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JULY 4-5, 2003 5 TAMUZ 5763

Pop Quiz: From which tribe was the majority of Korah's followers?


"It's enough for you, sons of Levi." (Bemidbar 16:7)

When Korah, Datan and Abiram came to Moshe and questioned his authority, they also expressed their wishes to become like the Kohanim, and serve G-d in a closer way. Moshe tried to diffuse the issue by saying that they already have a special status by being Leviim (Levites), so why ask for more? Ultimately, this became a major rebellion, and the only way it could be squashed is by an open miracle of the earth swallowing up Korah and his followers. This was Divine proof that Moshe was correct in his decision. However, the Midrash tells us that forty years later, when Moshe begged and pleaded with Hashem to try to enter Israel, Hashem refused him with the same words that Moshe used to Korah, "Rab lach - It is enough for you," which is similar to "rab lachem/" Hashem was saying to him, "Moshe, it is enough for you to be the leader here. You don't have to go to Israel." The reason these same words were used was that Moshe was being shown that it is incorrect to tell someone not to strive for a greater position in spiritual matters. Although Korah used the wrong methods and ultimately paid with his life, he still wanted an opportunity to get closer to Hashem, and Moshe seemed to be telling him, "It's enough. You don't need more." We learn from here an important lesson. If we see someone getting close to Hashem more than we are able to handle for ourselves, we should never hold him back. Sometimes we see people learning more Torah than we do, or praying Amidah for a longer time. Even if we cannot be like them, we should not discourage them. We should understand that everyone has to be comfortable on his own level and ideally, we should be happy that Hashem is being served in a better way. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka

In this week's perashah the Torah records the story of the rebellion led by Korah against the leadership of Moshe and Aharon. The accusations against Moshe Rabenu were so severe that a regular punishment was not enough. A special sign from Heaven was needed to show how unfounded the accusations were. And so it was, the ground opened up and swallowed up Korah and his allies alive, and then the ground closed up over them. Besides this miracle, a fire came out and consumed the rest of the rebels. One might have thought that this would convince the people that Korah was wrong. However, amazingly, the reaction was the opposite. They said, "You have killed the people of Hashem." Moshe and Aharon were accused of killing Hashem's people! After that, further punishment came in the form of a plague. Apparently, the people were still not convinced, because right after that, Hashem commanded Moshe to further demonstrate the legitimacy of Aharon. Hashem commanded Moshe to take a staff from each tribe. These staffs were placed in the Mishkan, and the staff that blossomed was a heavenly sign that that leader is the chosen one. Indeed on the next day, Aharon's staff blossomed with flowers and buds, and grew almonds. Apparently, this satisfied the people, and no further complaints were heard. This is truly amazing. The opening of the earth, the heavenly fire, and the plague did not convince the people. Only the blossoming staff convinced everyone. Why? Rabbi R. Pelcowitz answers this important question. Miracles rarely have a lasting impact. They capture the attention of the people, arousing man's marvel and amazement momentarily. They do not engage the mind or captivate the heart. In general, punishment is not an instrument that creates conviction in the minds and hearts of the people. It captures the mind, but it does not captivate the person. The blossomed staff of Aharon, which represents growth and productivity, captivated the people. In Jewish history, the hearts of the people are not captured by punishment, but are captivated by the growth and productivity of Torah communities.

As Torah Jews in our generation, when we are confronted by our opponents, out great institutions of Torah captivates and causes great admiration. May we always have blossoming growth in our community. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah


"And Korah took" (Bemidbar 16:1)

Referring to the controversy stimulated by Korah and his henchmen, the Mishnah is Abot (5:20) remarks, "Any controversy that is L'shem Shamayim (for the sake of heaven) will have a constructive outcome. Which controversy is considered L'shem Shamayim? This is the controversy between Hillel and Shamai. And which is considered not L'shem Shamayim? This is the controversy of Korah and his entire company."

The Malbim questions the use of "Korah and his company" as a paradigm of a controversy that is not L'shem Shamayim. Surely there were other infamous conflicts more appropriate to be mentioned. The disputes surrounding the lack of water and meat and the controversy in connection with the spies obviously fit into this category. Indeed, Korah's controversy even involved halachic discourse; i.e. Who is to be sanctified for service in the Mikdash? Who shall offer the korbanot? Does a tallit made entirely of techelet, blue wool, require sisit?

Rav Elchanan Sorotzkin offers a profound solution to this question. It was precisely the halachic issues and the false facade which they engender that represents the core of this problem. These questions were no more than deceitful pretense, an attempt to veil the real crime that was behind Korah's rhetoric. Korah did not have the dignity to come forward to directly debate the issues. His goal was social status and power. Every religious quotation was merely a method for concealing his true intentions. The danger that subtly abounds in such a conflict is far greater than one which is overtly controversial. The Korah type of dispute is a rationalization of the evil within a person. Such a person presents actions motivated by self-aggrandizement as noble and altruistic. He veils the desire to obliterate religious tradition under the quest for modernity. When one is confronted face to face with evil, he can deal with the issues much more directly than when this evil is hidden behind religious pretense. (Peninim on the Torah)


"They and all that was theirs descended alive to the pit" (Bemidbar 16:33)

Why did Korah and his people receive such a strange punishment?

Korah opposed the leadership of Moshe and Aharon. He argued, "The entire community is holy; why rise above the assembly of G-d?" (16:3). Korah, in effect, was advocating a government of anarchy.

Rabbi Hanina says, "Pray for the welfare of the government, for were it not for the fear of it, men would swallow one another alive" (Pirkei Abot 3:1). The punishment that Korah received was a message to him and to all future generations that without leadership, eventually one gets swallowed up alive. (Vedibarta Bam)


Question: Why do we use one hand to bless the children?

Answer: We use the hand to bless, since it has fifteen joints. This corresponds to the fifteen words of the blessing of the Kohanim. It is as if the father is blessing the child with the words of the blessing of the Kohanim. We use only one hand, since we make an effort to distinguish the blessing from the blessing of the Kohanim, which is done with two hands. (Excerpted from Siddur Abir Yaacob, published by Sephardic Press)


"Shall one man sin, and with the whole congregation will You be angry?" (Bemidbar 16:22)

When Hashem said that He was going to wipe out the entire nation for the sin of Korah and his followers, Moshe immediately asked Hashem to have mercy on the nation. He asked, "Will You punish the entire nation for the sin of one man?" This question is hard to understand. If Korah and his 250 followers were the only ones who sinned, why was the rest of the nation being held liable? If the entire nation had, in fact, sinned, then Moshe's question does not make sense.

Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch explains that even though the nation did not participate in the sin of Korah, they could still be held accountable. When Korah mounted his rebellion, they stood on the sidelines and did not protest. By standing by and witnessing the public embarrassment of their leader, they became accomplices to the crime, to the point that Hashem was prepared to wipe them out.

Question: How do you react when you hear someone make a remark against the Torah or against our Torah leaders? Can you ever be accused of being on "their side"?


This week's Haftarah: Shemuel I 11:14-12:22.

This haftarah is from the book of Shemuel, who was a descendant of Korah, the subject of our perashah. Shemuel makes a declaration to the nation, stating that he never took anything from the people, and never dealt wrongly with them. In our perashah, Moshe is accused by Korah and his followers of taking the top positions for himself and for his family. Moshe responds by saying that he didn't even take compensation for the donkey he used to bring his family to Egypt when he returned to bring them out. Such is the integrity of our leaders.

Answer to Pop Quiz: Reuben.

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