Know Thyself

Rabbi Reuven Mann

This week’s Parsha, Korach, depicts a most unlikely and unanticipated development, Korach’s rebellion against Moshe Rabbeinu. Korach contested the legitimacy of Moshe’s appointment of his brother Aaron, as the Kohen Gadol (High Priest from whom all future Kohanim would descend) and the tribe of Levi to assist in the Temple service.

A fundamental objective of the great Revelation on Mt. Sinai, was to affirm before the entire nation the Divine origin of Torah and Hashem’s designation of Moshe to be His sole legitimate spokesman. All the Mitzvot and the extensive body of Oral Law which governs their performance, were communicated by Hashem to Moshe who, faithfully, transmitted them to Klal Yisrael. Thus, in order for the people to fulfill their divine mission, they had to have complete trust in the integrity of Moshe.

Originally, it was the firstborn males who were supposed to minister in the Mishkan (Tabernacle). However, the sin of the Golden Calf canceled that intention. It was only the tribe of Levi–who refrained from sin, and joined with Moshe in exacting punishment of the transgressors–who were worthy of serving in the Tabernacle. As a result, control over the Temple and its services was transferred to the Kohanim and Levites.

This had a profound impact on Korach, as well as many other disgruntled individuals who harbored resentments against Moshe. They put forth the preposterous claim that Moshe had become power hungry, and had made the priestly appointments on the basis of his desire to keep the important positions of prestige and control “in the family.”

Nothing, of course, could have been further from the truth. In fact, Moshe was “more humble than any other man on the face of the earth”; and had “argued” vociferously with Hashem to appoint someone other than himself to be the leader of the Jewish People. Moshe’s absolute dedication to the welfare of the people and renunciation of any personal desire for glory, had been demonstrated many times. So what was it that triggered the quarrelsomeness of Korach?

According to Rashi, Korach was reeling from what he regarded as a personal slight. After Moshe appointed Aaron as Kohen, Korach expected that he would then be designated as the Prince over the children of his grandfather, Kahat. However, that did not happen. Moshe, acting on Hashem’s instructions, chose the younger, Elitzafan Ben Uziel, for that position. It was this affront to his ego, that infuriated Korach and pushed him to the point of rebellion.

Once he was overcome by this perceived insult, Korach dedicated himself to destroying the authority of Moshe. According to Rashi, he was an extremely intelligent individual who employed great cunning in the pursuit of this endeavor. He took pains to camouflage his true motivation and sought out allies among those who also harbored grievances against the nation’s leader.

Korach was keenly aware that his movement required an idealistic basis and a slogan around which the masses could unite. He claimed, that it was wrong in the Jewish nation for a single individual or family to amass excessive power, as this violates the special Kedusha (holiness) of Klal Yisrael. Korach declared; “This is too much for you. For the entire Congregation is holy and Hashem is among them. Why do you exalt yourself over the Congregation of Hashem? (BaMidbar 16:3)”

However, his real goal was not to promote true Kedusha but, in fact, to undermine it as well as the spiritual fabric of the Jewish People. And while Korach was an extremely bright individual, he was decidedly ignorant in an area of supreme importance, the self.

Socrates famously asserted, “Know thyself.” One should not confuse his inner feelings with objective truths. People become obsessed with all kinds of causes and will fight and die for them, believing without any doubt in the righteousness of their “cause.” But an adept psychologist might be able to show that their unshakable conviction is really rooted in very powerful emotions, which they choose not to acknowledge. Rather than confront his frustrated desire for a leadership role, Korach projected his own defect onto Moshe. He was guilty of failing to know himself.

In man’s quest for moral perfection, it is vitally important to obtain knowledge of right and wrong. But it is equally consequential to gain a genuine insight into one’s real nature and character. This requires a great deal of courage and honesty and is a lifelong endeavor. It is only the person who is honest and insightful about himself that can reach the highest level of serving Hashem. May we merit to attain it.

Shabbat Shalom.

Dear Friends,

My newest book, Eternally Yours: G-d’s Greatest Gift To Mankind on VaYikra was recently published, and is now available at:

I hope that my essays will enhance your reading and study of the Book of VaYikra and would greatly appreciate a brief review on

—Rabbi Reuven Mann