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Parshas Korach - Vol. 11, Issue 39
Compiled by Oizer Alport
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.
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.
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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, M'rafsin Igri)
2) Which people who have appeared earlier in the Torah were reincarnated as Korach and his assembly? (Rabbeinu Bechaye 16:29)
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