subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

by Zvi Akiva Fleisher

Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues


Ch. 16, v. 1: "Va'yikach Korach" - The gemara Sanhedrin 109b translates "Va'yikach" quite literally, saying that Korach PURCHASED a bad acquisition for himself. Perhaps this can be explained with the words of Rashi on another gemara in Sanhedrin 52a d.h. "b'chanfei" and 52b d.h. "l'mah." Rashi says that prior to Korach's campaign against Moshe he took of his great wealth and gave presents to many people, without stating his agenda. He hoped to sway people later when he would overtly challenge Moshe. Indeed this was influential in his gathering around himself over 250 of the greatest people of the nation. The gemara Kidushin derives from the use of the term KICHOH when Avrohom purchased with money a burial site for his wife Soroh (Breishis 23:13), that one can also purchase, marry, a women with money, as the term KICHOH is also used by marriage (Dvorim 24:1). Korach's spending money to PURCHASE the will of people to align with him in his fight against Moshe was a bad PURCHASE.

Ch. 16, v. 1" "V'Doson va'Avirom" - Rashi (M.R. 18:3 and also Targum Yonoson ben Uziel) says that Korach asked Moshe if a talis that is completely made of wool dyed with "t'chei'les" requires tzitzis with a thread of "t'cheiles" in each corner. Moshe responded in the affirmative. Korach scoffed, saying that if a thread of "t'chei'les" included among the fringes in each corner satisfies the requirements of tzitzis, surely if the complete garment is of "t'chei'les" there is no need for further "t'chei'les" in the fringes. The allusion to his claim that the whole nation is holy and is therefore in no need of a leader is very clear. How does Moshe's response that there still is a need for "t'chei'les" a rebuttal to Korach?

The Birkas Peretz, the Hornesteipler Gaon Rabbi Y.Y. Kanievski zt"l, explains by analyzing how Korach made such a severe blunder. He explains that once Korach felt slighted by not being honoured with a greater position of authority, his personal concerns, "n'gi'oh," blinded his thinking, just as a bribe blinds the otherwise unbiased thought process of even the greatest purpose. Moshe pointed out that although a garment is all "t'chei'les," nevertheless, it is used to cover and warm one's body. This symbolizes a personal agenda. All the "t'chei'les" in the world, when it is the body of the garment is lacking unbiased judgement. Only the fringe, the part that does not give any comfort or benefit, when imbued with "t'chei'les," fulfills the mitzvoh properly.

Ch. 16, v. 3: "Ki kol ho'eidoh kulom k'doshim" - Rashi (M.R. 18:6 and Tanchumoh #4) says that Korach claimed that all the bnei Yisroel were as holy as Moshe since they also heard "Onochi" and "Lo y'h'yeh," the first two of the Ten Commandments directly from Hashem.

The Rambam in his list of negative mitzvos lists as the first, second, fifth, and six mitzvos "Lo y'h'yeh, Lo saa'seh l'cho fessel, Lo sishtacha'veh, and V'lo so'ovdeim." The Ramban says that all of these are to be considered one mitzvoh. He proves this from the gemara Makos 23b-24a that derives from the words "Torah tzivoh lonu Moshe" (Dvorim 33:4) that Moshe taught the bnei Yisroel 611 mitzvos, the numeric value of the word TORAH, while the TWO mitzvos "Onochi" and "Lo y'h'yeh," the bnei Yisroel heard directly from Hashem. If we count the negative commands that are found in the verse that begins with "Lo y'h'yeh" as separate mitzvos, we have a total of five mitzvos that we heard directly from Hashem. This leaves us with only 608 mitzvos that we heard from Moshe, totally contrary to the words of the gemara. The Ramban, in asking his question, assumes that along with "lo y'h'yeh" we must include the complete verse with the cantellations of "taam ho'elyone" as being heard directly from Hashem or this complete parsha until the next paragraph space. Indeed, the Megilas Esther, a commentator on the Sefer Hamitzvos l'hoRambam, answers the Ramban's difficulty by saying that only the first words of the verse "Lo y'h'yeh" were heard directly from Hashem, leaving us with only two mitzvos, "Onochi" and "Lo y'h'yeh."

However, the Meshech Chochmoh gives a most interesting answer based on the words of the Rambam himself, in Moreh N'vuchim 2:33. The Rambam writes that hearing "Onochi" and "Lo y'h'yeh" does not mean that the bnei Yisroel actually heard the words of these two mitzvos articulated. Rather, they heard a most awesome celestial sound.

(Perhaps this is indicated in Dvorim 4:12, "Kole dvorim a'tem shomim," - You hear a voice of words, but not the words themselves. Another allusion to this might be in Dvorim 4:35, "Atoh horeiso lodaas," - You were SHOWN to know, but did not hear it, since the verse does not say "Atoh SHOMATO lodaas," "ki Hashem hu ho'Elokim," this is "Onochi," ein ode milvado, this is "Lo y'h'yeh.")

The sound emanating from heaven left the bnei Yisroel with the clear knowledge that "Onochi" and "Lo y'h'yeh," - I am your G-d and there shall be no other besides me. This is what is meant by the gemara Makos. Since they did not grasp the other three mitzvos from this sound, only two were heard (understood), and Moshe taught them 611 mitzvos including the three following "Lo y'h'yeh." Moshe, on the other hand, was able to discern the actual words conveyed with the sound and heard the articulated five mitzvos in the verse of "Onochi."

All of this brings us to a question on the Rambam from the words of the M.R. that states that Korach equated all the bnei Yisroel to Moshe because they also heard the first two "dibros." According to the Rambam all the bnei Yisroel heard "Onochi" and "Lo y'h'yeh" as an unarticulated sound, while Moshe heard it clearly as words. If so, how could Korach claim that all the bnei Yisroel were on an equal footing with Moshe by virtue of also receiving the same prophecy, since Moshe heard it on a much higher level of perception? To answer this, another piece of information is needed. The Tosfos Yom Tov in his commentary on the words in Pirkei Ovos 5:6, "Ten things were created on the eve of Shabbos just as Shabbos was to begin. They are, the mouth of the earth (which would swallow Korach), etc. Tosfos Yom Tov raises a few questions.

1) How could Moshe question IF Hashem would create a new creation (See Rashi on verse 30), since our mishnoh clearly states that the mouth of the earth was already created during the six days of creation?
2) Why did Moshe say "U'FOTZ'SOH ho'adomoh es pihoh" rather than U'FOS'CHOH?
3) Why did the bnei Yisroel run away from the sound, "Nossu l'kolom" (verse 34)? Shouldn't they have run to the sound emanating from the earthquake to see the great wonder that Hashem had wrought? (There will be more on the words "Nossu l'kolom" later.)
4) The M.R. 18:4 and Tanchumoh #3 say that Korach descended to the lowest level of the abyss alive. There is an indication to this in T'hilim 9:18, "Yoshuvu r'sho'im L'sh'oloH." The prepositional Lamed, TO, at the beginning of this word and the repetitive prepositional Hei, again TO, at the end of the word indicate that he went to the lowest level. How was this known to the bnei Yisroel?

To answer all these questions the Tosfos Yom Tov says a great "chiddush." Moshe said that the earth would U'FOTZ'SOH. This is to be translated as "The earth will SPEAK, as we find in Shoftim 11:35, "POTZISI fi" and T'hilim 66:14 "Asher POTZU s'fosoy." Moshe said that not only would the earth open to swallow Korach, but that it would also speak, clearly stating that Korach has descended to the seventh level of depth of the abyss. The bnei Yisroel ran away out of fear upon hearing the earth speaking, a most terrifying experience. Upon reviewing the four questions raised by the Tosfos Yom Tov, you will see that they are all resolved. (How does the Tosfos Yom Tov explain Breishis 4:11, "Min ho'adomoh asher POTZ'SOH es pihoh?")

Given this collection of information, we might have a most interesting answer to the question posed on the Rambam earlier. Indeed, Korach was quite wrong in equating the nation's hearing "Onochi" and "Lo y'h'yeh," which were only received as a celestial sound, with Moshe's hearing "Onochi" and "Lo y'h'yeh" as clearly articulated words. Although there was much more to fault Korach besides this, since these were the words of his complaint, Hashem punished him in kind. It is safe to assume that along with the earthquake there was an accompanying powerful crashing sound, not much different from that of thunder. Rabbi Eliyohu Mizrochi says that this was the sound that was heard, as mentioned in verse 34. According to the Tosfos Yom Tov the voice emanating from the earth was heard besides the regular din of an earthquake. Thus Korach was punished "Midoh k'ne'ged midoh." He equated hearing a sound from Hashem with hearing clear articulated words. Hashem likewise had the earth open and swallow him, accompanied not only by a general sound, but also by a miraculous never before experienced clear articulation of the earth, saying that Korach has descended to the lowest abyss alive.

Ch. 16, v. 30: "Im BRIOH yivro" - We normally translate "brioh" as "a creation." However, in our verse Rabbeinu Efrayim translates BRIOH as a hole. He brings two sources for this. In Yechezkel 23:47 the verse says, "U'VO'REI ose'hon b'charvosom," meaning and they shall puncture them with their swords. As well, the mishnoh in Chulin 43b says "shemoh HIVRI," which Rashi says means punctured. Many commentators including Rashi say that the word "U'VO'REI" means "and they shall cut," and they bring a proof for this from Yehoshua 17:15, "U'VEIREISO," which surely means "and you shall cut down." However, it seems that the Targum agrees with Rabbeinu Efrayim since in Yechezkel he says "u'va'zi," which means "and they shall puncture," while in Yehoshua he translates "U'VEIREISO" as "u's'sa'kin," meaning "you shall fix" (prepare) the forest for habitation, i.e. by cutting down the trees.

Ch. 16, v. 7: "V'simu a'leiheN k'to'res" - The word "a'leiheN" in the feminine form seems to be appropriate since the antecedent of this pronoun is "machtos" in the previous verse. However, in verse 17 we find "U'n'sa'tem a'leiheM k'to'res." Since "a'lei'heM" refers to the word "machtoso" of this verse, why is it in the male form? Your answers would be appreciated.

Ch. 16, v. 32: "Vatiftach ho'oretz es PI'HOH" - The gemara Sanhedrin 37b says that from the time the earth opened its mouth to absorb the blood of Hevel (Breishis 4:11), it has never opened again. The difficulty from the earth opening to swallow Korach is obvious. Numerous answers are given, mostly differentiating between the opening to swallow Hevel's blood and the opening to swallow Korach. The P'sikto Zut'r'so says that the opening that swallowed Korach was not a normal fissure in the ground as is the case with an earthquake. Instead the earth opened up exactly the amount of space needed to swallow Korach. As his feet fell in, the earth opened to his shoe size, narrowing for his ankles, widening for his hips, etc. This did not take place with Hevel's blood, so the type of opening that took place there was not repeated here. There still remain places mentioned in Tanach and the gemara where the earth swallowed things, "Tivlo'eimo o'retz" (Shmos 15:12), "Tovu vo'oretz sh'o'rehoh" (Eichoh 2:9), and the gemara Sotoh 12b, "V'naa'seh neis v'nivlo'in b'karka."

With the novel approach of the P'sikto Zut'r'so the term "Pihoh" and "Pi ho'oretz" take on a new meaning. It would seem that the Torah should have expressed itself by saying "pis'choh," its opening, rather than "pihoh," and "pesach ho'oretz." However, according to the P'sikto Zut'r'so the opening of the earth was literally a mouth. Just as a person's mouth can extend and contract to accommodate the size and contour of the food being consumed, so also with the opening of the earth as it swallowed Korach.

Ch. 16, v. 34: "Nossu l'kolom" - Which voice?

1) The sound of the swallowing (Rashi)
2) The sound coming from the earthquake (Alternate text in Rashi mentioned by the Taz in Divrei Dovid and also the opinion of the Mizrochi
) 3) The voice of those who were swallowed up, screaming "Tzadik Hu Hashem" (Targum Yonoson ben Uziel)
4) A sound similar to that of a raging burning fire (Paa'nei'ach Rozo)
5) The voices of Doson and Avirom, screaming "Please don't let the earth swallow us" (Yalkut Shimoni remez #752)
6) The voice of the earth, stating that Korach had descended alive to the bottom chamber of the abyss (Tosfos Yom Tov on Pirkei Ovos 5:6)



Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues

This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.

For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to
Jerusalem, Israel