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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Korach, the son of Yitzhar, son of Kehas, son of Levi, separated himself. (16:1)

Rashi comments: Korach placed himself at odds with the rest of the congregation to protest against Aharon HaKohen's assumption of the Kehunah, Priesthood. The emphasis here is on the fact that Korach started a machlokes, controversy. Chazal teach us in Pirkei Avos 5:17, "Any controversy that is l'shem Shomayim, for the sake of Heaven, ultimately achieves a lasting result; and every controversy that is not in the name of Heaven has ephemeral results in the end. Which controversy was in the name of Heaven? The controversy between Hillel and Shammai. And which controversy was not in the name of Heaven? The controversy between Korach and his followers. When one peruses this Mishnah, the first question that enters his mind is: Is this the only difference between the controversy of Korach and that of Hillel and Shammai? Was everything else on the "up and up," such that the only ingredient that was lacking was l'shem Shomayim?

Horav Yeruchem Levovitz, zl, considers Chazal's words very carefully when he says that Korach was not simply looking for a little more kavod, glory. Originally, his intentions were noble and even praiseworthy. He had sought a deeper understanding of mitzvos, a closer, more intense relationship with Hashem. Kehunah was a medium through which his dreams could be realized. He had high goals, noble objectives, and laudatory aspirations. There was only one flaw in his endeavor: he was not acting l'shem Shomayim. He was self-serving. Hillel and Shammai were in a bitter dispute. The Yerushalmi Shabbos 1:4 contends that their controversy was extremely intense and acrimonious. They each sought ruchniyos, spirituality, and each felt that his approach was more veracious. The only difference between Korach's dispute and that of Hillel and Shammai was the motivation. This is a significant difference. That one point drove Korach to tragic consequences. Why? Why should the motivation play such a critical role in the definition and ultimate consequences of the dispute?

Rav Yeruchem explains that machlokes is not a mitzvah like other mitzvos. Concerning other mitzvos, as long as the objective can catalyze a positive result, we are not concerned about the individual's motivation, whether it is lishmah or not. We then rely on the axiom, Mitoch shelo lishmah ba lishmah, "From the fact that it began with a motivation that was not for the sake of Heaven, it will eventually become lishmah." Perhaps, at the commencement, the individual did not have the positive motivation necessary for a mitzvah, but since it is a mitzvah and its ultimate goal is positive, eventually he will perform this mitzvah with a motivation that is for the sake of Heaven.

This rule does not apply to every machlokes, regardless of the noble goals. The mere fact that it is a dispute demands that it be one hundred percent for the sake of Heaven. Otherwise, it is absolutely forbidden to separate oneself and become embroiled in a controversy of any kind.

In an effort to better understand how the concept "for the sake of Heaven" impacts the dispute, transforming it into something acceptable and even laudatory, I cite Horav Meir/Marcus Lehmann, zl, who focuses on the Hebrew word machlokes. Indeed, several words other than machlokes express conflict and dispute, such as: riv, hisnagshus, vikuach, midanim. The root of the word machlokes is chalok, which means a division, or separation, leading in different directions. Thus, a difference of opinion is quite likely to stimulate divisiveness. The result of such a difference of opinion, if it is truly intended for the sake of Heaven, leads to the attainment of truth and, ultimately, is of benefit to both sides of the machlokes. A controversy of this nature is not really a conflict, because neither is the difference of opinion about the essence of the matter, nor does it affect the personal relationship of the contenders. They both seek the same goal: the truth.

This type of attitude characterized the halachic dispute between Bais Shammai and Bais Hillel. The Talmud in Eruvin 13b makes the following statement: Rabbi Abba stated in the name of Shmuel: For three years, a dispute between Bais Shammai and Bais Hillel ensued, the former contending that the halachah was in accordance with their view, the latter disagreeing and claiming that the halachah was in accordance with their view. Then a Divine Voice was heard, declaring, "The utterances of both are the words of the Living G-d, but the halachah is in consonance with the rulings of Bais Hillel." Whenever the Tannaim, Amoraim, Gaonim, Rishonim, or Acharonim differed in the interpretation of the law, their dispute was only in regard to its interpretation. Never was there any question whatsoever concerning the binding force of the law itself.

Interestingly, when the Mishnah mentions the example of a machlokes l'shem Shomayim, it mentions two contending parties. In the example of Korach, only one contender is mentioned. Why is this? Do two parties necessarily comprise a dispute?

Rav Lehmann explains that delving into Korach's character offers us an opportunity to better understand the controversy. Korach was a demagogue; he was ambitious and extremely resentful of Moshe Rabbeinu's position as leader of the nation. He so despised Moshe that he was obsessed with getting rid of him. This could only be done through a court of law, which he quickly convened, using his followers as judges. They would surely sentence Moshe to death once he applied some very convincing tactics. It was unanimous: they all voted for the death sentence. This presented a problem. According to Jewish law, a bais din, judicial court, which passes a unanimous verdict in favor of the death sentence, is considered biased and, thus, the sentence is rendered invalid. Korach was in a bind. Someone had to offer a dissenting opinion. It would have to be him. Imagine Korach, the individual who had started this entire mutiny, was now placed in the predicament of being the only one to "exonerate" Moshe. In other words, although Korach was compelled to "break" with his followers and contradict his earlier opinion, they were all actually of one mind and one position. This controversy was a far cry from that of Bais Hillel and Bais Shammai.

In his commentary, Horav Yitzchak Arama, zl, the Baal Akeidah, renders this Mishnah alternatively. "Any controversy whose goal is Heaven sake and is, therefore, conducted in a manner that bespeaks its goal is aimed at preservation. Conversely, any controversy which is not conducted for G-d's sake is not directed at preservation, but rather, at destruction." We now have a benchmark of values with which we can define a controversy to determine whether it is moral or immoral, constructive or destructive. This is especially true when one enters into the fray with an objective to correct a wrong, repair a defect, or to amend what seems to be deficient. He should be prepared with a plan of action for replacing what is to be destroyed if his efforts at change are successful. If he cannot, however, create something new and better, just simply to destroy, then he is fighting for one purpose: destruction. This type of contention is clearly not for the sake of Heaven.

We may suggest another approach to sofah l'hiskayem, "will in the end achieve a lasting result." If a machlokes is l'shem Shomayim, it will endure. Why? Perhaps the following episode illuminates this idea. There is a halachic dispute between two giants of Torah, a rebbe and his talmid, Torah mentor and his student, which lasted for quite some time. The Avnei Nezer contended with his talmid, the Chelkas Yoav, concerning one who places a pot of soup on the flame on Shabbos in such a manner that it will reach the shiur, measure, of bishul, cooking, only after Shabbos. In other words, the forbidden act of bishul occurs on Shabbos, but the consequence of his action does not occur until after Shabbos. Is the individual liable for transgressing Shabbos? This dispute extended to other forbidden labors on Shabbos. If someone lights a fire on Shabbos, is he liable for what burns after Shabbos? Rebbe and talmid were very close; nonetheless, this continued on for years with each one devoting extensive responsa to addressing the subject. Shortly before the Avnei Nezer's passing from this world, the Chelkas Yoav visited him as he lay on his deathbed. The Avnei Nezer asked his illustrious student, "Are you prepared to concede to me now, before I die?" The Chelkas Yoav replied, "Yes." The Avnei Nezer asked, "Are you doing this only because I am about to die?" "Yes, rebbe," the Chelkas Yoav answered. "How can you do this?" The Avnei Nezer exclaimed. "The Torah demands emes, that we maintain the highest standard of veracity. How can you rescind your opinion simply because I am sick and about to pass from this world? Emes must be emes." The dispute continued, with the Chelkas Yoav retaining his opinion. When a machlokes is l'shem Shomayim, and each contender seeks only the truth, the machlokes perseveres, regardless of the challenges - even death.

Korach, the son of Yitzhar, son of Kehas, son of Levi, separated himself. (16:1)

Quite an impressive lineage, but it stops short of Yaakov Avinu. Chazal tell us that this is by design. Our Patriarch blessed his children prior to his taking leave of his earthly abode. He prophetically saw that his great-great grandson, Korach, would instigate what would become the standard of a dispute for personal gain. It would be devastating with consequences that were to be equally ruinous. He wanted no part of this tragedy. Therefore, he cried out, "With their congregation, do not join, O' my honor." (Bereishis 49:5) The sage wanted to divorce his name from inclusion in this sinful rebellion. We wonder about his purpose in disassociating his name from the family tree. By "covering up" his ancestry, was he accomplishing something? It is not as if Korach's lineage would not be exposed, preventing his great-great grandfather's name from surfacing.

In Rabbi Sholom Smith's latest anthology, Horav Avraham Pam, zl, cites the Mishnah in Meseches Edyos 2:9 that lists those features which a father endows his son: "A father endows his son with a handsome appearance, strength, wealth, wisdom, longevity, and with the number of generations before him…" Whereas the first attributes are understandable, as that which a father carries in his genes will be transmitted to his son, likewise wealth, although not hereditary, is usually bequeathed from father to son. Additionally, a father's merit can catalyze all these attributes to be passed on through the generations. What seems difficult to understand is the phrase, "And the number of generations before him."

In his introduction to the Gaon m'Vilna's commentary to the Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer, Horav Yaakov Moshe, zl, son of Horav Avraham, zl, son of the Gaon, mentions that the Gaon addresses this question. In prefacing his commentary, Rav Yaakov Moshe writes that he feels himself to be unworthy of compiling and publishing his grandfather's works. He, therefore, appealed to Hashem in sincere prayer, that in the merit of the Gaon, he be protected from error. He writes that this might be the meaning of the Mishnah's words, "And with the number of the generation before him." It is not only a father who bequeaths wisdom and other characteristics to his son, but also, all the generations of previous ancestors share in this bequest. It might be a grandfather-- or earlier ancestor-- who does so or in whose merit the descendant is granted these qualities. This is why the Mishnah speaks in the generic, ha'av zocheh l'ben, a father endows a son, and not the word libno, to his son. This indicates that it is not only the father himself that endows the son. It might be any one of a number of ancestors who participate in this bequest.

Applying the insight of the Gaon's grandson, Rav Pam explains Yaakov Avinu's intentions in appealing to Hashem that his name not be included in the rebellion of Korach. Clearly, he was denying that he was an ancestor of Korach. He was trying to convey, however, that every person is affected to a certain extent by the characteristics of previous generations. Some pick up the positive attributes, while others might not be so fortunate. Yaakov wanted to make it clear that he bequeathed to his descendents only sparks of holiness - nothing more. Therefore, Korach's mutinous actions were not connected to Yaakov. His character flaws, which resulted in this debacle, should not be attributed to Yaakov. When the Navi in Divrei HaYamim (6:22,23) details the lineage of Korach's sons who sang on the Duchan, the platform upon which the Leviim stood, it says, "Son of Korach, son of Yitzhar, son of Kehas, son of Levi, son of Yisrael," because here we see Yaakov's sparks of holiness in action.

We wonder about our impact on the future. We see from here that our impact is quite compelling and has no limits in time. The spiritual composition of our descendants for generations to come can be greatly impacted by our own spiritual behavior. True, there might be a gap in the generations, but it will surface at times when we might least expect it. This brings me to the baal teshuvah movement, through which so many thousands, some from families that have been assimilated for generations, have returned to the faith to which their ancestors had adhered. After all, at one time, we were all frum, observant. In fact, Torah and mitzvos are an integral part of our lives. There really was nothing else. It is only after we were exposed to the glitter and enticement of modernity that some veered, others swayed, and yet others left the fold. They were, however, descendants of Jews who had been moser nefesh for their religion, whose dedication and self-sacrifice were not forgotten, but were bequeathed through time to their descendants, who had the presence of mind to realize that they did not belong where they were. They came home, and Klal Yisrael is that much better because of it.

Dasan and Aviram had come out standing (defiantly) at the entrance of their tents, with their wives, children and infants… The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households, as well as the people who belonged to Korach. (16:27, 32)

The punishment that Hashem meted out to Korach and his followers seems to be quite strong and perhaps a bit unfair. Why should innocent children be punished for the sins of their parents? Rashi takes note of this, explaining that this is the severity of machlokes, dispute. An earthly court does not punish the individual until he has reached the age of twelve or thirteen, and the Heavenly Tribunal does not issue punishment until the transgressor has reached the age of twenty. Yet, in this instance of machlokes, even the infants were punished. Why is this?

Rashi attributes the punishment of the wives and children, those who had no direct involvement in the mutiny, to the exigency of dispute. We can repeat this over and over again, but it still does not explain why innocent babies and children perished because their fathers set into motion the destructive fires of discord. Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zl, explains that some aveiros, transgressions, are different, and machlokes is one of them. He compares this to the ben sorer u'moreh, rebellious son.

In the Talmud Sanhedrin 107a, Chazal explain the juxtaposition of ben sorer u'moreh upon the yefas toar, beautiful captive, whom the Torah allows the Jewish soldier to marry by special dispensation. They derive from here that one who submits to his lust during the pressures associated with the battlefront will eventually gain nothing from this union. Ultimately, the child born to the woman he married by dispensation will be a wayward and rebellious child. Rav Chaim explains this based upon a principle derived from a pasuk in Devarim 29:17, Pen yeish bachem shoresh poreh rosh v'laanah, "Perhaps there is among you a root sprouting gall and wormwood." The Ramban sheds light on this pasuk: "A bad root matures, and eventually bitter and evil buds develop. A father is the root and a child, whether good or bad, is the inevitable result of the planted seed."

There are many sins that, although committed by the fathers, do not have a punitive effect on their offspring. Contention is a notable exemption to this rule. There is something which lies at the core of strife which invariably leads to the sprouting of "gall and wormwood" in subsequent generations. It is for this reason that even babies were included in the terrible punishment that Hashem meted out to Korach and his followers. Why does controversy have such an all-consuming effect? Why should later generations be victims of its ramifications?

Horav Mordechai Miller, zl, cites the Maharal M'Prague, in his commentary to Pirkei Avos, 1:12, "Hillel used to say, 'Be of the disciples of Aharon; love peace and pursue it." On this verse he wrote the following: Dissension is a feature of this earthly world. By its very nature, this world is a place of division and dissension, and it is for this reason that friction is so prevalent. This is noted at the beginning of time, when two brothers feuded in such a manner that devastation ensued. This primordial conflict is an expression of the divisive nature of this world."

Why should this world by nature be prone to schism? The Maharal explains that we are enjoined to "love peace" and "pursue peace." To love peace means to prevent discord. To pursue peace is to do everything within our means to engage in conciliatory action in order to extinguish the fires of hostility and to put a stop to the controversy once it has already begun. When one is involved in an argument, he is automatically distanced from his antagonist. He must now pursue peace and actively "run" towards the fellow with whom he is in conflict.

Restoring peace is an act of kedushah, holiness. In fact, it is so characteristic of kedushah that shalom, peace, is one of Hashem's Names. Since kedushah lies in the spiritual reality outside the parameters of time, peacemaking must be undertaken immediately as befitting this spiritual endeavor. Chazal warn us against allowing our mitzvah observance to become affected by the passage of time. A mitzvah is a spiritual endeavor, a spiritual opportunity and, hence, a sublime and G-dly entity, which should not be allowed to fester in this world, but should be carried out in the littlest amount of time. Thus, we pursue peace with quick action transcending time. This concept of spiritual unity, explains the Maharal, is the basis for shalom. We act quickly to repair the breach created by discord, which is not unusual in this world. We act expeditiously in this time-bound world to bring back the spiritual harmony ruptured by this dispute.

Before "time"/creation, everything was a unified success. With the advent of time, the world was subdivided into fractioned parts; day one, day two, etc. Time is the division into sections: past, present and future. In a world of "time," division reigns supreme. Divisiveness and schism are inextricably bound to this world. Hashem transcends time, and, thus, everything spiritual represents unity. When we perform mitzvos as soon as is necessary; when we act with zeal and alacrity, we connect with the spiritual realm on a place above time. A delay in time, allowing for matzoh to extend beyond the eighteen-minute limit, causes a physical expansion which renders it invalid. So, too, when a mitzvah is delayed, it expands into the physical realm, stunting the ability of its performer to connect with the spiritual world which is the focus of the mitzvah.

Bearing the above in mind, we now understand how schism is the fabric of the universe, the opposite of spirituality. The more unified an entity, the greater its harmony, the closer it is to the spiritual world, to Hashem's unique Oneness. Korach's machlokes was one step back, deeper into the muck of separation and divisiveness, terms that are antithetical to spiritual growth. He was blending back into the constraints of the "nature" of the usual character of this world. The only way not to transmit natural characteristics to one's descendants is by connecting to the spiritual. Thus, one transcends nature. Divisiveness, a character of nature, is passed on to the next generation. It is in the genes. This is why the punishment is not limited exclusively to those who are actively embroiled in the dispute, but also to those who inherit their recessive genes.

Va'ani Tefillah

Od yehallelucha selah - They shall still praise You forever.

Happy are they who persist in praising Hashem. Rather than praise Him only when we "see" or personally "experience" His favor, others praise Him constantly - regardless of their circumstances, because they are acutely aware of His constant guidance. Only such an individual achieves true happiness.

The Chasam Sofer distinguishes between the person who takes and enjoys the material/physical pleasures of this world, and the one who takes pleasure in the source of all good: Hashem. The one who is into material pleasure is never sufficiently satisfied. He always wants more. He always needs more. As soon as something is within his grasp, he begins to desire something else - something more. Not so the one who is misaneig al Hashem, takes pleasure in Hashem. He is always satisfied. In fact, every day - every moment-- he realizes more and more how much he owes Hashem, how much Hashem does for him. The meaning of od, "still"; They continue to praise You more and more, because they recognize the True Source of good.

Peninim on the Torah is in its 14th year of publication. The first nine years have been published in book form.

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