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

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Vol. 4 No. 39

Parshas Korach

The Fire of Machlokes

When people become involved in machlokes, they often say and do things which they would never say or do in calmer moments. It doesn't really matter how clever they are, it doesn't even matter how rational they may otherwise be, they assume proportions of irrationality of which they would be thoroughly ashamed, if their statements would be played back to them later, (which in fact they will be!).

This is not really surprising, considering that their goal is to prove themselves right, rather than to seek the truth. Consequently, they will say anything which springs to mind, to assert their opinion over that of their opponents, since their ego will never allow them to admit that they are in the wrong.

The result of such an attitude can often be embarrassingly comical, and when the stakes are higher and the need to support one's words with actions arises, they can even be disastrous.

Consider Korach, already a member of the chosen tribe of Levi, and a privileged member to whit, for, according to the Medrash, he was one of those designated to carry the Oron Ha'kodesh. He was also a millionaire, and above all, a "pikeiach", a man of profound wisdom; yet all this did not prevent him from entering into a bitter "machlokes", which had him presenting a case that was intrinsically contradictory to all his aspirations. He was jealous of the princehood of his junior cousin - Elitzofon ben Uziel, and he wanted the "Kehunoh Gedoloh" , yet in order to obtain them, he paradoxically insisted that all Jews are equal, querying Moshe and Aharon's position as leaders. He denied that Moshe's leadership, and consequently all his achievements, were Divinely inspired. But surely in that case, he was also throwing into jeopardy, the very princehood and high-priesthood that he was claiming. And in any event, what right did he then have to any of the positions that he was stiving for? For he was surely no more Divinely inspired than they were.

He had most certainly been a believer in the Jewish faith hitherto, yet here he was rejecting the very foundations upon which it was built, simply because this was the only way to obtain his goal - even if it did lack the slightest iota of logic.

Should one require any further proof as to the utter senselessness and futility of "machlokes" (when not used in search of the truth), imagine accepting a challenge to go with the "Ketores" (spices) into the Holy of Holies together with two hundred and fifty one other men, including the holy sage and High Priest Aharon Ha'cohen, possessed with the knowledge that only one could come out alive. Even assuming that Korach had good reason to believe that he would be that one and that all the others would die, what right did he have to forfeit so many lives (and most of them his allies and co-plotters) for the sake of his own selfish motives?

No wonder Chazal refer to "the fire of machlokes", for it devours people, and in the end it devoured Korach and all his followers too!


Hands Off Their Belongings!
Moshe warned Yisroel - "Keep away from the tents of these wicked men and don't touch anything of theirs, otherwise you will be punished for all your sins". It is easy to understand why they had to keep away from their tents. Klal Yisroel were clearly not worthy of standing in the vicinity of Korach and his men, whilst they were being destroyed - and of not being destroyed with them.

But why should they not touch their belongings? The Ramban quotes the Ibn Ezra, who writes that if the people come to salvage their money, they will go down like them. He explains the Ibn Ezra to mean, that if they are in the vicinity of the evildoers when they are punished, then they will be punished too, and he compares it to Lot's wife, who was struck down when she turned round, because she was affected by the plague of fire and brimstone, which can be lethal by merely looking at them. The Ramban himself, learns that the belongings of Korach were Cherem, and had to be destroyed. Anyone attempting to take from the Cherem was destined to suffer the same fate as the Cherem itself. (According to the Ibn Ezra, not touching Korach's belongings was nothing more than an extension of the warning to keep away from their tents - according to the Ramban it was an independent prohibition.)

The Meshech Chochmah explains why Korach's belongings had to be destroyed. It is similar, he explains, to an Ir ha'Nidachas, whose property has to be destroyed, even of those who were not themselves guilty of serving idols, which explains why even the property of Korach's sons, who did teshuvah and who did not die , was destroyed - and it is for the same reason that the wives and children of Korach, Doson and Avirom perished, just as the wives and children of the members of the Ir ha'Nidachas had to perish even if they were innocent.

The similarity to an Ir ha'Nidachas, we can explain by referring to Korach's attempt to negate that Torah min ha'Shomayim. He and his followers tried to lead the people astray from their firm belief in G-d and His Torah, by convincing them that the Torah was Moshe's own fabrication. And particularly when we take into consideration Yisroel's high level of faith at that time, it is easy to see why Hashem saw this as if Korach had led Yisroel to serve idols - and branded him a Meisis.

History of the World ( Part 34)
(Adapted from the Seder Ha'doros)
Aharon dies, and the Cana'ani, King of Arod (it is really Amolek pretending to be the Cana'ani) prepare to fight against Yisroel. Yisroel are afraid - they move back towards Egypt - a journey of three days - and encamp in Moseiroh, b'nei Ya'akon. The tribe of Levi, zealously fight with Yisroel (many are killed), and force them to return. Yisroel vow to Hashem that if He delivers the Cana'ani (or whoever they are) into their hands, they will ban their cities. Hashem responds and Yisroel defeat them. By Divine command, they avoid engaging Mo'ov in battle, even though the Mo'ovim refuse them permission to pass through their land on their way to capture Eretz Yisroel. On the 15th Av, it is discovered that the last of the generation of the spies has already died.

Sichon, King of Cheshbon, rejects their peace-terms, attacks Yisroel and is defeated. Yisroel are instructed not to fight with Amon, but the fearful giant Og, King of Boshon, gathers a powerful army, and, together with his mighty son Na'arotz, he attacks Yisroel. Og roots out a mountain and lifts it up over his head, in order to throw it at Yisroel, but an angel drills a hole in it, and it drops over his head. The weight of the heavy mountain is too much for him, and he falls to the ground, where Moshe and a small number of Jews, encouraged by Hashem, have no trouble in killing him. Yisroel then destroy his army. (There are other versions of the story - this is the one quoted in the Seider ha'Doros.) The battle with Sichon takes place in Ellul, that with Og in Tishri, after Succos. Sichon and Og were the sons of Shamchazai, one of the two Angels sent down to earth before the flood, which, due to their sins, they were mainly responsible for. Sichon, who was born in No'ach's boat, dies at 832; Og, who was already grown up at the time of the flood, is some years older. Yisroel take sixty cities from Sichon and Og.

The spies who go to spy Ya'azer, capture it. Mo'ov are terrified of Yisroel, so they appoint Bollock ben Tzipor king, and make peace with their bitter enemy Midyon, who advise them to hire Bil'om, renowned for his cursing abilities. They also send out their women to seduce the Jewish men. The women deliberately "succumb" to the men's advances, only after they have agreed to worship their despicable gods.

Moshe sends 12,000 men to attack Midyon, to avenge Yisroel's humiliation. They kill all the males, including the five kings of Midyon, and Bil'om, who has returned to Midyon to receive his wages. Some say Bil'om is only 33 when he dies. Others maintain that he was one of Par'oh's advisors at the time of the plot to enslave Yisroel - some 170 years earlier. The daughters of Tzelofchod approach Moshe concerning their father's portion in Eretz Yisroel.

From Rosh Chodesh Sh'vat until the 6th Adar, Moshe explains the Torah to Yisroel. On the 6th Adar, he is told to appoint Yehoshua, on the seventh (a Shabbos according to some, a Friday according to others), his 120th birthday, he dies at mid-day.

The Mon stops falling - the last fall will last forty days, until the 16th of Nissan.

Har Nevo, upon which Moshe Rabeinu dies, is a very steep mountain, which is impossible to climb, and nobody knows where he is buried. It is in the portion of the tribe of Re'uven. It was the prophets in the time of Moshe who instituted K'riyas ha'Torah every Monday, Thursday and Shabbos.

Moshe dies on the seventh of Adar, the people mourn for him for thirty days - until the seventh of Nisan. From the seventh of Nisan until the tenth, they prepare provisions (in other words, they do Teshuvah) and on the tenth of Nisan they cross the Yardein.

A few days earlier, Yehoshua sent two spies to spy out the land. They were Koleiv and Pinchos.
Monday: Rosh Chodesh Nisan
Friday, 5th Nisan: Yehoshua sends the spies.
Shabbos, 6th Nissan: Rochov sends the spies away.
Tuesday, 9th Nissan: The spies leave the mountains where they have been hiding for three days, and return to the camp of Yisroel.
Rochov was ten years old when Yisroel left Egypt. Throughout the forty years that Yisroel wandered in the desert, she practised prostitution, in the process, getting to know intimately all the princes and high-ranking officers of the land. When Yisroel entered Eretz Yisroel she converted, and Yehoshua married her.


(Korach) (Sh'muel I 11:14-12:22) If the Parshah describes the rebellion of Korach against Moshe and Aharon, then the Haftorah deals largely with the reaction of Sh'muel, who is compared to Moshe and Aharon (Tehillim 99:6) and who was a descendant of Korach (see Rashi Ba'midbor 16:7), when the people rebelled against him. To be sure, their rebellion was not as direct as, nor did it reach the dimensions of, that of Korach. Nevertheless, it was sufficient to arouse the Tzadik Sh'muel's anger.

The rebellion took place in Chapter 8 (4:5), when a delegation of elders approached Sh'muel and, using as an excuse Shmuel's apparent old age, and his sons' failure to live up to their father's standards, they requested that he appoint a king to rule over them, like all of the other nations.

There was nothing intrinsically wrong with requesting a king, quite the contrary. They were expected to perform three mitzvos upon entering Eretz Yisroel: 1) to appoint a king; 2) to destroy Amolek; and 3) to build the Beis Ha'mikdosh. Where they did go wrong, writes the Redak, was to more or less demand a king, to the total exclusion of Sh'muel and what he represented, and for the wrong motivation. Instead of suggesting that from now, due to his advanced age, they would appear before him for judgement, as opposed to Sh'muel making his rounds of the people (as had been his custom during the years that he judged them), they asked for a king, a new face. It was clear that what they really wanted was a judge, a leader, who would perhaps be easier to exploit. By so doing, they rejected Sh'muel by implication. Instead of asking for a king who would judge them honestly and fairly, they asked for a king to judge them "like all the other nations".

Yet it was not Sh'muel whom the people had rejected, but G-d (see Sh'muel I, 8:7-8). That is clear, if only from the phrase that we just quoted "like all the other nations". Surely Hashem has informed us on numerous occasions, that He wants us to be different than all other nations (see for example, end of Acharei-Mos and end of Kedoshim). So Sh'muel rebuked them there and then, warning them of the troubles that awaited them at the hand of the king whom they themselves had requested, and whom they unrepentantly continued to demand.

However, Sha'ul's sovereignty was not yet established. There were still those who doubted his ability to rule. It was only after he had proved himself, by saving the inhabitants of Yoresh Gil'ad from the invading Nochosh ho'Amon, that he was fully accepted by the whole nation. That explains why Sh'muel gathered the people to Gilgol to recrown Sha'ul king over Yisroel. And he took this opportunity to give his farewell speech, in which he reminded them of his integrity over the years. He forced them to admit that not one single Jew could accuse him of bribery or dishonesty - not very different from Moshe Rabeinu's words regarding Doson and Avirom in the Parshah (16:15). He reminds them of their constant sinning since they entered the land, and how on each occasion, G-d would save them from the hands of their enemies, through the services of a Shofet - Gideon, Shimshon, Yiftach and himself. Yet when Nochosh ho'Amoni attacked them, they rejected not only himself, but G-d too, by demanding a king. He reassures them, on the other hand, that, if they serve G-d faithfully from now on, they will have nothing to fear, only if they disobey Him. However, he demonstrates to them his power of prayer, by asking G-d to send thunder and rain in the month of Nissan, when rain is normally a sign of curse, and G-d would be reluctant to fulfill his request (Redak). Nevertheless, G-d responds, and the people, convinced at last, that they were wrong to have asked for a king, beg Sh'muel for forgiveness and ask him to daven to Hashem on their behalf.

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