Parsha Korach: Dealing with the Evil Inclination

Last weeks’s parsha (Torah portion) started us down path of negativity. This trend continues with complaints and rebellions by Korach, Datan, and Aviram. While our tradition points out that Korach’s argument is not a lasting one, his name continues to live on as the title of this week’s parsha.

Here is a quick recap of this week’s parsha. It starts with the rebellions of Korach and 250 men, and of Datan and Aviram. The rebellions end with Korach and his men getting killed by the fire of haShem (god) while offering incense, and Datan and Aviram getting swallowed up by the earth.

The next day, the people freak out thinking they are next, a plague breaks out, and Aharon saves the day by stopping the plague with incense.

With the intent to stop the people from complaining, haShem commands that the leaders of the 12 tribes bring their staffs and give them to Moshe (Moses) who will put them in the tent of meeting. The next day, Moshe will take the staffs out and the owner of the one that blooms is the one that haShem has chosen as high priest.   Aharon’s staff is part of the collection and represents the tribe of Levi, and (super) naturally not only does it bloom, but it even produces almonds.

The people are now afraid they die because they know they will again anger haShem, and haShem comes back with a solution. The parsha ends by telling us what the priests and Levis will be doing to protect the people and how they will be compensated by the people for their work.

So what is going on here, besides the simple story? What might the Torah be trying to tell us?

I think it is trying to tell us that in life, we can start off on new path full of hope, but somewhere along the way, those little voices of negativity will start to show up and try to undermine us.

In Judaism, we have a term for these voices. We call them the yetzer harah, or the evil inclination.

The Torah is teaching us that each time these voices, these little rebellions, or crisis of faith occur, we need to face them head-on and give them an opportunity to change. If they don’t, we need to stand up to them and give back to them the very thing they are complaining about, that they are afraid of. This is how we get rid of them – we give them what they say and watch them get destroyed by the very thing that they say will destroy us.

We saw this last week when the people said that haShem was bringing them to the wilderness to die.   God turned it around and said, in effect, as you say, so it shall be. You will die in the wilderness.

This week we see Korach and his 250 men are given a chance to act as priests and offer incense, and have their incense accepted. The result was their death.   Same with Datan and Aviram; they did not want to follow Moshe’s leadership; they preferred to stay holed up in their tents. So, haShem took it one step further and holed them up in the earth, thereby guaranteeing that Moshe could not rule over them.

Fortunately the teaching of the Torah does not stop there. It continues by pointing out that after the crisis of faith, the doubt, and the challenges are dealt with, all is not lost. There is hope. It is time to move forward.

We see this first with god demonstrating who he wanted as high priest by having each tribe give over a staff and the one that bloomed (Aharon’s) would signify the one haShem chose. The Torah does not stop there. It continues talking about how this chosen group will interact with the community and seals these instructions with a brit (covenant) of salt.

Why salt? Because salt preserves things forever. HaShem wants it known that this pact made with the people and with the tribe of Levi is not going away anytime soon.

To sum all this up, one thing the Torah is teaching us over these last couple of weeks is not to be surprised when the yetzer harah shows up in your head after you have started on a new adventure. In fact, if you are doing anything real, you should expect it.

The Torah also is telling us how we can deal with the yetzer harah. First, offer it a chance to change. When it doesn’t, then turn what it is claiming will happen back onto itself. This will effectively get rid of it.

Once it is gone, it is a good idea to check and see what other fears you might be having, and then come up with a way to alleviate those fears while still staying true to your goals, beliefs, and processes.

If you care to read what I wrote about this parsha last year, click here.

About the Author

Picture of Shmuel Shalom Cohen Shmuel Shalom Cohen spent 10 years studying Torah in Jerusalem. Six years ago, he started Conscious Torah to help Jews connect to their tradition in ways they didn’t think possible. Shmuel also started, and is the executive directory of Jewish Events Willamette-valley, a non-profit whose mission is to build Jewish community, pride, and learning. In his free time, Shmuel likes walks in nature, playing music, writing poetry, and time with good friends.

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