Korach was a revolutionary. A nephew of Moses and Aaron, he organized a rebellion against their leadership. “This entire nation is holy; why have you elevated yourselves above the community of G-d?”
Korachs’ rebellion came in close proximity to the sin of the spies, who brought back a bad report about the land and caused a panic among the people. The two events are related to each other. The sin of the spies and their retribution led directly to Korach’s mistaken assumptions that caused him to rebel.
According to Chassidic teachings, the spies did not wish to enter the Holy Land because they enjoyed the peace and tranquility they had in the desert. G-d provided for all the needs of the people, who spent their days in Torah study and spiritual pursuits. Once they entered the land they would have to work hard for their own upkeep, toiling and working the land.
Moses argued that their approach was not the correct one – G-d created the world because he wants a “dwelling place in the lowest realm.” The physical labor that we do to sustain our bodies can be elevated to holiness, something that we can’t do simply by studying Torah in the desert. We need to engage with the world in order to elevate it. Furthermore, with Torah study we are all on different levels. Some are more advanced students while others can only study the basics. When performing mitzvot, though, we all do the same action. True, there may be differences in our intentions when we perform the mitzvot, and some may “beautify” the mitzvah by performing it with extra zeal or perfection. But on a basic level, performing mitzvot is a great equalizer.
Korach picked up on that argument and turned it on Moses: What makes him greater than any other Jew? Yes, we know that Moses received the Torah from G-d and his understanding was infinitely greater than the rest of the people. However, when Moses pointed out that G-d’s true intent was that we work the land and perform physical mitzvot, Korach saw his opening. If we are all equal when it comes to performing mitzvot, in what way is Moses greater than the rest of the people?
Moses’ answer to Korach was, “In the morning G-d will be known...” With this he was giving them a delay, an opening to do teshuvah. But his instruction to “wait until morning” had an additional meaning. Thereby he was also hinting that our performance of mitzvot must shine like the morning light. In other words, although we are all equal in our observance of mitzvot, that does not mean there is no room to improve or perfect ourselves. It is incumbent on all of us to perform mitzvot in a beautiful, outstanding way.
“In the morning G-d will be known...” Through performing mitzvot in this manner we will bring about a greater recognition of G-d in this world. And that includes acknowledging the righteous, who perform mitzvot in a particularly meticulous manner.
This is a lesson for us as well. Although performing mitzvot is our primary obligation, we must not be satisfied with perfunctory fulfillment. We must make every effort to do mitzvot in a shinig way, with proper preparation and intention, to make this world into a proper dwelling for G-d.