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Parshas Korach - Vol. 5,
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Rav lachem b’nei Levi (16:7)
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. Moshe attempted to quash their rebellion by explaining to them that serving Hashem as Levites was no small matter and they should be content with their roles instead of seeking to elevate themselves by serving as Kohanim Gedolim.
The Gemora (Sotah 13b) teaches that Moshe was punished for telling Korach and his followers “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 the land of Israel, Hashem answered him (Devorim 3:26) using a similar expression: “Rav lach” – it is too much for you – to hint that Moshe sinned in using this expression when addressing Korach. What was Moshe’s error 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?
The Manchester Rosh Yeshiva explains that although Korach and his followers committed a grave sin in their rebellion against the leadership of Moshe and Aharon, it was still inappropriate for Moshe to speak to them in this way. Moshe told them that the spiritual elevation they sought was too much for them. Several commentators explain that Hashem instilled within us a natural lack of satisfaction with our lot so that we will constantly seek to grow and change in spiritual endeavors.
Although they were mistaken and misguided, it was still incorrect to speak to them in a manner which implies that the pursuit of spiritual growth is capped and limited. Moshe’s desire to enter the land of Israel to grow through doing the mitzvos which may uniquely be performed there was met with a response similar to the one he had used to allude to the impropriety of his message to Korach.
Vayichar l’Moshe me’od vayomer el Hashem al teifen el minchasam (16:15)
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. Moshe suggests that the dispute be resolved by challenging Korach and his 250 followers to prepare incense offerings, which they will offer to Hashem. Aharon will do so as well, and the person whom Hashem truly desires and selects to serve Him will survive, while all of the others will perish.
After Korach refuses to back down and accepts the challenge even at the risk of his life and those of his followers, Moshe grows angry and petitions Hashem not to accept the incense offerings of Korach and his followers. As doing so would be tantamount to substantiating Korach’s blasphemous and heretical arguments, why was it necessary for Moshe to pray that they not be accepted? Wasn’t it obvious that Hashem wouldn’t do something which would cause such catastrophic consequences?
The following story will help us to appreciate the answer given to our question. Rav Shalom Schwadron was once praying at the Kosel when he was startled by a loud noise. Turning around, he saw two men wearing leather and chains who had just pulled up behind him on a motorcycle.
One man took out a pen and paper and scribbled a note, which he showed to his friend. After his friend nodded his approval, he folded up the paper and placed it in one of the cracks in the Kosel. The men returned to their motorcycle and sped off with a bang. Rav Schwadron was curious as to what these two ostensibly non-spiritual men had written, when a gust of wind suddenly blew their poorly-placed paper straight to his feet. He picked up the paper and read, “Please Hashem, Maccabi Tel Aviv (a sports team) for the league championship,” a prayer which was apparently subsequently answered.
In light of this story, we may now understand the answer given by the Alter of Kelm. He teaches that our question is based on a fundamental lack of appreciation of the power of heartfelt prayer. We live in a society which believes that a person must be at the highest levels of piety for his prayers to be answered, and that we should only “bother” Hashem to pray about matters of great import.
Judaism, on the other hand, believes what Dovid HaMelech wrote (Tehillim 145:18) that Hashem is close to all those who call out to Him genuinely. Dovid doesn’t differentiate between the righteous and the wicked; just the opposite, he stresses that Hashem is close to anyone who prays to Him sincerely.
Moshe knew that with their lives on the line, Korach and his followers, heretics that they were, would pray for the acceptance of their incense offerings with tremendous fervor and intent. He had no choice but to counter their powerful prayers with an even more potent one of his own. Moshe understood that it doesn’t matter what the subject of the petition is. Heartfelt prayer about whatever is important to the supplicant, whether it is the final score of a sporting event or even the deposition of Hashem’s hand-picked prophet and leader, brings him close to Hashem, Who is likely to answer such prayers in the affirmative, a lesson we should remember the next time that we open a siddur.
V’lo yih’yeh k’Korach uk’adaso (17:5)
After Korach’s rebellion was quashed and the doubts that he raised about the legitimacy of the leadership of Moshe and Aharon were erased, the Torah teaches that there will never again be an episode like Korach and his assembly. How is this to be understood?
Although in a literal sense many commentators understand this verse as a Biblical prohibition against engaging in machlokes (disputes), Rav Chaim Soloveitchik offers a homiletic interpretation with a lesson that we would do well to internalize.
In the rebellion led by Korach and his followers, their position was 100% wrong, without any legitimacy whatsoever. The position of Moshe and Aharon, against whom they were fighting, was revealed by Hashem to be 100% correct. Rav Chaim suggested that this verse may be understood as a Divine guarantee that there will never again be a dispute in which one side is completely correct and the other is absolutely in error.
When we disagree with our families, friends, and coworkers, each side all too often falls into the trap of assuming that his position is completely justified and engages in a campaign of “proving” to the other side the absolute absurdity of their opinion. If we remember the promise of the Torah that there will never again be such a one-sided disagreement as that of Moshe and Korach, it will be much easier for us to see and understand the logic of our spouses, children, coworkers, and neighbors, which will naturally result in much happier and more peaceful resolutions for all parties involved.
Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) As it is forbidden to name a child after a wicked person (Yoma 38b), why did the righteous Yitzhar name his son Korach, which was the name of one of Eisav’s sons (Bereishis 36:5)? (Shu”t Chasam Sofer Even HaEzer 2:22, Pardes Yosef, M’rafsin Igri)
2) Rashi writes (16:1) that Korach argued that his father was one of four siblings. The oldest of them was Amram, so his children Moshe and Aharon took the positions of king and Kohen Gadol, respectively. However, Korach felt that as the son of Yitzhar, the second oldest of the siblings, he deserved to be appointed leader of the tribe, yet Moshe gave the position to the son of the youngest of the brothers, which inspired Korach’s rebellion. If this was the basis for his rebellion against Moshe, why didn’t he attack Moshe immediately when these appointments were made, and what inspired his wrath specifically at this time? (Ramban)
3) After separating the appropriate portions to be terumah (18:12), can a person make them terumah simply by mentally intending them to be terumah, or must he verbally declare them to be terumah? (Rashi Gittin 31a, Tosefos Bechoros 59a, Chavatzeles HaSharon)
4) The Gemora in Kiddushin (46b) derives from 18:32 that if one separates terumah from inferior grain in order to exempt superior grain, his actions are effective but are considered sinful. At present, when terumah goes to waste due to impurity, does this prohibition still apply, or is it now permissible to separate terumah from the inferior product? (Ramban Hashmatos to Sefer HaMitzvos Lo Sa’aseh 7, Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 331:52, Ayeles HaShachar)
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