R’ Ysoscher Katz writes:
The Chassidic Rebbe the Yetev Lev (1836-1904) said that he heard from his grandfather, author of the Sefer Yismach Moshe, who believed in reincarnation, that the first time he lived he was part of the generation that left Egypt and sojourned in the desert. He, in fact, claimed to have vivid memories of the tent in which he grew up.
He also recalled that during the Korach rebellion, the elite and religious leadership sided with Korach, while the hoi polloi sided with Moshe Rabbeinu.
As he was recalling the fight and the way the community aligned with Moshe or against him, his grandson asked him: Zeidy, whose side where you on, Moshe’s or Korach’s? His Zeidy responded that he was neutral, not siding with either of them.
How come, the grandson asked, incredulously?
If you knew what a great person Korach was, you would not have asked such a ridiculous question!
Leaving aside questions of reincarnation for the moment (touched upon here, if one wants to know the author’s position), there are two patterns in the narrative here that might be further discerned by this story:
The first is the tendency to lock oneself into a position because one is certain they can’t be wrong, or because they have made an irrevocable religious commitment.
The second is the tendency to being led and misled based upon a person’s ostensible stature.
In the first case, vis a vis rectitude:
Korach—having visions of his descendant Shmuel equated with Moshe and Aharon—assumed a prophetic imprimatur for his intransigence, so it never occurred to him that could be wrong. In contrast, the Gemara relates R’ Yochanan’s deathbed terror of having made the wrong moves in asking for Yavneh and not saving Jerusalem at the time of the churban. (R’ Norman Lamm writes in "Faith and Doubt" drawing on R’ Kook about “pachad”: allowing for the possibility of being wrong—even very wrong—while simultaneously firmly committing to a necessary course of action.)
Furthermore, one of Korach’s erstwhile followers—On ben Peles—also thought he was locked into what his wife let him know was a useless gesture because he had been “sworn in”, as it were, until she found a way out for him.
Lesson: pretentions to absolute rectitude lead to—er—wrecktitude, and that using a sunk cost fallacy to justify an ethical conundrum doesn’t make it any less a fallacy.
In the second case, vis a vis great personalities:
The meraglim were great men before their chet: one of the possible motivations behind the distorted report was the fear that Bnei Yisroel, once they entered the land and stopped eating the Manna, would move from a more to a less spiritual existence: they wouldn’t be “frum” enough. The mass panic and ensuing gezera putting Bnei Yirsael in neutral for 40 years might have given the “hoi polloi” cause to reconsider following the elites: everyone might have had the same insight as Mrs. On ben Peles, that this wasn’t their fight to have because they had nothing to gain either way, because ultimately for them the machlokes was going to be agavra, not acheftza.
Lesson: sometimes neutrality is the worst option, except for all the others.
Still, the notion that neutrality was the mandated course of action here conjured up, Avram being tossed in the kivshan ha’esh, and Haran waiting for a confirmation to decide which side he was on; why would Haran suffer for ostensibly choosing the right side based in a miracle, whereas there would be no parallel in the case of Moshe vs Korach, theoretically also decided by an overt miracle, that of the pi ha’aretz? Even if one discounts Ibn Ezra’s rendering of Nimrod as a “great man”, why would Haran suffer for waiting to choose sides?
The distinct motivations might be instructive, however subtle. The Yetev Lev’s reluctance to challenge either personality possibly stemmed from a legitimate fear, based on having made a grievous error the last time a side was chosen. In Haran’s case, there was no precedent, but if one looks at the language of Rashi/Midrash Tanchuma, Haran was already figuring out how to choose sides before Nimrod’s people even got around to asking him:
Haran waited and said to himself, “If Abram proves triumphant I will be on his side; if Nimrod wins I shall be on his”. When Abram was saved they said to Haran, “Whose side are you on?” Haran replied, “I am on Abram’s side”. They therefore cast him into the fiery furnace and he was burnt to death.
Furthermore, Haran might have intimated that Avram was right—why else would he expect that Avram might “prove triumphant”—but feeling compelled to give himself an "out", he declined to commit until he had evidence. At the very least, the dor hamidbar had evidence that allowed them inaction, having made "two" wrong commitments: following the mergalim, and then trying to undo that with the ha'apalah.
(It’s also possible that in a manner of speaking Haran did, even if post-facto, die “al kiddush Hashem”—there’s no textual indication of him being condemned for his action; he just might not have been worthy of the miracle that Avram was, for a number of reasons).
The lesson of Haran in a way doubles down the lesson of Korach: a pretension to rectitude that becomes about personal stature—in other words, turning what might be a she’ll lishma into an unequivocal machlokes agavra—can be deadly.