The opening verse of this week’s Torah portion begs a fascinating question. Here are the words of the verse:
Korah the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi took, along with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, descendants of Reuben.... (Num. 13:27)
The obvious question is: what was it exactly that Korach “took”? To answer this question we need to ask another question.
Korach possessed many outstanding qualities. He hailed from a distinguished family, and was a wise man. How could he fall so low as to accuse Moshe of selfishly taking power and prestige for himself? The Torah testifies about Moshe, "Now the man Moshe was exceedingly humble, more than any person on the face of the earth." How could Korach possibly accuse him of seeking honour?
There are two types of people. There are givers - people who are constantly looking for opportunities to assist others, and there are takers - people who are continuously looking to further add to their possessions, to satisfy their own needs and obtain more honour. The takers are never satisfied; they always desire more. At the very beginning of Korach's story the Torah reveals the root of his downfall: "Korach took." -- Korach was a taker; he wanted more honour for himself. Even though he was already privileged to be in the tribe of Levi, that wasn't enough for him. He needed more. He wanted a prominent communal position and was jealous of the honour that Moshe and Aharon were getting. His jealousy knew no bounds and Korach did whatever he could to obtain that honour, even though it meant starting a rebellion.
When someone is self-centered and has a particular desire, his intellect may get corrupted, preventing him from thinking rationally. Blinded by this desire, he will do anything.
For us looking at this episode, we should take this lesson to heart and use it as motivation to live our lives as givers, not as takers.