Numerous explanations are offered to explain what were Korach’s motivations in starting a religious mutiny against Moshe and Aharon. Rashi (16:7) cites the Midrash Tanchuma and teaches that Korach experienced a prophetic vision through which he saw that his descendants would include Shmuel HaNavi as well as numerous Levi’im who would later serve in the Beit Hamikdash. Korach said to himself, “Could it be that all this greatness will in the future emerge from me, and I will be silent?”
Korach’s epiphany of his progeny’s greatness prompted him to take bold action and insist on serving as a Kohen. Rav Simcha Bunim of Peshischa (of the Sefer Kol Simcha) explains that Korach wrongly assumed that the success of his future generations depended on his promotions, and that his influence as a leader was vital for his descendants to reach the spiritual heights that he foresaw them achieving. He did not sufficiently believe that his descendants were capable of reaching these accomplishments on their own. His failed efforts proved that the achievements of his progeny did not depend on his position or bombastic demands. Independent of Korach’s actions, his descendants would aspire and invest to reach prophetic stature.
This message is underscored primarily through his descendant, Shmuel HaNavi (based on Divrei HaYamim I 6:18-22). As his mother, Chana, prays and cries for a child, she asks Hashem for a “zera anashim — an average child” (Shmuel I 1:11), i.e., not too tall, nor too short, not too smart or too handsome (Yalkut Shimoni 247:78). Shmuel becomes an extraordinary child not because of his ancestry or great-grandfather’s quest for promotion, nor because he is born with supernatural talents. His mother educates and directs him appropriately as she brings him to the best “Navi-training school” at the time (i.e., Eli HaKohen in the Mishkan). Shmuel sees the negative influences around him (Eli’s own sons!) and chooses a path of righteousness and prophetic pursuits. He understands that proper parental prayer, education, leadership and guidance is imperative to encourage greatness but it does not guarantee success; a child must be encouraged to choose greatness on his/her own.
This message is underscored at the end of the parsha as well. To finally quell the aftermath of Korach’s rebellion, Hashem commands each tribal leader to inscribe his name upon a staff and place it before the Aron Kodesh. Only the staff of Aharon HaKohen — the leader of Shevet Levi — blossoms and bears forth almonds, as a sign of Divine selection of priesthood for generations to come. Aharon’s role is limited though — he must inscribe his identity on his staff of leadership and properly position it before Hashem. He must then leave it overnight and await the results with the other leaders. The blossoms on the staff — representing his descendants — will only bear fruit under Hashem’s Supervision. The quality of the almond fruit, however, is dependent on the actions of his progeny (see Yirmiyahu 1:11-12).
Children must be properly educated to make their own decisions that will determine the type of people they become. Parents occasionally, like Korach, wrongly assume that their children’s future depends solely upon the parents’ actions and influence, and may exert excessive and overbearing control over their children. Parents, indeed, have a tremendous responsibility towards properly influencing their children and must invest in educating them with proper values — while simultaneously recognizing that their children will chart their own course in life and make their own decisions. The parents’ role in determining a child’s trajectory in life is significant, but limited. The story of Korach warns us not to resort to drastic measures in our efforts to influence our children, and to understand that even the children of a selfish man like Korach, are capable of blossoming into prophets.
Rabbanit Shani Taragin is educational director of World Mizrachi and teaches at Matan and other educational institutions in Israel. She is a member of Mizrachi’s Speakers Bureau (www.mizrachi.org/speakers).