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Parshas Korach - Vol. 3,
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Vayakumu lifnei Moshe v’anashim mi’Bnei Yisroel chamishim umasayim nesi’ei eida kriei moed anshei shem (16:2)
Parshas Korach begins with the tragic revolt led by Korach against Moshe and Aharon in which he questions their claims of being Divinely-chosen in an attempt to overthrow their leadership. Korach was joined in his rebellion by Dasan, Aviram, and 250 followers. The commentators disagree about the identity of these 250 individuals, but a number of them maintain that they included the leaders of each of the tribes. According to this opinion, how is it possible that such righteous leaders stumbled and fell so far as to take part in Korach’s rebellion against Moshe and Aharon?
In Parshas Nasso, the Torah repeats at excruciating length the offerings brought by each of the 12 tribal leaders even though they were all identical to one another. The Chofetz Chaim explains that the first offerings brought in history resulted in bloodshed when Hevel’s offering was accepted and his brother Cain’s was not. Cain became jealous and killed Hevel. The heads of the tribes were worried that each successive leader would try to “one-up” the leader who brought his offering on the previous day. This would result in tremendous jealousy and ill-will. To prevent this from happening, they collaborated and agreed upon a uniform offering which would be brought by each of them. This desire for peace was so precious to Hashem that He wrote each of their offerings in the Torah at great length to reward them.
However, all character traits run across-the-board and can be used for good or for bad. Although their desire for equality earned them tremendous reward and Divine favor in Parshas Nasso, it led to their downfall a short while later in Parshas Korach. Korach challenged the leadership of Moshe and Aharon, arguing that the entire Jewish nation is equally holy and has no need for a leader. This played right into the reasoning and beliefs of the tribal leaders, who were unfortunately swept up in Korach’s rebellion.
As we strive to improve our character traits, it is insufficient to simply work on traits such as kindness, patience, and the pursuit of peace. We must be cognizant of the fact that all of them have a time and place not only when they are appropriate but also when they can lead to disastrous results.
Vayikahalu al Moshe v’al Aharon vayomru aleihem rav lachem ki kol haeida kulam kedoshim uvesocham Hashem u’madua tisnasu al kehal Hashem (16:3)
The Medrash Pliah teaches that Korach was motivated to rebel against Moshe when he learned about the mitzvah of parah adumah (the red heifer). As Korach’s arguments seem to have no connection to the red heifer, how is this Medrash to be understood? In what way did the parah adumah inspire Korach to challenge the authority and leadership of Moshe?
The Roshei Besamim notes that the Medrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 19:6) teaches that although the mitzvah of the red heifer is a chok – a mitzvah whose reason isn’t known to us – its rationale was revealed to Moshe. Korach argued that the rest of the Jewish people were actually on a higher level than Moshe because they performed this mitzvah without any understanding solely to perform the will of Hashem. As a result, this mitzvah inspired him to challenge Moshe’s leadership and begin his rebellion.
Alternatively, the Chemdas Tzvi cites Rashi (Shemos 20:2), who explains that Hashem said the 10 Commandments in the singular tense so that Moshe would be able to defend the Jews after the sin of the golden calf by arguing that they thought that the commandments, such as the belief in Hashem and the prohibition against idolatry, were given only to Moshe and not to them. However, Rashi also writes (Bamidbar 19:2) that the red heifer atones for the sin of the golden calf.
When Korach saw that there was a new means to atone for the golden calf and Moshe’s defense was no longer necessary, he was able to challenge Moshe’s authority. Now that there was no need for the claim that the singular tense indicated that the 10 Commandments were directed solely to Moshe, Korach argued that the entire nation was equally holy because they had all stood at Mount Sinai and heard Hashem’s commandments directed to all of them.
Finally, the Mas’as HaMelech explains that after the Jewish people saw the thunder and heard the shofar blasts at Mount Sinai, they became scared for their lives and insisted that Moshe speak to them instead of Hashem (Shemos 20:16). The Rashbam explains that had they not made this request, they would have heard all of the mitzvos directly from Hashem. Although they elected to forego this opportunity, they nevertheless recognized that they were on a level at which they were entitled to learn and understand all of the mitzvos on the highest level. When Moshe, to whom the reason for the mitzvah of parah adumah was revealed, refused to teach it to them, Korach was motivated to challenge his authority, based on the argument that all of the people were equally holy and were entitled to comprehend the Torah on Moshe’s level.
Vayilonu kol adas B’nei Yisroel mimacharas al Moshe v’al Aharon leimor atem hemisem es am Hashem (17:6)
Parshas Korach begins with the tragic revolt led by Korach against Moshe and Aharon in an attempt to question their claims of being Divinely-chosen and ultimately to overthrow their leadership. Moshe suggested that the dispute be resolved by challenging Korach and his 250 followers to prepare incense offerings, which they would offer to Hashem. Aharon would do so as well, and the person whom Hashem truly selected to serve Him would survive, while all of the others would perish. After Korach refused to back down and accepted the challenge even at the risk of his life and those of his followers, Moshe grew angry and petitioned Hashem not to accept their incense offerings. As Moshe had warned, Korach and all of his followers were killed while the sacrifice of Aharon was accepted.
The Jews reacted by accusing Moshe and Aharon of causing their deaths. This is difficult to understand. Moshe conducted himself with the utmost humility in attempting to quell their uprising. When this was unsuccessful and with his Divine authority on the line, Moshe was left with no choice but to propose this test, and he warned them of the disastrous results which awaited them. If they ignored his warnings and Hashem punished them, how could Moshe and Aharon be blamed for their deaths?
A student of Rav Yisroel Salanter, the founder of the Mussar movement, once approached his saintly teacher. He reverently told Rav Yisroel about a certain Rav who was so righteous that when he became upset by somebody and cursed him, the curse was always fulfilled. Rav Yisroel was far from impressed. He explained that just as we are responsible for causing damage with our hands or actions, so too are we equally accountable for causing damage with our speech.
The student asked Rav Yisroel for a source in the Torah stating that a person is responsible for his speech. Rav Yisroel cited our verse, in which the Jewish people blamed Moshe and Aharon for the deaths of Korach and his followers. He explained that they maintained that it was the prayers of Moshe and Aharon which resulted in this outcome and felt that they must therefore be held accountable. Although they were mistaken, as Moshe and Aharon had no alternative in this situation, we still derive from here that a person is responsible not only for the consequences of his actions, but also of his speech.
We live in a society in which sharp-tongued people are praised and held in high esteem. Although they may occupy the corner office and receive accolades for their witty rebuts, the Torah has a different perspective. One of the 613 commandments is a prohibition against saying something which hurts another person’s feelings (Vayikra 19:33). Although we likely won’t be accused of killing somebody with our speech as were Moshe and Aharon, the Gemora (Bava Metzia 58b) teaches that publicly embarrassing another person is comparable to killing him. The next time we are tempted to roll a sharp line off our tongues as we convince ourselves that it’s only words, we should remember Rav Yisroel’s teaching that words can also kill, and we are held responsible for their effects.
the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) A simple reading of Korach’s arguments (16:3) makes them seem logical and reasonable. Where did Chazal see it alluded to that his true intentions were for the sake of his personal honor and glory? (Yirah V’Daas)
2) The Gemora in Sotah (13b) teaches that Moshe was punished for telling Korach and his followers (16:7) “Rav lachem b’nei Levi” – it is too much for you, children of Levi. When Moshe petitioned Hashem to annul the decree preventing him from entering Israel, Hashem answered him (Devorim 3:26) using a similar expression: “Rav lach,” to hint that Moshe sinned in using this expression when addressing Korach. What was Moshe’s sin in speaking to Korach in this manner, and in what way was his punishment measure-for-measure and not just a linguistic play on words? (Chanukas HaTorah HeChadash, Me’Rosh Amanah, Yirah V’Daas, Shemen HaTov, Darkei HaShleimus)
3) The Torah tells us (16:15) that after unsuccessfully appealing to Korach, Dasan, and Aviram to call off their rebellion, Moshe because extremely angry. During his 40-year leadership of the Jewish people, Moshe endured a tremendous number of tests and personal affronts with tremendous humility. Why did he specifically get angry at this time?
4) How was Moshe permitted to design a test to prove his legitimacy which would result in the death of Korach and his assembly (16:28-30) when the Gemora in Shabbos (149b) teaches that whomever causes another Jew to be punished as a result of his actions won’t be allowed to enter Hashem’s Heavenly chamber? (M’rafsin Igri)
5) Judaism teaches that people are punished for their sins measure-for-measure. In what way was Korach’s punishment of being swallowed alive by the ground (16:32-33) for rebelling against Moshe and Aharon specifically appropriate for his crime? (Rabbeinu Bechaye, Imrei Daas)
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