Earlier in sefer Bamidbar, a chunk of the people go to Moshe, and lament that they were impure at the time the korban Pesach was offered, and request inclusion in the mitzvah in the form of Pesach Sheni.
In Parshas Korach, it is clear that Korach too seeks more inclusion. Why are they paradigms of how to and how not to perform diplomacy, when the bottom line for both was the same?
There is a concept that all negative characteristics have a positive application. Rabbeinu Yona writes how a person can be jealous of a tzaddik or talmid chacham. Jealousy is an inherently bad trait – however, the jealousy fosters aspirations, and if they are realised, the person grows from it. In this way, מתוך שלו לשמה, בה לשמה – from which it began without the correct intentions, the actions nonetheless develop into something meaningful.
However, there is a caveat to this rule, that all misguided actions are fixed in the long term – one type of action will never become לשמה – a machlokes – an divide. The Mishna in Pirkei Avos 5:17 says: כל מחלוקת שהיא לשם שמים, סופה להתקים. ושאינה לשם שמים, אין סופה להתקים.
איזו היא מחלוקת שהיא לשם שמים? זו מחלוקת הלל ושמאי. ושאינה לשם שמים? זו מחלוקת קרח וכל עדתו – Any argument for the sake of Heaven, will endure in the end. One that is not for sake of Heaven, will not endure. What is the paradigm of an argument for the sake of heaven? Hillel and Shamai. What is the paradigm of an argument not the sake of Heaven? Korah and his congregation.
What are the paradigms, exactly? That an argument in Torah will endure, and that politics will not?
R’ Yaakov Minkus explains that there is more to it than that. Adding the mitzvah of Pesach Sheni was not a problem – the Torah was not closed canon yet. Korach however, was looking to destroy (a cursory reading of Rashi illustrates this).
Hillel and Shamai were looking to build halachos, and build a fabric for life. From one’s point of view, we understand the other better. We need both to build and consolidate.
Not so with Korach. His arguments and divisions were not constructive at all. His claims and goals were baseless and without foundation – this was the midd a k’negged midd a of the earth opening up beneath him – he was not fighting for anything or against anything real. The Mishna says as much. What was the paradigm of an argument not for the sake of heaven? “Korach and his congregation.”. If the parallel to Hilel And Shamai were correct, it ought to have said Korach and Moshe. R ‘ Yaakov Minkus uses this to prove that Korach wasn’t really fighting anyone at all – it was just about causing a stir and break down the system that existed.
This is what Rashi and the Targum mean when they say that ויקח קרח – “And Korach took” – What did he take? Himself, to one side (against the other side, of Moshe.)
It was never about Moshe.