Kollel Beis HaTalmud
Yehuda Fishman Institute's

Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues

Parshas Korach

For Heaven's Sake
by Rabbi Yosef Levinson

In 1754 the French and the Indians were engaged in a battle on the North American continent. This nine year conflict is appropriately known as the French-Indian War. One who is unfamiliar with American history might wonder whether it was the superior and sophisticated French army or the Indian underdogs who emerged victorious. In fact, neither won the war. The French and the Indians were allied together against the British and the British were the victors. Let us not be overly concerned as to why historians gave this war a confusing name. It has been noted that the word 'history' is really a contraction of two words - his story. Any historic account reflects the personal bias of the historian recording those events for posterity. On the other hand, if a Mishna was written this way, it would require explanation. Interestingly, there is a Mishna that resembles this story.

It is stated in Pirkei Avos (5:20) "Any dispute that is for the sake of Heaven, in the end will endure, but one that is not for the sake of Heaven, in the end will not endure. What dispute was for the sake of Heaven? The dispute between Hillel and Shamai. And which was not for the sake of Heaven? The dispute of Korach and his entire company." Hillel and Shamai and their respective schools had many disagreements, nevertheless they respected each other and had an amicable relationship. To this day, even though the halacha (law) usually follows Hillel, we still learn Shamai's opinions - eilu v'eilu divrei Elokim chaim, they are both the words of the living G-d. Korach and his followers contested Aharon's right to be Kohen Gadol (High Priest). They publicly defied Moshe and instigated mass rebellion. Korach was miraculously swallowed by the earth along with his entire family. The two hundred and fifty men who were with him, died offering ketores (incense) to Hashem. In the first example, the Mishna states both disputants - Hillel disagrees with Shamai. In the latter case, however, only Korach and his followers are mentioned. Moshe and Aharon, the winners in this dispute, are not discussed at all.

The Malbim explains that when the disputants are arguing, l' sheim shamayim, for the sake of Heaven, both sides are united in their pursuit of emes, to understand the true meaning of the Torah. Therefore there is always a peaceful conclusion. However, in a dispute that is not for the sake of Heaven, the protagonists only have their self-interests in mind. So they are not only in disagreement with the other side, they even differ amongst themselves. Korach and the two hundred and fifty men each wanted the position of High Priest for themselves. None of them would have been satisfied if another had been chosen to replace Aharon. That is the meaning of the Mishna. Korach and his followers were only united in their opposition to Moshe and Aharon - within their own camp they were divided. In this context Moshe and Aharon need not be mentioned, for they were acting l'sheim shamayim. This is why Korach and his men perished and Moshe and Aharon prevailed.

This Mishna teaches us another lesson. Rav Yerucham Levovitz zt'l, Mashgiach of the Mir Yeshiva, comments that the only complaint against Korach concerned his intentions, not the actual dispute. He was jealous that Eltzafan had been appointed prince of the family of Kehas instead of him. We must understand that Korach was righteous and learned and surely thought he was acting for the sake of Heaven. He claimed: "The entire nation is holy and Hashem is with them, so why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of Hashem?" A desire to serve Hashem is definitely noble and just. Chazal teach kinaas sofrim tarbeh chachma - jealousy between scholars increases wisdom (Bava Basra 21a). Hillel and Shamai also sharply disagreed with each other, and throughout the ages, scholars have heatedly debated interpretations of the Torah and the correct way to serve Hashem. However we have a system of how to resolve different points of view, and how to determine the halacha. All sides must accept the final decision, then the dispute will endure in the sense that it will continue to serve a constructive purpose. Though we only act according to the halacha, both opinions are Torah and are worthy of study.

Korach should have approached Moshe with his request and accepted Moshe's decision that Aharon was selected to be Kohen Gadol and that the priesthood was given to his family. He would need to find another way to come closer to Hashem. Instead Korach separated himself and persisted in his dispute (Rashi). His mistake was that he went too far. It then became apparent that he was not motivated by a desire to come close to Hashem, rather he was acting because he was jealous of Eltzafan. Reb Yerucham concludes that Chazal only permit and even encourage jealousy between scholars if it is l'sheim shamayim. If it is not for sake of Heaven, it is to be avoided.

There are many ways to serve Hashem. One who sincerely seeks a different approach in Avodas Hashem should be encouraged to do so, provided he seeks the guidance of the Gedolim (Torah leaders). If the Gedolim disapprove and say that this is an unacceptable means of Avodas Hashem (service of Hashem) then one must defer to them. One who persists and publicly flaunts his disagreement and acts against their wishes, surely is not following in the ways of Hillel and Shamai. May all our actions be for the sake of Heaven. (Avos 2:17).

To comment on this article e-mail the author at

Back to This Week's Parsha

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