal of control, but in truth it is the left-feminine axis that in actuality dominates (scientifically, it is no secret who is the dominating gender). The essential principles of the man alone cannot penetrate reality, all they can do is dictate what needs to be done. But the women with her insight and understanding of reality, knows how to work the field, she enlivens the field, you can even say she is the field itself. We are now beginning to get a better understanding why the sefirah of understanding (בִּינָה) that builds and the sefirah of might (גְבוּרָה) that dominates are more associated with the feminine than with the masculine. The implicit connection between these two sefirot is hinted in the verse, “I am understanding, I have might.”
Korach contested: the Torah of Moshe is honorable in its place. In the field however, I call the shots. I know very well how to lead the population, how to build institutions and municipalities, how to manage and achieve maximum production. You [Moshe] speak of ideals and essence, “do this and do that,” but when it comes to reality I know best. And he had a point!
Korach’s three errors
If so, what was the problem with Korach’s coup? According to the Zohar there were three errors:
The separation of right and left,
Firstly, Korach attempted to separate between the right-masculine and the left-feminine. He basically said: I have no need for the right, “I do not reckon them.” I have winning policies and have no need for a coalition with the right. They can pursue their agendas, fruitlessly fantasize about essence and ideology—but that is pointless, for in practice it is only I who will determine policy in all fields.
Returning to our example of husband and wife, Korach’s aim to separate the left from the right is comparable to a woman who does not want to marry, saying to herself “I get on fine by myself, I’m realistic and creative what need do I have for a man to enter my life, tell me what to do and try to change me”
Subservience of right to left
The second error: Korach desired that the left dominate to such a degree that the right would be forced to join their ranks. Not ignoring the right, He came to them with a proposal: You say what you would like and I will say what I like and together we will shape policy. In truth however, his intention was that, knowingly or unknowingly, they would submit to his authority, and commit political suicide. The right-masculine which staunchly endorses the laws of the Torah shall submit to the hegemony of the left and that all its truths should transform from a fundamental ideal into folklore, cultural decoration and no more.
If in the first instance, the left was itself the object of its faultiness, in our instance, it is the right who suffers from the left and as a result the left itself suffers.
Concerning a husband and wife, this would be when the woman becomes the dictating voice in the household, and the husband for all practical purposes becomes subservient to his wife. It is quite possible that he does not mind at all, and he may even consider it to be a good thing, but objectively speaking he is completely suffocated. His voice gets more and more muffled and the right-masculine aspect integral to a household fades.
Perpetual discord between right and left.
In addition to the right and left axes, Kabbalah talks about a third, middle axis, which is a combination of the two. In our case, the important characteristic of the middle line is peace, complete reconciliation, an atmosphere of harmony between those leaning to the right and the left. Similarly, the Torah too stands in the middle line of the sefirot. The Torah is neither “right” nor “left,” rather it is simply truth and therein lies the blessing of peace (in regards to politics, it is important to note that the true middle line does not exist nowadays).
As a result, Korach’s third error was to cause a blemish in the middle line—in peace. Why is Korach’s dispute so sharply described by the sages as the exemplar of, “a dispute that is not for the sake of heaven”? Possibly because, in the end Korach was looking out for his own personal interests as were the rest of his cohort. In truth, their apparent unity was also only because of their common foe. Because of this, their dispute is revealed to be for the sake of a dispute alone. Korach thrives off dispute (similar to many media personalities who cannot continue without, at least, some conflict, some bad news…)
Put another way, Korach did not believe it was possible for there to be true reconciliation between the left and the right, unity between Jews was a naive dream, and unrealistic. On the other hand, the conflicts are part of reality, and so disagreement is what he emphasized. This is a blemish in the middle line for he did not give peace—the essence of the middle axis—a chance.
In the context of a household, true peace between husband and wife stems from the recognition that they both share the same soul-root. If the couple were only to concern themselves with common interests, disregarding “the third party” (i.e., God’s Divine Presence) that dwells between them, this indeed would be a blemish to the middle axis. Peace exists particularly on Shabbos, “Shabbos shalom,” and a home which Shabbos is not observed, lacks the dimension of peace—because the speediness of day to day life is never halted, and space is not given for the additional-soul, and to the holiness that rests in the home and is responsible for its peace
To include left into right
Since Korach’s dispute was purely for the sake of dispute, and since he disputed the premise that Moshe had been sent by God—there was no alternative other than “And he descended, alive, into the abyss.”
The truth is though, that we do not forgo Korach’s position. Just as the left-feminine axis alone is non-functional, similarly, the right-masculine axis by itself cannot function. In the words of the Zohar: The left must be included into the right. The right axis, represented by Moshe sets the tone, fixes the guidelines, deals with essence—paramount though is the inclusion of the left, represented by Korach, who knows how to build and administrate, who understands universality—the spokesperson for reality. Moshe speaks on behalf of Divine revelation, which is transmitted via a select group of righteous individuals. But, there is truth to Korach’s argument, “the entire assembly is holy”—for the entire nation are the reality!—but only, as long as they lovingly accept the guidance of Moshe’s Torah.
Ultimately, the holy Arizal teaches us that Korach’s soul will play a rectified role in Jewish leadership. This fact, is alluded to in the verse (Psalms 93:13), “the righteous like a palm tree will bloom” (צַדִּיק כַּתָּמָר יִפְרָח), whose final letters spell out the word Korach (קֹרַח).
The unity of the right and the left occurs along the middle line, where peace resides. Today it almost certainly sounds naïve, but we truly believe that peace will exist and Jews of all colors will blend together and form a full and exhilarating picture. This will be because at our lofty root—the root of the middle axis—from where the right and left axes branch out, the souls of both Moshe and Korach stand together and sing “A psalm, a song for the Sabbath day”—the psalm ending with the words “The righteous, like a palm tree, shall bloom.”