Parashat Korach, which is named for the man who stirred up a rebellion against Moshe and Aharon, begins with the words “Vayikach Korach,” “Korach took.” What is it that Korach “took?” The authors of the Midrash in Numbers Rabbah 18:3 looked to the final lines of last week’s Parasha in order to find an answer. The last lines of Parashat Shelach contain the third paragraph of the Shema, which introduces the commandment to wear Tzitzit.
The Midrash states that Korach asked Moshe: “If a cloak is entirely blue, is it still subject to the law of the four blue fringes?!” According to Korach’s logic, if the entire garment is blue, there would be no need for additional fringes! Moshe replied to Korach that the blue cloak was still subject to the obligation of Tzitzit. Korach then asked: “If a room contains books of Torah, would it still be required to have a Mezuzah?” Moshe responded that the room would absolutely still need to have a Mezuzah.
Korach publicly presented challenges in order to give himself more power, not to safeguard the future of this burgeoning nation. What Korach attempted to do was far greater than to dissect the laws of the Shema or challenge the authority of Moshe and Aharon. Korach tried to “take away” from the legitimacy of the Torah’s commandments and the rabbinic interpretation of these laws. After Korach, his followers, and all of their belongings were swallowed up by the earth, the message from God was clear: Don’t mess with Me or My teachings.