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Torah Attitude: Parashas Korach: For Heaven's sake, or not
Korach was the very first one who questioned the authenticity of Moses as G'd's messenger to transmit the Torah. This is similar to those who deny that the Holocaust took place, at a time when we still have Holocaust survivors among us. The fact that the Torah records how Korach challenged Moses is in itself the biggest proof of the truthfulness of the Torah. How could such a clever person as Korach be so foolish and rebel against Moses? Korach saw in a prophetic vision that he would have many great descendants. The story of Korach is a classic example of someone standing up and fooling himself, and everyone around him, to believe in his home-made brand of Judaism. A dispute that is "for the sake of Heaven" really means that everyone involved is looking for the truth. Whenever we see individuals or groups quarreling there may be a personal agenda hiding below the surface. By recording the revolt of Korach, the Torah warned and prepared us for these dissenting approaches to Judaism.
Challenge Divine origin
In this week's parasha, the Torah describes how Korach rebelled against Moses and claimed that Moses' decisions and instructions were not necessarily the word of G'd. He was the very first one who questioned the authenticity of Moses as G'd's messenger to transmit the Torah to the Jewish people. However, many individuals and groups have stood up over the generations to challenge the Divine origin of the Torah.
It is incredible to think how Korach, who had been present at the revelation at Mount Sinai, had the nerve to question Moses' honesty. Had he not personally heard how G'd spoke to Moses in the presence of the entire Jewish people? This is similar to those individuals and groups who nowadays deny that the Holocaust took place, at a time when we still have Holocaust survivors among us. This shows how cynics and mockers do not stop at anything to promote their causes. Although they are well aware that their mockery is senseless, they proceed with their hateful activities as long as there are people who are ready to listen and follow them.
Truthfulness of Torah
The fact that the Torah records how Korach challenged Moses is in itself the biggest proof of the truthfulness of the Torah. The Torah does not shy away from recording the mistakes and failures of Moses and Aaron, as well as other great leaders. Similarly, the Torah does not hesitate to describe in great detail how there were people who stood up against Moses, already in the wilderness, and how they were punished by G'd.
Rashi (Bamidbar 16:1 & 7) quotes the Midrash Tanchuma (1) who asks how such a clever person as Korach could be so foolish and rebel against Moses. Moses was the acknowledged leader G'd had sent to redeem the Jewish people from Egypt. He had been instrumental in splitting the Red Sea to save them and G'd had publicly spoken to him at Mount Sinai. The Midrash answers that it all started with Korach's jealousy over the appointment of his cousin Elitzaphan, the son of Uziel. They were both members of the family of Kehos. Moses had appointed Elitzaphan as leader of the family, but Korach felt that he should have been appointed, since his father Itzhar was older than Uziel.
The Midrash further explains that Korach saw in a prophetic vision that he would have many great descendants. One of these descendants was the prophet Shmuel, who King David describes as being on a similar level as Moses and Aaron (see Tehillim 99:6). Korach therefore felt secure in his revolt. He reasoned that if he was not right, he would not have such great descendants. Even when Moses explained that only one person would survive, Korach, in his great vanity, imagined that he would be the one. Little did he realize that his own children would repent and leave him to join Moses. This spared them from the Divine punishment and ensured the continuity of Korach's family with all its greatness.
The story of Korach is a classic example of a person who stands up and fools himself, and everyone around him, to believe in his home-made brand of Judaism. The Midrash Tanchuma (9) relates how Korach went around among the Jewish people to solicit supporters. He claimed that he was not fighting a personal agenda. Rather, he alleged that his concern was the welfare of the entire Jewish people (see Rashi Bamidbar 16:19). Korach admitted that he had an agenda, but he wanted everyone to believe that his agenda was in the general interest of everyone. Eventually, he brought death and destruction upon himself and his followers, and nothing constructive came out of this whole affair. This is clearly described in Pirkei Avos (5:20): "Any dispute that is for the sake of Heaven will end up with a constructive outcome. But the dispute that is not for the sake of Heaven will not end up with a constructive outcome. Which one is a dispute that was for the sake of Heaven, this was the dispute between Hillel and Shammai. And which one was not for the sake of Heaven, this was the dispute of Korach and his entire group."
Sake of Heaven
When the Mishnah defines a dispute as being "for the sake of Heaven" it means that both parties seek to please G'd. G'd is the ultimate truth. As the Talmud (Shabbos 55a) says: "The signature of G'd is truth." In other words, a dispute that is "for the sake of Heaven" means that everyone involved is looking for the truth. This was exemplified by Hillel and Shammai, and their disciples. They had many discussions and arguments to clarify the Halacha. Many similar halachic disputes have taken place since the days of Hillel and Shammai right up to our days. The parties in these disputes have absolutely no personal agenda. Their only concern is to reveal the truth and to rule accordingly. The Talmud (Yevamos 13b) relates that despite the numerous arguments between the disciples of Hillel and Shammai, the two groups lived in complete harmony together, and often would join in marriage. There was a mutual respect and brotherly love that was not affected by their difference of opinion concerning Halacha.
Whenever we see individuals or groups quarreling to the extent that they do not live in peace and harmony, we must suspect that the source of their dispute is not necessarily to reveal the truth. Rather, there seems to be a personal agenda hiding below the surface. The same applies when individuals and groups rise and challenge our basic belief in the truthfulness of the Torah. In the eighth of his thirteen principals, the Rambam teaches that we must firmly believe that the entire Torah, that we have today, is the very same Torah that G'd gave to Moses. The individuals and groups that challenge this and suggest that the Torah developed over the years may claim that they have the interests and benefits of the people in mind. However, this in no way justifies altering the Divine origin of the Torah. Just like Korach, they know that they would never be accepted if they would claim that G'd instructed them. They fool themselves and their followers to believe that they are interested in the welfare of everyone around them. But, just as Korach, they no doubt have a personal agenda. It may be an aspiration to be a leader, or that they find it difficult to follow the laws of the Torah.
Prepare for dissent
By recording the revolt of Korach, the Torah has warned and prepared us for these dissenting approaches to Judaism. We have lost too many Jews over the centuries to assimilation and intermarriage, as well as various ideologies promoted by one of our Jewish brothers and sisters. In His great mercy, G'd has promised that the Torah will never be forgotten by the Jewish people, and as long as the world exists there will be authentic Judaism. But it is up to us to make sure that we are part of this, and thus ensure the continuity of our future generations as proud Jews.
These words were based on notes of Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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