Mental Health Insights From the Parsha: Korach: Don’t Always Act on Your Thinking

The story of Korach is fascinating! And it is no wonder that it takes place right after Parsha Shelach, the parsha of “the spies.” The Jewish people were at a low point; the current generation would not be able to enter the Land of Israel as a result of the bad report that the spies brought back.

Korach was annoyed that Moshe appointed himself the leader of the Jewish people and made his brother Aaron the high priest. He also felt slighted that he was not appointed the leader of the tribe of Levi, and his cousin was instead. HE wanted to be the leader, HE wanted to be able to have the closeness to God that Moshe had.
Korach gathers over 200 men and leads a revolt again Moshe. As a result if the revolt, Korach and the others are swallowed up by the earth.

There are several important insights from this parsha that point to the keys to mental health.

First, Korach was all about ME! Today we might say he had a “selfie” mentality! He was caught up in HIS thoughts about how things should be, the titles HE should be given, and wanting for HIMSELF what someone else had (ie. Moshe’s unique relationship with Hashem). He could not see that everyone had their part to play, and Moshe’s was different from his. He literally got swallowed up by his own personal thought.

Lesson #1: When I am caught up in personal thought, I am innocently cutting myself off from divine wisdom.
This happened to me just yesterday, in synagogue of all places! There I was basking in the spirituality of Shabbat, feeling the reality of the Presence of God, when two women in the row in front of me started talking. Sure, they were whispering, but no matter the whisper, it was very distracting as they kept turning back and forth to each other.. They are ruining MY davening (praying), I thought to myself. I like these young women, but it took everything for me to hold myself back from shooshing them or giving them a dirty look (a big no-no in our shul). I went from feeling in the Presence of God to the presence of ME-MYSELF-AND-I! Yes, we are not supposed to talk in shul unless we are talking to God or it has something to do with the service. Nevertheless, I was wrapped up in ME, and how they were ruining MY experience, and thus, I felt completely disconnected. Good thing I had the presence of mind to just move my seat. It’s funny, sometimes the talking just roles off my shoulders, but for some reason, it really bothered me yesterday, so I knew the reaction was really all about ME and that limited me. In reflecting on it now, I bet if the thought occurred to me that perhaps one of them was having a hard time and was getting support from her friend, I might have actually been more connected instead of disconnected….hmm…

Secondly, the Jewish people were at such a low. Although had just spent a year witness to countless miracles such as the splitting of the sea, water coming from a rock, manna falling from the sky, they knew that they would not get to merit to enter Israel and instead would die in the desert. Korach took advantage of their low mental state and got them to buy into his plan. This decision they each made cost them their lives.

Lesson #2: Making big decisions when you are in a low mental state is not a good idea! We make all sorts of bad decisions when they are not thinking clearly. People will quit jobs, yell at their kids, fight with their spouses, have affairs, even murder. I remember several years ago I was going through a low state-of-mind period and my thoughts took me to the “good idea” to sell my thriving business. I was feeling overwhelmed with the responsibilities of working and family and I thought that this was the right decision. No one could convince me otherwise (more about that later), and it seemed like a good idea at the time.  While I eventually could see the Divine plan in making that decision (details for another blog post), I painfully regretted it for several years!  When we are in a low state, it is as if clouds are covering the sun, and it looks like the clouds are the reality. We need to know that the sun is ALWAYS there, but we can’t see them until the clouds pass; which they always do! Making big decisions when our thinking is “cloudy” might not be the ideal time.

Lesson #3: When you are in low state, you are very susceptible to more negative thinking. They bought into Korach’s negativity. So instead of getting interested in the negative thinking and taking it seriously, let it pass. Don’t add fuel to the fire, so to speak. Who you surround yourself with is really important. When I am in a bad place, hanging around people who are negative just digs my negative thinking deeper and deeper. Of course I am also totally capable of spiraling down in my own head when I am in a low state (you know the old saying “staying in your head when you are in a low state is like driving through a bad neighborhood…don’t go in there alone!) Having people in our lives who practice gratitude, and look to raise people up is a much better idea than hanging around complainers.

The third thing to note from this parsha is Aaron’s response to Korach. Korach is all riled up and Aaron says……NOTHING.  Aaron does not respond. Why? Because when someone is all caught up in their own personal thought and thereby lots of feelings such as anger, resentment, jealousy, etc., there is nothing you can really say to the person until their thinking settles a bit (which is always will if we leave it alone and let it do its thing). Aaron says nothing because he knew that at that moment, nothing he said would be heard by Korach.

Lesson #3: When someone is in a state of anger, and the like, trying to have a rational conversation with them is almost always futile. Wait until their mind settles (which it will eventually), as they have a much better chance of seeing it then. A couple of weeks ago I was in a bad mood. I was feeling overwhelmed and cranky, and I was not fun to be around. I got into an argument with one of my children and they very respectfully said to me “Mommy, you are in a low state right now, so I am not going to talk to you now,” and she walked away.  I was annoyed, but you know where she learned that? From me and Seth! She was right. Nothing she was going to say was going to be “right” and I was “whirling” in my own negative thinking. She intuitively knew that eventually the whirling would settle down, and I then we could have a conversation, and I would have a fresh perspective.

There is so much more we can learn from this parsha but I will end with this: It is a FACT that were all created and are sustained by the Source of everything. We are never disconnected from that Source, we only THINK we are.


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