Parashat Korah: Elevating Ourselves
We read in Parashat Korah of the group assembled by Korah to challenge Moshe’s authority. They accused Moshe of nepotism, that he unfairly granted the exclusive post of Kohen Gadol to his brother, Aharon. Moshe responded by inviting Korah and his cohorts to offer Ketoret (incense) together with Aharon in the courtyard of the Mishkan the following day, and Hashem would accept the offering of the person chosen to be the Kohen Gadol. Tragically, all the rebels perished after offering the incense, whereas Aharon, of course, survived, proving that he was the one chosen by G-d to serve in this special role.
Two leading figures of Korah’s revolt, Datan and Abiram, refused to come and participate in this Ketoret offering. When Moshe sent messengers to summon them, they brazenly responded, "Lo Na’aleh" – literally, "We will not go up" (16:12). They were later devoured by the ground.
Ibn Ezra (Rav Abraham Ibn Ezra, Spain, 1089-1167), explaining the phrase "Lo Na’aleh," suggests that the Mishkan was perhaps erected in a location that was higher than the rest of the camp. Datan and Abiram thus replied, "Lo Na’aleh" – that they would not climb to the Mishkan to participate in the offering of the Ketoret.
However, Ibn Ezra then offers a second interpretation, writing, "One who goes to the service of G-d, or to the chosen site, is called ‘ascending’." According to this explanation, the term "Na’aleh" is used here allegorically, not literally. Going to the Mishkan to perform a religious act is called "ascent," and thus Datan and Abiram said that they refused to "go up" – meaning, to bring an offering to G-d.
Another expression of this idea is the term "Oleh" used in reference to a person called to recite the Berachot over the reading of the Sefer Torah in the synagogue. In ancient times, the place where the Hazan stood and where the Torah reading took place was actually lower than the rest of the sanctuary. Nevertheless, the person invited to recite the Berachot is called an "Oleh" – "one who goes up" – because performing a Misva is always to be regarded as an experience of elevation, an opportunity to lift ourselves and become higher.
We should relish and enthusiastically seize every opportunity we are given to perform a Misva, because each one elevates us and brings us higher. We might at times be reluctant to perform a Misva because it entails too much time and effort, it requires a sacrifice, or we just do not think that this particular Misva is important. Ibn Ezra’s brief remark should remind us that every Misva we perform, even if it does not initially seem that valuable or significant, lifts us up and makes us greater. Let us, then, embrace every Misva opportunity that we are given, so that we can continually elevate ourselves to greater heights, each day of our lives.