Parshat Korach - Hashem repays one 'Measure for Measure'
One of the cardinal principles woven throughout Jewish oral and written tradition is mida k’negged mida, a “measure for measure.” This idea is prominent in Kabbalah and Chassidut as well. Some of the vernacular versions of this concept include “you reap what you sow,” “what goes around comes around,” and “you are what you eat,” as well as the Eastern concept of karma.
In the Torah portion of Korach we see this idea playing itself out in a number of ways. According to the Arizal, the soul of Korach was a reincarnation of Cain, while Moses was the reincarnated soul of Abel. Similar to how Cain was jealous of Abel because God chose his offering, Korach was jealous due to the leadership positions of Aaron and Moses.
After God had chosen the offering of Abel, He tries to comfort Cain by teaching him the way to improve himself and encourages him to fight his own impulse to be jealous and depressed. Moses when confronted by Korach also attempts to calm him down and gives him reasons to be satisfied with his lot in life, but to no avail in either case. Cain pursues Abel and kills him and Korach presses his rebellion to the bitter end.
When God confronts Cain after the murder He says: “You are cursed more than the ground which opened its mouth widely to receive your brother’s blood from your hand” (Genesis 4:11). In a classic case of mida k’negged mida, the earth opens up and swallows up Korach and his followers. The exact language in the Torah is: “The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them…”
The image of the earth opening its mouth in itself is a mida k’negged mida in that both Kain and Korach stumbled because of their own mouths, through words they spoke. The portion begins “And Korach took…” yet the rest of the sentence does not explain what exactly he took (Numbers 16:1). One of the explanations is that he took or connived the people with his words, which cloaked his personal hurt and ambition in populist rhetoric aimed at bringing people to support his rebellion.
Before Kain kills his brother, the Torah states: “Cain spoke with his brother Abel. And it happened when they were in the field that Cain rose up against his brother and killed him” (Genesis 4:8). From the text we only know that he spoke to him though we do not know the content of the verbal exchange. We have to assume it was not very peaceful as the next things we know is that Kain killed Abel.
The continuation of the above sentence which begins the portion of Korach gives Korach’s lineage: “ …Korach, the son of Izhar, son of Kahat, son of Levi…” Rashi asks why his lineage is not traced all the way back to Jacob. He answers that Jacob saw in prophesy that Korach would come from him and he prayed not to be included in his sin. We can now ask why does his lineage then go all the way back to Levi.
When Joseph sought out his brothers, Levi and Shimon plotted to kill him. Reuvan convinced them not to and instead they put him in a pit. Later Joseph is sold as a slave. It could be said that Levi is included here in order to teach us another mida k’negged mida: that the pit in the earth which was used to hold Joseph comes back to swallow up Korach, a direct descendent from Levi. Just as Levi was jealous and plotted against his brother, so too did Korach manifest the same qualities. His death can be seen as a direct mida k’negged mida for Levi’s actions.
There is much we can learn from the above ideas. Mida k’negged mida can manifest itself virtually immediately or at a later date. In some cases as the above, the Divine accounting may take many lifetimes and thousands of years to work themselves out. But in the end every thought, word and action we take is accounted for and will be paid back measure for measure. Exactly how, when and where, is most times a mystery that only God knows and understands. Yet many times in life we can see clearly why things happen to us and what are the cause and effect of our actions. Many times though, we cannot see clearly at all. When all is said and done, it is important to know that our thoughts, speech and action affect not only ourselves, but our children and our children’s children. This of course works for the good as well. Knowing this should give us good cause to measure our deeds carefully in order to bring merit and goodness upon us and all our descendents.