CHAMISHOH MI YODEI'A - FIVE QUESTIONS ON THE WEEKLY SEDRAH - PARSHAS KORACH 5772 - BS"D
1) Ch. 16, v. 4: "Va'yishma Moshe va'yipole al ponov" – What did falling on his face accomplish?
2) 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.
3) Ch. 16, v. 32: “V’eis kol horchush” – And all the possessions – Why were all of Korach’s possessions swallowed by the earth?
4) Ch. 17, v. 3: “Tzipuy lamizbei’ach” – Cladding for the altar – The Chizkuni writes that the cladding was specifically a copper roof for the altar. As Rashi explains, the altar was a four-walled box that was open on top and was filled with sand each time the Mishkon was relocated. Now a copper top was added, either being a separate plate, hinged, or perhaps permanently fixed, and from now on a sand mound was first piled up and the five-paneled altar was slipped onto the sand mound. This was to be a memorial, a remembrance of what happened. How is using the copper pans for a cover a fitting memorial?
5) Ch. 18, v. 13: “Bikurei kol asher b’artzom” – The first produce of ALL that is from their land – These words are most puzzling. The mitzvoh of tithing the first produce is limited to only seven species.
Rabbeinu Bachyei explains that falling on one's face indicates three feelings, that one is keenly aware of the Divine Presence, that one is in pain and is subordinate, and that one is showing the severe limitations of his senses and the abrogation and nullification of his feelings. Moshe was displaying the third of these intentions as he was hopelessly unable to do anything on his own. He therefore prayed that Hashem intercede with a supernatural response.
Rabbeinu Bachyei goes on to say that the third of the above is the reason for gentiles praying with their hands open, palms placed against each other, showing that their hands are powerless. This indicates negation of one's own powers to a Greater Power. He says that the gentiles themselves don't know why they pray in this manner.
Bnei Yisroel say "tachanun," the most powerful of prayers, while falling on their faces, (actually falling to the ground as mentioned in the gemara Megiloh 22b) to symbolize the above in a stronger manner. One is less able to exercise his abilities and strength when not standing on his feet.
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'sa 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.
This happened so that none of his property would fall into the hands of a righteous person who would then benefit from it. If this were to happen it would be meritorious for Korach, as per the dictum, “If a coin falls from the pocket of a person and ends up in the hands of a poor person, it is to the credit of the previous owner” (Toras Kohanim, Rashi on Vayikra 5:17). (Sforno)
Alternatively, it was because of Korach’s being fabulously wealthy that he had the audacity to stand up against Moshe’s leadership. (Yalkut Yehudoh)
Symbolically, we can say that although until Korach arose Moshe was the undisputed leader and Aharon the undisputed Kohein Godol, from this point on Moshe’s and Aharon’s positions were further strengthened, just like the altar originally having sand as its top, an object that even when tightly packed, has some resiliency, symbolic of possibly questioning the right of leadership of he who is on top, and now after the earth-splitting response to Korach and his cohorts not accepting the choice of leaders, was solidly based, symbolized by the solid metal top of the altar. (Nirreh li)
This might well be a proof for the novel position of the Ra”n on the gemara Chulin 120 that even though one is obliged to bring “bikurim” only from the seven species, he may bring from any type. (Rabbi Shmuel Prager)
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V'Simchoh - Meshech Chochmoh on the Weekly Parsha and Chasidic Insights