Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 22   No. 35

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Parshas Korach


Timing it Right
(Adapted from the Ramban)

According to the I'bn Ezra, the episode of Korach took place before that of the Spies, after the tribe of Levi had been designated to replace the firstborn, whilst Yisrael were still camped at Har Sinai. The people suspected Moshe of taking the law into his own hands, to give the Kehunah Gedolah to his brother, and to favor the sons of K'has and the entire tribe of Levi, who were his family. As for the Levi'im who joined Korach, they objected to the fact that Moshe had made them subservient to Aharon and his sons, whereas Dasan and Aviram objected to his taking the birthright away from Reuven their 'father' and giving it to Levi. Korach, he adds, was also a firstborn, and this was an added bone of contention on his part.

The Ramban however, disagrees with the Ib'n Ezra, who, he points out, tends to apply the principle that 'The Torah is not necessarily written in chronological order' a little too freely. In his opinion, the Torah places the Parshiyos chronologically (except for the few occasions when Chazal tell us otherwise).


In fact, he agrees with Rashi, that Korach's rebellion was sparked off by the appointment of Eltzafan ben Uziel, his younger cousin, to the princehood of K'has, but also by that of Aharon to the Kehunah Gedolah, as he himself said to Moshe and indicated in Moshe's words "and you also want the Kehunah!" As for the question why Korach did not rebel when the various appointments were made (before the Mishkan was erected some four months earlier)? The answer, the author explains, lies in the fact that up to the debacle of the Spies, everything went smoothly, and Moshe's popularity was at its height. Why, even the sin of the Golden Calf he had smoothened out and had obtained a Divine pardon by virtue of the forty days that he Davened to Hashem. Consequently, at that stage, no one would have dared to challenge Moshe's authority.


But things changed dramatically after they arrived in the Desert of Paran, where many people were burned in Tav'eirah and many others died in Kivros ha'Ta'avah. Then came the sin of the spies, where the decree was issued that the entire generation would die in the desert, which Moshe did not attempt to negate, followed by a plague that killed the princes of the tribes. That is when Korach saw his opportunity, and that is when he struck. The people were miserable and dejected, and he knew that he would have no trouble in finding adherents to his cause, which he did by accusing Moshe of breaking his word and not bringing them to Eretz Cana'an as he had promised, though it was Dasan and Aviram, the first to join the rebellion who made that accusation, not Korach. Moreover, he claimed, there was no guarantee that even their children would enter Eretz Yisrael; the chances were that their children would die in the desert too, and that they left Egypt in vain.


Korach's Rebels
(Adapted from the Ramban)

"And they stood before Moshe, together with two hundred and fifty men from the B'nei Yisrael, princes of the congregation, those summoned for meetings, men of renown (16:2).


The Ramban dismisses the I'bn Ezra's claim that Dasan and Aviram wanted the birthright to be returned to Re'uven, on the grounds that Ya'akov Avinu had already stripped them of their title and given it to Yosef. Rashi too, explains that most of the two hundred and fifty men were from the tribe of Reuven, but that could be simply because they were Korach's neighbors, and not necessarily because of any particular claim.

He also dismisses Rabeinu Chananel's theory that they were all from the tribe of Levi, who presumably believed that the entire tribe had been picked to serve as Kohanim, and not just Aharon and his sons. Despite the multiple mention of "B'nei Levi" (in the plural), he considers it inconceivable for so many members of the G-d-fearing tribe of Levi to rebel against their leader and master. Also the test of the sticks, which involved all the tribes, refutes that theory.

The Ramban therefore opts for the explanation that Korach's rebels were all firstborn, who claimed that Moshe had switched with his own tribe of his own accord.

* * *

Parshah Pearls
(Adapted from the Ramban)

All These Deeds. Which Deeds?

"With this you will know that G-d sent me to perform all these deeds, that I did not do them of my own accord" (16:28).


This does not just refer to the appointing of Aharon as Kohen Gadol, his sons, deputy Kohanim Gedolim and Eltzafan as the prince of K'has, as Rashi explains, or to the switching of the tribe of Levi and the firstborn, the Ramban explains.

It refers to everything that Moshe did from the time that G-d told him to appear before Par'oh the very first time (Sh'mos, 3:10). See next Pearl.


When the Earth Opened its Mouth

"If these men will die like the death of all men …" (16:29).


On many occasions the people challenged Moshe and asked him why he took them out of Egypt, says the Ramban. But that did not justify the unique form of death that Dasan and Aviram were about to suffer.

Dasan and Aviram went one step further when they accused Moshe of dominating them. By doing so, not only were they guilty of a total lack of Kavod ha'Rav, a sin which the former shared. They were in fact denying his Divine appointment to take the people out of Egypt and to lead them in the desert - including Ma'amad Har Sinai and the giving of the Torah, despite the promise that G-d had made to him on that occasion "And also in you will they believe forever!" According to them, Moshe was acting throughout on his own initiative, and not with Divine authority.

That explains why they and all their belongings were swallowed up by the mouth of the earth. Indeed, Korach too, accused Moshe and Aharon of rising above the community, hence he too suffered the same fate as Dasan and Aviram (The commentaries cite the Tur on the Chumash, who mentions this too, but who omits the word "tent"[See also following Pearl]).


It seems to me that, by introducing a new form of death, Moshe proved beyond any shadow of doubt, that, contrary to Korach, Dasan and Aviram's claims, he was indeed a unique personality, a cut above all other members of K'lal Yisrael. Clearly, G-d had appointed him to lead the people, and that, as a result, he was able to make demands of him that nobody else would dare make.


What Happened to Korach

"And the earth opened its mouth …and it swallowed them (Dasan and Aviram) and their houses, as well as all the men who belonged to Korach, together with all their possessions" (16:32).


To whom does the phrase "all the men who belonged to Korach" refer, asks the Ramban? It cannot refer to his children, as his three sons were great Tzadikim (who even composed some of the chapters of Tehilim - See Rashi, Pinchas, 26:11)- and the Pasuk makes no mention of other small children, as it does in connection with Dasan and Aviram. It must therefore pertain to his male and female slaves, Egyptians, Kushum and Cana'anim, who suffered the same fate as Dasan and Aviram.

But what about Korach himself? The Torah does not specifically include him, either together with those who were swallowed up, or together with those who were burned. Indeed, according to one opinion in Sanhedrin (Daf 110a), he suffered neither of the two fates.

The Ramban writes that 'Korach's tent went down with Dasan and Aviram', suggesting that Korach himself did not.

The commentaries point out that Pasuk 5 in the next chapter implies that he was burned together with the men who brought the Ketores.

Another opinion in the Gemara in Sanhedrin maintains that Korach actually suffered both fates - he was burned when he brought the Ketores and he went down alive together with Dasan and Aviram, as one would expect considering that he was the instigator of the rebellion and its leader.


Where did the Kohanim Eat the Most Holy Sacrifices

" … this shall be for you from the holiest sacrifices (mi'Kodesh ha'Kodashim) from the fire … You shall eat them in the holy of holies (be'Kodesh ha'Kodashim)…" (18:10).

This teaches us, says Rashi, that Kodshei Kodashim sacrifices (Chatas, Asham and Minchah), can only be eaten in the Azarah (the Courtyard of the Mishkan/Beis-ha'Mikdash) by the male Kohanim. In other words, although "Kodesh ha'Kodashim" in the previous Pasuk is meant literally, virtually the same term in the current Pasuk is not.


The Ramban, too, explains the Pasuk in this way. However, in view of the above Rashi, it is hard to understand why he takes him to task. But the Kodesh Kodshim is a location where only the Kohen Gadol enters once a year, he asks, and not one where one eats Korbanos - seeing as Rashi did not claim that one does? To clarify the issue, what the Ramban is saying is that "be'Kodesh ha'Kdshimashim Tochlenu" means not 'You shall eat in in the Kodesh Kodshim', but "You shall eat it as Kodshim" - by male Kohanim and in the Azarah (among other things), which is precisely what Rashi says.


Despite all this, the author goes on to quote a Sifri which explains the Pasuk literally (the Torah does not make statements that are incorrect!): The Sifri explains that if the enemy has surrounded the Azarah, the Kohanim eat Kodshei Kodshim in the Heichal (the area between the Azarah and the Kodesh Kodshim), and it learns this from the current Pasuk.


In fact, says the Ramban, they can even be eaten in the Kodesh Kodshim if necessary, as is clear from the source Pasuk, only Rebbi Yehudah ben Beseira (the author of the statement) in awe of the location, was afraid to say such a thing directly.


No Inheritance for the Tribe of Levi

"In their land they (the Kohanim) will not receive an inheritance …" (18:7).

The Torah is teaching us here that the Kohanim may not take a portion of land, like the other tribes, and when, a few Pesukim later, the Torah adds "among the tribes of Yisrael they shall not receive an inheritance", it includes the Levi'im in the prohibition.

The following phrase "and you shall not receive even a portion …" prohibits them from receiving even a small plot of land in Eretz Yisrael - the six cities of refuge that are designated for the use of the Levi'im serve the whole of K'lal Yisrael and are not therefore considered the personal property of the Levi'im.


As is his way, the author then cites Chazal, who learn from the aforementioned second phrase that the Kohanim/Levi'im are not even allowed to receive a portion of the spoils of war that Yisrael capture from the enemy (bear in mind, that the tribe of Levi were not conscripted into the army).

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