The Torah tells us very little about Korach beyond that 250 Israelites rose up against Moses and Aaron saying they (Moses and Aaron) had gone too far. Korach, the leader of this uprising, was a person with great potential for leadership. Among other things, he possessed a natural ability and charisma. How else do you explain the fact that he had “chieftains of the community, chosen in the assembly, men of repute” among his followers? (Numbers 16:2)
So what did Korach do wrong? Right before his death, he was instructed to bring a fire pan and lay incense in the pan and burn that before God. His mistake was placing empty, meaningless incense into a pan, thinking this would be sufficient to please God.
In the novel The Unbearable Lightness of Being (1984), Milan Kundera wrote “the heaviest of burdens is simultaneously an image of life’s most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to earth, the more real and truthful they become.” As Kundera sees it, this intense fulfillment is a positive conception of burden. From this viewpoint, Korach’s vision lacked any sense of fulfillment; it was devoid of all “burdens.”
Korach never struggled with the people the way Moses struggled with the Israelites during the exodus from Egypt. To Korach, Judaism was nothing more than fire in a pan. The incense was something light and airy that easily floats away if it is not kept grounded by depth and learning. He did not see Judaism in the rich and beautiful way that we strive to see Judaism. It is likely that Korach had not studied with his peers, nor did he ask big questions about the survival of his people. Our purpose, as demonstrated by those who lead us, is to remain grounded and find intense fulfillment in our learning and the things that we do for ourselves, our family and friends, and the community.