Sweetening Judgment With Loving Kindness
Possuk 16:2 "They rose up before Moshe…250 leaders of the assembly"
How do we understand the dispute of Korach and his assembly? After all, these were very great people, highly perceptive, possessing Holy Spirit. They were “leaders of the assembly, calculators of the appointed times” and heads of the judicial system. In particular, we need to comprehend the mental state of Korach: All our holy books tell us that he was the greatest of all the Levi’im, so how could he fall so far and contend with Moshe and Aharon?
The answer to the enigma of Korach is that the entire episode reflects the idea that even great, awesome, tzaddikim have a yetzer hara/evil inclination. Their yetzer hara is an aspect of “angel of the Holy One” – meaning, upper worldly and spiritually powerful forces and din/judgments, which are supposed to be sweetened by the tzaddik. These tzaddikim need to use their da’as/wisdom in great battle against their formidable yetzer hara - even though it is actually holy and pure! If they don’t – they are in big trouble. If they cause blemish, not sweetening din as they should, they run the risk of making great mistakes and falling foul of tremendous blunders.
The effects of mistakes of this sort differ in degree. Some tzaddikim remained righteous to their dying day, despite the fact that they caused terrible harm. Others, however, did not deal appropriately with their awesome yetzer hara. This caused their yetzer to pursue them, casting them lower and lower until they reached the very lowest spiritual level – to deny the very existence of the Al-mighty.
The classic example of this is the case of “the four [Rabbis] that entered Paradise”. They were obviously very great Rabbis – after all they had merited entering Paradise. Despite this, only Rabbi Akiva exited intact from the experience. Both Ben Azzai and Ben Zoma had injured themselves by “peeking”, until they eventually died from the encounter. This notwithstanding, they remained tzaddikim until their dying day, despite the damage that they had wrought. In contrast, the Rabbi known as Acher kitzeitz be’netios/cut off at the very root of Judaism, completely going off the religious track.
The basis of Acher's mistake lay in his misunderstanding of the concept of the angel. In Paradise he had seen mem tet tet, the “angel of the interior”, to whom had been given permission to write the merits of human beings, etc. The source of Acher's error arose from the power of din that the angel represented. But instead of withstanding the test and jettisoning his own understanding and wisdom, he rather relied on his own contemplation of the matter. This led him to kitzeitz be’netios, Heaven help us. The aspect of din associated with the angel had been intended as a trial for Acher. This is the concept of the “upper worldly” yetzer, corresponding to the “angel of the Holy One” and the aspect of din and powerful forces, mentioned above.
This, then, is the explanation of the entire episode of Korach.
Korach was the greatest of all the Levi’im. And it is well known that the tribe of Levi is an aspect of the root of all awesome, holy din. The Cohen, on the other hand, though being a member of the tribe of Levi, actually corresponds to the concept of chessed/loving kindness. For this reason, Hashem gave the Levi’im as an accompaniment to the Cohanim when performing the sacrifices – in order to subsume the concept of Levi within that of Cohen, thereby sweetening din at its root. This sweetens all dinim/judgments at the root, rectifying all the spiritual worlds, enabling forgiveness and atonement for all sins. For all transgressions, willful or inadvertent, arise from evil urges that arise from the concept of dinim, when the din is not sweetened at its root. This is why the Cohen alone could not achieve the atonement and rectification provided by the Temple service; din needs to be sweetened at the root. Therefore, the Levi must accompany the Cohen, be subordinate and serve him in the Temple service, as it states: "They will accompany you and serve you".
Through the Levi – whose spiritual root is din – being secondary to and serving the Cohen in the Temple, the din-Levi thereby becomes encompassed in the chessed-Cohen. In this way the din of the Levi, the root of din, is sweetened, reflecting the concept of "sweetening the din at its root", which is the principal rectification. This "sweetening" neutralizes the power of the yetzer, which is rooted in din, enabling atonement and forgiveness for sins.
Now, Korach was a Levi – and the greatest one, at that. It follows that tremendous dinim and power gripped at his very essence, corresponding to his very great spiritual level. For all dinim are essentially extremely holy and pure, effecting completion and rectification of the spiritual worlds. None of us must ever forget, however, the need to sweeten the dinim by encompassing them in chessed, for this is our entire spiritual task.
Unfortunately, Korach did forget. Corresponding to the greatness of his spiritual standing and attendant dinim, Korach was required to sweeten them by complete self-annulment to Aharon the Cohen, the very epitome of chessed. However, Korach's pride got the better of him, causing din to entrap him. Failing the test, he came to envy Aharon and thereby miss the opportunity to subsume his din within the chessed. Once his heart caused him to separate from Aharon, tremendous dinim rose within him, causing even greater division between them. In a vicious spiral, the increasing division increased the dinim, exacerbating the division and increasing the dinim ever further.
The great dinim and power at Korach's spiritual root gained the upper hand over him, casting him down completely, causing him to dispute with Hashem and His chosen ones, Moshe and Aharon, and the entire Torah. The power of his dinim that lay grip on his evil desires, gave him the mastery to negatively influence the great tzaddikim, possessors of Holy Spirit, leaders of the judicial system, princes of the assembly and calculators of the appointed times.
The essential yetzer hara of spiritually great people is the concept of power and dinim that they fail to sweeten. Korach, the Levi rooted in din, did not merit sweetening din. This then gave him the power to so negatively influence the leaders of Israel.
Hilchos Shiluach Ha'ken 4:8