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Parshas Korach - Vol. 10, Issue 35
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Parshas Korach revolves around Korach's challenge to the authority and leadership of Moshe and Aharon. Korach ultimately leads a full-fledged rebellion against them, one which ends in disastrous and tragic results. The Torah refers to Korach as the son of Yitzhar, who was the son of Kehas, who was the son of Levi. Rashi explains that the Torah doesn't continue the family tree by stating that Levi was the son of Yaakov because Yaakov prayed that his name not be mentioned in association with Korach's rebellion. As Korach was four generations removed from Yaakov, who wasn't even alive at the time of this episode, what difference did it make to Yaakov whether his name was used in conjunction with Korach's ancestry?
The Shemen HaTov explains that Yaakov's life was full of difficulties and struggles. Even in the womb, he fought with his wicked twin Eisav to emerge first and claim the birthright. When he subsequently purchased the birthright from Eisav and used it to receive their father Yitzchok's blessings, Eisav wanted to kill him and Yaakov had to flee for his life. He spent the next 20 years with his wicked uncle Lavan, with whom he also struggled as Lavan repeatedly tricked and deceived him. He returned to Canaan and again had to pacify Eisav, only to be confronted with the attack on his daughter Dina by Shechem and the jealousy of his sons toward his beloved Yosef.
In short, Yaakov's was a life fraught with strife and conflict. He accepted this as his Divinely-ordained lot and engaged in these disputes solely for the sake of Heaven. Yet when Yaakov prophetically saw that his great-great-grandson would engage in an argument purely for the sake of his personal honor, he feared that people would assume that Korach was merely continuing in the aggressive, confrontational path that he inherited from Yaakov. Since nothing could be further from the truth, Yaakov prayed that his name not be used in association with Korach's genealogy in order to emphasize that Korach's selfish rebellion had no origins in the struggles engaged in by his ancestor Yaakov for the sake of Heaven.
In order to publicly say certain parts of the prayer service, a quorum must be gathered, as the Torah commands (Vayikra 22:32) v'nikdashti b'soch B'nei Yisroel - I shall be sanctified amongst the Jewish people. The Mishnah (Megillah 4:3) rules that the minimum quorum necessary is ten adult Jewish males. The Gemora (Megillah 23b) presents a somewhat convoluted derivation for this requirement, connecting the word b'soch (in the midst of) to the word mi'toch (from the midst of) in our verse, in which Hashem commands Moshe and Aharon to separate themselves from the evildoers so that He can destroy them. The Gemora then compares the word eida (assembly) in our verse to a verse in Parshas Shelach, in which the spies who slandered the land of Israel are referred to (14:27) as an eida ra'ah - wicked assembly. Since there were ten spies who slandered Eretz Yisroel, this teaches us that the minimum prayer quorum required to constitute an assembly in which Hashem's name may be sanctified is ten.
Rav Yissocher Frand points out the irony in deriving the concept of publicly sanctifying Hashem's name from a combination of the spies and the supporters of Korach's rebellion against Moshe and Aharon, all of whom were guilty of terrible sins and whose conduct seems like the diametric opposite of a public sanctification of Hashem's name.
Additionally, after Korach challenged Moshe's authority and 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 selected to serve Him would survive, while all of the others would perish. As Moshe had warned, Korach and all of his followers were killed, while the offering of Aharon was accepted. At that point, Hashem told Moshe to instruct Elozar to take the fire-pans in which Korach's supporters offered their incense and make them into hammered-out sheets to cover the Altar. This is also difficult to understand. Why would Hashem permit these fire-pans, which were used as part of an attempt to discredit the legitimacy of Moshe and Aharon, to be used for such a holy purpose?
Rav Yaakov Luban of Edison, New Jersey explains that human nature is to view events as either black or white, with no middle ground. Therefore, we view the spies and Korach's followers as completely evil, with no redeeming qualities. However, Hashem in His infinite wisdom is capable of handling two contradictory concepts simultaneously, and at the same time that He punishes evildoers, He also discerns the positive motivations behind their misguided actions.
Although the spies sinned grievously in delivering their scurrilous report, their motivations for doing were multifaceted and quite complex. Although they were certainly guilty of a lack of proper trust in Hashem and a deficiency in their love for Eretz Yisroel, they were also motivated by a desire to remain in the idyllic spiritual existence that they enjoyed in the wilderness, and by a concern that the nation would not be able to maintain the lofty spiritual level required to thrive in the land of Israel.
In the case of Korach, although his primary motivation was a jealous lust for power, there was also a component of his rebellion that emanated from a sincere desire for more opportunities to serve Hashem through greater participation in the Divine Service in the Mishkan. Although Korach and the spies were sorely misguided in their execution, Hashem nevertheless recognized that their underlying yearning for closeness to Hashem was indeed holy, and they therefore play a central role in deriving the laws for a prayer quorum to publicly sanctify Hashem.
Similarly, Korach's followers were killed for supporting his heretical insurrection against Moshe and Aharon. Nevertheless, in risking their lives for a 1-in-250 chance to become even closer to Hashem, they demonstrated a tremendous craving for kedusha (holiness). Although we would be inclined to reject their pans as invalid and impure, Hashem saw the desire for spirituality latent within them and instructed Moshe to utilize their pans to fashion a covering for the Altar.
The Satmar Rebbe, Rav Yoel Teitelbaum, related that his great-great-grandfather, Rav Moshe Teitelbaum, known as the Yismach Moshe, said that his soul had already been in the world in three previous incarnations, the first of which was during the time that the Jewish people were in the wilderness. The Yismach Moshe's grandson, Rav Yekusiel Yehuda Teitelbaum, known as the Yetev Lev, asked him what he remembered about Korach's rebellion.
The Yismach Moshe told his grandson that the leaders of the Sanhedrin supported Korach, while the common people sided with Moshe. The Yetev Lev pressed him, "And whose side did you take?" The Yismach Moshe responded that he remained neutral. His incredulous grandson asked, "How could you refuse to clearly support Moshe Rabbeinu against Korach's heretical rebellion?" The Yismach Moshe replied, "You obviously have no idea who Korach was. If you would have been there and seen his greatness with your own eyes, you wouldn't be surprised that I elected to remain neutral." As we have seen, misguided as he was, Korach was in search of kedusha and spirituality, and although human nature is to view events as black or white, most situations are far more nuanced and contain many shades of gray.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) The Ramban (16:5) quotes the opinion of Rabbeinu Chananel, who maintains that the assembly of Korach was comprised of individuals from the tribe of Levi, although the Ramban himself disagrees. As the tribe of Levi refused to take part in the sins of the golden calf and the spies, why were they specifically ensnared in the sin of Korach's rebellion? (Ayeles HaShachar 16:7)
2) The Gemora in Sanhedrin (109b) teaches that although On ben Peles was originally one of the leaders of Korach's rebellion, his sagacious wife convinced him to withdraw from the dispute. She pointed out that he had nothing to gain from the fight, as even if Korach won, he would be just as subservient to Korach as he currently was to Moshe and Aharon. In what way was her argument considered wise and eye-opening, as it seems to be simply telling him things that were self-evident and that he knew already? (Peninim MiShulchan Gevoha)
3) After the leader of each tribe gave a staff with his name written on it to Moshe, Moshe placed them in the Mishkan. The next day, only Aharon's staff had blossomed, sprouting ripe almonds, thereby proving his legitimacy as Kohen Gadol (17:21-24). What other miracle did Aharon's staff perform during that time which ensured that the other staffs wouldn't sprout? (Baal HaTurim Shemos 7:12)
4) A non-Levite whose firstborn is a male is obligated to redeem him by giving 5 silver shekels to a Kohen (18:16), a mitzvah known as Pidyon HaBen. In order to betroth a woman, a man must give her one perutah in the presence of witnesses. However, the law is that he may also betroth her by giving her anything, including a non-tangible benefit such as dancing in front of her, which gives her the equivalent pleasure as receiving one perutah. May a first-born son be redeemed from the Kohen only with money, or does giving the equivalent pleasure to a Kohen also suffice as it does to betroth a woman? (Minchas Chinuch 392:6, Har Tzvi, Mas'as HaMelech)
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