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Home » Korach

Korach: Frigid Divisiveness

Submitted by on January 12, 2006 – 4:15 amNo Comment | 4,849 views

Apathetic Frostbite

The Baal Shem Tov taught that a Jew must utilize every encounter to gain inspiration inhis or her divine service. One winter day, the Baal Shem Tov’s students noticed a cross engraved in a sheet of ice and asked their rabbi what inspiration might be derived from a cross. The rabbi replied, “Religious fervor breeds faith; religious apathy breeds heresy.” (1)

A Jew must be passionate about G-d. Every morning we begin our day yearning for G-d in prayer. We patiently fan the spark of this yearning until it is transformed into flames of passion and desire that are expressed throughout the day by the passionate observance of his commandments.

A Jew who prays by rote, who is dispassionate about the rituals and who is unmoved by Torah might quickly slide into irreverence and even, G-d forbid, heresy. Hence the Chassidic adage, “A narrow divide separates apathy from heresy.” (2)


Our Torah reading this week tells the story of a Levite named Korach, who led a rebellion against Moses and Aaron in a bid for leadership of the Jewish people. The Torah begins this story with the words, “And Korach took,” but the Torah doesn’t specify what Korach took. (3)

What did Korach take? The early commentators understood that Korach took himself and his co-conspirators out of the congregation. Korach had no wish to be a part of the group, of being a follower. He wanted to separate. (4)

The name Korach alludes to a character of divisiveness. The Midrash links the name Korach with the Hebrew word “Korcho,” which means baldness. Tearing the hair from one’s head leaves an unnatural emptiness where there should be hair. Tearing Jews away from one another, as implied by the name Korach, leaves an unnatural emptiness where there should be unity. (5)

Korach wanted to be a leader and no price was too steep for him. If becoming a leader required him to break with the nation and start a new following, then he was prepared to do so. If it required the fracturing of Jewish unity, he was prepared to do that too.

A Block of Ice

Why was so Korach so callous about Jewish unity? Why was he rebellious of Moses and Aaron, the leaders appointed by G-d? Once again we turn to his name for insight. The name Korach is spelled with the very Hebrew letters that spell the word “Kerach,” which means ice.Korach, as his name implies, was cold and apathetic by nature. (6)

Korach pursued his selfish desire for leadership with no regard for anything else. Jewish unity was expendable for him. Divine appointees were replaceable. He viewed the negative fallout with dispassion, the damaging effects with apathy. Nothing would stand in the way of his single-minded pursuit.

Separating the Waters

The chill of Korach’s apathy also affected his relationship with G-d. The firmament, formed on the second day of creation, to separate the upper waters from the lower waters, was the first division in history and thus the spiritual root of all future divisiveness, including that of Korach. (7)

The upper waters represent sanctity. The lower waters represent secularism. G-d separated the two at creation but intended man to reunify them through living in the secular world by the sacred code of Torah and Mitzvos.

Korach sought to sow divisiveness between G-d and the secular world by perpetuating this separation. He rebelled against Moses and Aaron because they were the medium through which the Torah was being disseminated. Korach rejected the very concept of reunification and thus rejected the medium that brought it about. (8)

The Frozen Mikvah

In the Soviet Union, the Communist regime forced the closure of all indoor Mikvaot, ritual baths, leaving the Jewish community with no alternative but to immerse themselves in outdoor pools of natural water. (9)

These pools were accessible in warm weather, but during the winter the rivers would freeze over and block access to the waters beneath the surface of the ice. During these frigid months many Jews were forced to abandon the sacred Mikvah ritual.But even this weather failed to deter many Chassidim, who actually broke the ice and entered the frigid waters. These fervent Jews were held in great esteem by their brethren.

It is easy to immerse in the Mikvah before the ice has formed but once the ice has hardened over the water’s surface it requires a great deal of motivation and energy to break through the ice and reach the water below. The same holds true for immersion into Torah and Mitzvos. Once the ice of disinterest and apathy has formed it becomes very difficult to break through.

Difficult yet possible. It requires a great deal of energy but it is an achievable goal. We can break through our inner ice, our apathy, and reach for the flames of passion and religious fervor that are always present within.


  1. R. Yisrael Ben Eliezer, 1698 – 1760,Medzeboz, Ukraine.
  2. Hayom Yom, Kehos Publication Society, 1943, Iyar 23.
  3. Numbers 16: 1
  4. Unkelus translation, ibid.
  5. Yalkut
    Shimoni, Deuteronomy 14: 1, # 891. Thou shall not make divisive groups
    among you so that you not create a bald spot as Korach did when he
    split the Jewish nation and created a bald (empty) spot through the
    loss of the many Jews who died along with him. See also Bab. Talmud
    Sanhedrin, p. 109b-110a, and Ethics of our Fathers, ch. 5: 17, that
    Korach is synonymous with divisiveness. See also Panim Yafos (R.
    Pinchas Horowit,z 1730-1805 Frankfurt) on Numbers 16: 1. For an
    interesting numerological insight, the Hebrew name “Korach” carries the
    numerological value of 308. The Hebrew word “Ra,” which means evil,
    carries the value of 270. Combined, the two words carry the value of
    578, precisely the same value as the Hebrew word “Machlokes,” which
    means dispute.
  6. Ohr Hatorah, Numbers 16: 1, p. 527 (R.Menachem M. Schneerson, Third Rebbe of Lubavitch, 1789-1866)
  7. Genesis
    1: 6. See also Zohar,p. 17a. See also Noam Elimelech (Rabbi Elimelech
    of Lujzinsk, 1717 – 1787), Numbers 16; 1. See also Sefer Maamarim,
    5678, p. 351 (R. Sholom Ber Schneerson, Fifth Rebbe of Lubavitch, 1861
    – 1920) and Likutei Sichos (R. Menachem M. Schneerson, Rebbe of
    Lubavitch, 1902-1994), v. x11, p. 105.
  8. This
    concept is further elucidated in Sefer Maamarim 1941 (R. YY Schneerson,
    Sixth Rebbe of Lubavitch, 1880-1950), Purim Essay, p. 67.
  9. The
    ritual laws of Mikvah require immersion in a pool of natural water.
    This is made possible by collecting natural water in an indoor pool
    (usually rainwater, piped in via a specially constructed indoor
    drainage system that catches the rainfall) and connecting the natural
    water pool to a second pool that contains filtered water. The filtered
    water may be heated, but the natural water pool may not. When an indoor
    Mikvah is not available, the only option to immersion is a natural
    outdoor pool that does not go dry even once in seven

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