It seems that a recurring theme of the past few parshiyos is that trouble is associated with Moshe’s use of his own da’as. We saw Miriam’s complaint about his decision to separate from his wife mida’ato, we saw the instruction of shlach lecha to send spies mida’ato, and now we have Korach claiming that everything Moshe did, from appointing Ahron and assuming leadership right down to the aseret hadibros (according to one Midrash) was all mida’ato.
Some thoughts on the opening of the parsha: I noticed a Netzi”v that fits nicely with a Radomsker discussed two years ago (wow, 2 years of blogging?). For those who were not reading back then, link is here. Korach is introduced as “ben Yitzhar ben Kehas ben Levi”, an illustriuous yichus, but a yichus which nonetheless is lacking as it omits any connection to Ya’akov. Rashi explains that Ya’akov davened not be mentioned in the context of this machlokes. Rashi’s explanation begs the question: had Ya’akov not davened, why would his name be associated with Korach? And were not Yitzhar, Kehas, and Levi also tzadikim? – why are their names associated with a rasha?
Moving on to the 250 people who joined in, I am not sure what the meaning of “anashim m’Beni Yisrael” is. Do the words “m'Bnei Yisrael” mean to suggest that they came ostensibly as representatives of the people, or to suggest that they were leaders selected from among the people perhaps randomly, but who lacked any inherent qualities of distinction? Whatever the answer, the 250 people are described as “kri’ey eidah, anshei shem”, people who held a leadership position. Why is the detail significant? Why is it important to recognize that this was a rebellion of the elite? The simple answer perhaps is that the Torah is revealing something about the ability of power to corrupt and drive men to seek even greater power and influence. It's hard to stop with a little leadership when the kehuna gedolah itself is within reach.
The Netzi”v offers a different reading and sees the description as an indictment. Had this rebellion been led by outsiders upset over the trappings of leadership which Moshe took upon himself, perhaps there would be some slight justification for their complaint. But these were men in the inner circle, men who themselves were leaders and who therefore knew that leadership sometimes demands exerting authority and acting in an authoritarian role. As the Navi would later tells Shaul, “Im katan atah b’einecha, rosh shivtei yisrael atah!” And as much as Moshe’s role demanded that he express authority, he still remained the humblest of men, and those who were close to the leadership circle and saw his daily activity were in the best position to recognize that. Precisely because they were "kri’ey eidah anshei shem” were the 250 people guilty.
Korach’s yichus is also, suggests the Radomsker, an indictment. The scion of Yitzhar, Kehas, Levi - such great people - should lower himself to this? The names of his ancestors stand in condemnation of Korach, not in his praise. Yet, Ya’akov’s name is omitted. Even though Korach deserves our scorn - shem resha’im yirkav – and there is nothing wrong with castigating the likes of Korach, Ya’akov’s extraordinary tzidkus led him to pray that his name not be used for such purposes. The indictment of Korach is strong enough without the addition of the name of Ya’akov, which stands always as a source of mercy and not justice.