The Torah is written on many levels, among them the literary and metaphorical. We may not always understand the metaphors it uses, but they, nevertheless, can "get into our kishkes", affecting us on the symbolic, experiential and emotional levels, so that an idea penetrates, diffuses and dwells in out subconscious and, affects and shapes how we understand and interpret other Torah passage. Stories do that, images and phrases do it.
Among such devices is, I believe, the swallowing of Korach and his congregation by the earth.
On the face of it, the earth opening its mouth and swallowing the unruly rebels is remarkable and a riveting image. As we discussed before, and based on Mordechai Breuers work. the story of Korach is a split screen. On one scree, there stands the grouping of characters around Korach: on the other screen is the one led by Dosan abd Aviram. In one wants power, the other one egalitarianism in Divine Service. One is around Korach's tent, the other by he Altar. The two movies, however, intertwine and bleed into the frames of one another. Most importantly, they dies in two different ways. Korach is swallowed by the earth and the the others are consumed by fire.
What it the metaphor of the earth opening up and swallowing Korach and his congregation? There are, of course, many, but one stands out.
The metaphor of falling through the earth, may I suggest, represents the concept that goes beyond "hitting rock bottom".
When a person falls,he or she tend to eventually hit rock bottom. It may be an alcoholic, thrown out by his wife and children, having lost his job, vomiting in a dark hotel room after another binge, an addict waking up where he never imagined he would ever be, or milder variations of such, that make an individual confront that there is no where to go lower than this, and the only way now is up.
“Rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.” J.K. Rowling
But what about those who refuse to acknolwedge that they hit rock bottom, who persist on the same way, who insist on staying where there is no lower where to go?
Korach was warned. His base motivations were reveled to him, but he refused to turn back. Within a forthnight he went from a respected elder to a despicable rebel. He hit rock bottom. He had nowhere else to go but up. But he did not!
The metaphor in the parsha is telling us that, even where one seems to have to hit rock bottom but refuses to go up, and there are appears to be no lower than he can go, if the does not catch himself, he will find that there is yet lower where to go.
The solid rocky ground can open up the gehennom under its seemingly solid surface, and there is much lower than one can go!
The alternative to not going up from the very bottom is not staying there, but going even lower. Where one thinks that it cannot get worse, the ground open up, and unimagined depths of depravity reveal themselves. It teaches us that one must, must go up for if not, there is much lower yet to go.