By Rav Jesse Horn
Surprisingly, during the entire Korach episode, the Torah does not record one word that actually comes from Korach himself. He does not inspire his followers, nor does he instruct them to do anything. He does not communicate anything to Datan, Aviram, the two hundred and fifty men, or to Moshe. Korach is definitely an unusual leader, but the question begs to be asked: how did Korach convince so many to follow him? Moreover, what might the Torah be driving at by highlighting his silence? What picture is the Torah depicting?
Looking at Korach, his followers, and their claims might reveal why they chose to join Korach’s rebellion, and help us shed light on how Korach successfully gathered so many people without any speech.
Interestingly, there seems to be a mixed message about how Moshe and the rebels interacted. On the one hand Moshe challenged the two hundred and fifty men to a test designed to determine whether they were befitting to be the Kohen Gadol; to which they accepted (Bamidbar 15:5-11). On the other hand, Datan and Aviram were unwilling to even meet with Moshe (Bamidbar 15:12) and he prays for their demise (Bamidbar 15:15).
Interestingly, there seems to be different groups of rebels (see Netziv and Meshech Chachma on Bamidbar 15:1); The first is the two hundred fifty men who sincerely looked to be the Kohanim and were genuinely interested in Moshe’s test to determine who Hashem really selected. Yet the second, Datan and Aviram, were arrogant trouble-makers unwilling to communicate with Moshe.
Based on this one can further understand why each group was punished differently. While the earth opened its mouth swallowing up a smaller wicked group including Datan and Aviram (Bamidbar 15:25) as if to take them to hell, the two hundred and fifty were consumed by a heavenly fire (Bamidbar 15:35), similar to Nadav and Avihu (Vayikra 10:1-3), who were also punished for a mistaken action, although their intentions were genuine.
Korach gathered different groups with different agendas and united them with one interest: change. The one common denominator between the rebellious groups was a determination to undermine the current administration. One wise way to gather the support of many different groups with different interests is to create a culture of complaints without solutions. It is significantly easier to complain and agree about what is wrong than to offer and implement constructive suggestions and fix problems. It is easier to remain quiet, smiling and nodding at each person’s complaints, and that is exactly what Korach did.
With this in mind, we may be able to answer another difficult question. The Torah (Bamidbar 15:1) says that “Korach took” yet does not spell out what was taken. Perhaps that is because Korach did not take anything physical, rather he took the different complainers, groups and followers and united them (See Midrash Tanchuma Parishat Korach 1).
The Torah’s message may be beyond the virtue of positivity and the value of developing a direction towards improvement. The message may be about which types of leaders and leadership to support.