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Michelangelo once said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.”
The essence of every Jew is a beautiful perfect soul. It is unmarred by ego, immaturity, insecurity, obsession, or any other form of human weakness. This beautiful soul, more pristine than the angel in …

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Home » Animal Rights, Environment, Korach

Korach: The Environmentalist

Submitted by on June 25, 2006 – 4:51 amNo Comment | 2,565 views

Paradise on Earth

Lush green grass, tall trees and fresh streams framed our journey through G-d’s perfect nature. Nature’s beauty, unbridled and uncapped, radiated in pristine glory. Untouched by human hand and filled to overflow with insects, birds and wildlife, it was simply a paradise on earth. The animals knew it and we knew it too. We were frolicking in G-d’s own playground.

If only all of the world could be so preserved. If only our planet could become one large conservation. Alas, that cannot be. For humanity to survive we must disturb nature’s delicate little petals. We cannot build homes without felling trees. We cannot farm land without turning over soil. We cannot eat without disturbing animal and vegetation.

The Contemporary Question

How much should be disturbed and how much should be preserved? That is the contemporary debate. Should we rob the environment to feed our appetites? Should we deplete our resources to serve unending and unnecessary needs? Should we uproot forests and supplant deserts to make space for suburban development?

The developer says, yes. Growing populations require housing even if it encroaches on the environment. Sprawling population centers require goods and services even if it  encroaches on the environment. Despite the cost, humanity’s needs must come first.

The environmentalist disagrees. “Leave G-d’s nature alone,” he says. Revel in its pristine glory, enjoy its enchanting beauty and cherish its peaceful serenity. If we don’t learn to protect and enjoy our environment today, it won’t be here to serve us tomorrow.

Whichever way we turn we are forced to choose. For humanity to thrive, the environment must pay a price. For the environment to thrive, humanity must pay a price. In its final form the question is, does man belong to nature or does nature belong to man?

The religious answer is, neither. Both belong to G-d.

Belonging to G-d

In his Monumental work, Horeb, Samson Raphael Hirsh argued that mankind is summoned by G-d to govern his created earth and to fashion all things in our environment to our own purposes; the earth for habitation, plant and animal for food and clothing.

We are permitted to rule over the world for the six weekdays. On the seventh day, however, we are forbidden, at divine behest, to fashion anything into an instrument of human service. In this way we acknowledge that we have no ownership or authority over the world. Nothing may be dealt with as we please, for everything belongs to G-d. (1)

A Hybrid Opinion

Rabbi Hirsch drafts opposing arguments into his hybrid philosophy. The developer claims humanity’s dominion over nature and Rabbi Hirsch grants that dominion. The environmentalist argues that we have no right of ownership over nature and Rabbi Hirsch grants that point as well.

Within these parameters mankind is entitled to inhabit the planet and to utilize its resources as necessary. However, unnecessary destruction of any kind, even picking a leaf from its branch without reason, is a crime against nature and forbidden by G-d. (2)


This helps to explain an anomaly about an episode that occurred when our ancestors were in the desert. Korach, a member of the Levitic tribe, challenged Moses’ authority and appointed himself to the high priesthood. The Torah teaches that Korach was punished for his insubordination when he died in an earthquake.

Let’s analyze what Korach did. He gave expression to his soul’s awesome and unbridled yearning for the spiritual sublimation of high priesthood. Was that wrong? Every soul is suffused with divine passion. Was Korach meant to restrain his passion for G-d?

The Answer is, Yes

The environment is graced with beauty and brims with energy. Yet it must be reformed and its beauty marred when the structure of society warrants it. The soul too must be restrained when its passion drives a wedge between ourselves and others.

We know our passion is misdirected when it prompts us to look down on others who have achieved less than us or begrudge those who have achieved more. (3) We know our passion has led us astray when in our zeal to reach the synagogue we fail to notice the person begging for alms on the road.  We know our passion is toxic when our enthusiasm for Torah prevents us from befriending those who have yet to embrace it themselves. True love for G-d should not drive us from each other;  G-d loves others as much as he loves us.

Now we understand where Korach went wrong. Korach’s zeal for the high priesthood led him to a rebellion that was bitterly divisive. This was the first indicator that his passion for G-d was misguided; his love was not true and his beauty was not pristine. Korach was toxic and had to be stopped.

On the Other Hand

Spiritual energy that brings us closer to G-d and to others is sacred and must never be stifled. It must radiate through everything we do. Every deed, every prayer, every devotion must be infused with it.

This brand of soul energy is, like the environment, graced with beauty. Tampering with this brand of soul energy, is like tampering with the environment; it is a crime against nature and forbidden by G-d.


  1. Samson Raphael Hirsch (Frankfurt -1808-1888), Horeb,
    Soncino Press, New York/London/Jerusalem p. 62.
  2. See also  Likkutei Diburim, Vol. I, p. 168-170 (R.
    YY Schneerson, sixth Rebbe of Lubavitch 1880-1950).
  3. Ethics of Our Fathers, 2: 1.

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