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
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
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 the incense offerings of Korach and his followers. As Moshe had
warned, Korach and all of his followers were killed while the offering of Aharon
The Jewish people 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 dissuade them from 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 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
Kein tarimu gam atem terumas Hashem mikol maasroseichem asher tik’chu me’eis
B’nei Yisroel un’satem mimenu es terumas Hashem l’Aharon HaKohen (18:28)
The Gemora in Berachos (46a) relates that Rav Abahu once made a festive meal to
celebrate Rav Zeira’s recovery from an illness. At the beginning of the meal,
Rav Abahu suggested that Rav Zeira recite HaMotzi to exempt the other guests.
Rav Zeira responded that it is proper for the host (Rav Abahu) to do so. When
the time came to recite Birkas HaMazon, Rav Abahu again attempted to honor Rav
Zeira by proposing that he lead its recitation. Rav Zeira again demurred,
explaining that the person who said the blessing over the bread should be the
one to recite Birkas HaMazon. The Gemora explains that Rav Abahu believed that
the guest should lead the recitation of Birkas HaMazon in order to bless the
In a letter to Rav Chaim Berlin, the Aderes questioned why the Gemora says that
Rav Abahu’s reasoning was based on Rav Zeira’s status as a guest. Shouldn’t it
have been based on his status as a Kohen (Yerushalmi Berachos 3:1), as one
performs a mitzvah by honoring a Kohen to recite a blessing?
The Gemora in Megillah (7b) recounts that Rabbah and Rav Zeira were eating the
festive Purim meal together when Rabbah slaughtered Rav Zeira. Although the
Gemora relates that Rabbah prayed and resurrected Rav Zeira, the Aderes
suggested that his status as a Kohen ended with his natural death, and there
were no longer grounds on which to honor him to say the blessings as a Kohen.
Rav Berlin responded that the Aderes was surely joking with him. The Gemora
(Sanhedrin 90b) questions how our verse can teach that terumah should be given
to Aharon, who never merited entering the land of Israel where this mitzvah was
performed. The Gemora answers that the Torah is hinting to the resurrection of
the dead, at which time Aharon will receive terumah. How can the Gemora be
understood according to the logic of the Aderes, as Aharon’s status as a Kohen
ended when he died a natural death?
In defense of the Aderes, Rav Yaakov Chaim Sofer notes that in his notes on the
Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvos (3:7), the Ramban writes that the anointment received
by Aharon and his sons became invalid at the time of their deaths. Upon their
resurrection, they will require a new anointment in order to regain their status
as Kohanim and serve in the Beis Hamikdash, and by extension to receive terumah,
precisely in accordance with the explanation of the Aderes.
Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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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,
2) Which people who have appeared earlier in the Torah were reincarnated as
Korach and his assembly? (Rabbeinu Bechaye 16:29)
3) Rashi writes (16:7) that Korach was misled by the fact that he saw the
righteous Shmuel descended from him, and he assumed that this merit would allow
him to be saved. Although Korach erred in his reasoning, why was he punished so
harshly for an unintentional mistake? (Maharsha Sanhedrin 110a, Ohr HaChaim
HaKadosh Vayikra 8:5, Ayeles HaShachar)
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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