In the whole of the Torah, we find five Parashot which contain names: Noach, Chayei Sarah, Yitro, Korach and Balak. It is only here, with Korach, where we come across the name of a villain as the title.
The plain reading of the Sedra outlines the rebellion of Korach, Dathan and Abiram against the granting of the “kehunah”, the responsibility of priesthood, to Aaron. The resulting swallowing up of the rebels together with the fire that engulfed their followers is followed by a plague. This is ended by the intervention of Aaron, using those very powers, the offering up of the “ketoret”, (incense) which Korach had wanted for himself. What could have been an ethical request had become a sense of entitlement.
The pre-eminence of Aaron is confirmed by the episode of what could be described as a “trial of staffs” where the staff of Aaron blossoms with almond blossom. It is at that point where we hear God saying
וְהָיָ֗ה הָאִ֛ישׁ אֲשֶׁ֥ר אֶבְחַר־בּ֖וֹ מַטֵּ֣הוּ יִפְרָ֑ח וַֽהֲשִׁכֹּתִ֣י מֵֽעָלַ֗י אֶת־תְּלֻנּוֹת֙ בְּנֵ֣י יִשְׂרָאֵ֔ל
The staff of the man whom I will choose will blossom, and I will calm down from Myself the complaints of the children of Israel
Even God needs, figuratively, to “count to ten” before acting in a rash manner. The people as a whole are not to be destroyed for the sake of a minority demanding rights and redress of imagined injury or lack of respect.
We are living at a time when individuals or groups claim “rights” without respect for responsibilities. It is a time when “cancel culture” prevails. Argument “for the sake of heaven” is a principle which underlies Judaism. To challenge things is acceptable and often admirable; the imposition of personal or group desires is not. Shouts and threats simply serve to inflame passions.
Midrash compares the wife of Korach to the wife of On, son of Peleg. Korach’s wife, driven by ambition, leads him and his followers to death and destruction. (Although, strangely, the text does not specifically mention Korach, or his wife being swallowed up with his followers)! The wife of On, taking a rationally considered view, prevents him being from being involved.
All was not lost. Eventually, the “sons of Korach” will go on to be psalmists.
Revolution and provocative demonstrations may seem attractive, but evolution based on respect for one another and our history prevails and preserves. It allows us to encompass change that the whole community may all embrace.