|Back to Parsha homepage||Previous issues|
Korach was not simply another hatemonger who sought
to usurp Moshe and Aharon as a result of intense feelings of
envy. Korach was among those who "carried" the Aron
Ha'kodesh. He was obviously sensitive to the fact that the
Aron was in reality carrying those who attempted to carry
it. It would be unrealistic to think that an individual who was
so aware of Hashem should stoop to such machlokes, controversy,
unless something "noble" motivated him.
The Kotzker Rebbe, zl, explains that Korach
sought Kehunah, He felt that he could serve Hashem better
if he were a Kohen. His complete devotion to serve Hashem
drove him to act the way that he did. Let us analyze this further.
Korach knew that Moshe was chosen by Hashem to lead Klal Yisrael.
He was also acutely aware that Hashem implemented the many miracles
connected with Yetzias Mitzrayim, the exodus from Egypt,
and the daily existence in the desert through Moshe's agency.
The Agrah D'Kalah claims that while Korach was exempt
from the service of offering korbanos because he was not
a Kohen, he was nonetheless troubled about his lack of
participation in this lofty service. Korach agonized over his
lack of inclusion in the Kehunah to the point that he was
driven to machlokes. What went wrong with Korach? His
intentions were noble. How did he become the paradigm of conflict?
The answer, claims the Agra D'Kallah, lies in Korach's approach towards effecting his goal. The most noble mitzvah loses its sanctity if it is involved with strife. No position, regardless of its distinction, has value if it was stimulated by strife. If divisiveness is the means, if contention coupled with slander are the tools for erecting the edifice, then it has no meaning. It is not a mitzvah; it is transformed into a contemptible
Korach thought his yetzer tov, good inclination,
had inspired him to challenge Moshe. He did not realize that
his "frumer" yetzer hora, evil inclination,
was spurring him on. The yetzer hora is very clever.
Why should it attempt to convince us to sin if it can convince
us that the aveirah we are about to perform is a mitzvah;
the individual we are about to disparage is an obstacle in the
way of our spiritual progress. A mitzvah that is created
through an aveirah is not in fact a mitzvah. This
represents the yetzer hora's ultimate triumph: distorting
a person's mitzvos, for then he has nothing. While contentiousness
and strife have been with us for a long time, nothing is as
reprehensible as the self-righteous type of machlokes that
some justify in the name of a mitzvah. Perhaps, people
who behave in this manner should evaluate their idea of what constitutes
Moshe, acting atypically, implored Hashem not to
accept any form of offering whereby Korach and his henchmen could
expiate their sin of rebellion. Sforno interprets Moshe
Rabeinu's demand in the following manner. Had they sinned
against Hashem, then He would have pardoned them after
they had atoned for their actions. Sins committed against one's
fellow man are not atoned even on Yom Kippur, unless the
sinner has appeased the one whom he has wronged. Moshe disclaims
receiving any benefit from them. Thus, his leadership over them
was entirely for their benefit, to attend to their affairs and
needs. Their criticism of Moshe's authority was totally self-centered
and spurned on by ingratitude. We infer from here how reprehensible
is the individual who is ungrateful. Moshe Rabbeinu went
out of his way on behalf of Klal Yisrael every time they
committed aveiros. Never did he shun the opportunity to
help them. Now we see an attitude that is not consistent with
the Moshe we have come to know. He actually asks that these
ingrates not be forgiven. Their actions are so despicable that
they cannot be expiated. Their lack of appreciation reflects
an evil of the lowest level. They are not mentchen, human
Let us try to understand what Moshe is saying.
What about all of the other acts of ingratitude exhibited by Klal
Yisrael? Should we wash over them as if they had not happened?
It would appear that the sins that the people had committed against
Hashem did not concern Moshe as much as those committed against
himself. He seems to be saying to Hashem, "You may be willing
to forgive them, but I am not." Why is this?
We suggest that the acceptance of ingratitude
has its limits. We owe everything to Hashem, but does that stop
us from sinning? No! We do not always think about Hashem as
our prime benefactor. Reality and perception are worlds apart.
While reality dictates that Hashem is the source of everything,
perception -- the way our minds are foolishly accustomed to
think -- tells us that we are the ones who accomplish everything.
People do not realize that when they err they are demonstrating
a sense of ingratitude towards the Almighty. One who develops
a sense of appreciation towards his fellow man will eventually
realize that the true source of his success and accomplishments
is Hashem. One who is by nature an ingrate will manifest his
ingratitude in every situation. He will surely not distinguish
between man and G-d.
This is the underlying meaning of Moshe's critique
of Korach. The people do not possess an iota of appreciation.
They are self-centered and arrogant. Such people have no business
in society. They destroy what they claim to build.
Korach is recorded in history as the archetype of
the baal machlokes, one who generates strife and contention.
We may wonder what distinguished Korach in this area. After
all, he was not the first person in the Torah who was involved
in strife. Did not Kayin fight with his brother? And the list
goes on from there.
We suggest that while Korach was not the first person
to argue with others, he was the first to start a movement founded
in contention, whose goal was to usurp the leadership of Klal
Yisrael. It is one thing to disagree, even to argue publicly.
To gather people, however, for the sake of convincing them to
join him in a "holy war" against the Torah leadership
of that generation is reprehensible. This type of deplorable behavior
earned Korach his infamous reputation.
Are things really that much different today? Frequently
when people do not see eye to eye, rather than resorting to "healthy"
disagreement, they resort to malicious slander, encouraging others
to join them in their battle for "justice." No, we
have not veered very far from the course that Korach charted.
In fact, he would take pride in the character of machlokes
that exists today.
All those who joined Korach in his conflict met
their end tragically. Korach's sons, however, did not die. As
Sforno comments, "They were not drawn after him in
the matter." It seems strange that such a charismatic demagogue
as Korach had no permanent influence upon his children. Chazal
assert that Korach was imbued with the ability to see the future.
Therefore, he was secure in his success, since he foresaw his
noble descendants. Ostensibly, Korach's ability was limited.
He saw the tzaddikim that would be his progeny, but he
did not see his own disaster. In any event, what happened to
his children? Why did they not follow in their father's footsteps?
Also, what merit did Korach have that his descendants achieved
such spiritual prominence?
We suggest a fundamental lesson to be derived from
here. Korach made one enormous error that cost him everything.
His theology was founded in "krumkeit," distortion,
nurtured with arrogance and deceit. Yet, Korach was not a parent
who imposed his faulty perspective upon his children.
He was not one who feared that his children might sway to the
"right" of his opinion. This trait is what saved him
and them. He permitted his children to grow spiritually, unencumbered
by his own misconceptions.
Chazal tell us that Moshe Rabbeinu
was rebbe to Korach's sons. During the height of the conflict
they asked, "Who should we follow, our father or our rebbe?
" This teaches us that Korach encouraged his children to
study from their rebbe, and he did not pressure his children
to challenge their rebbe because of his beliefs.
Do we see this parental attitude today? How often
do we find those whose insecurity about their own spiritual beliefs
causes them to demand that their children adopt the same spiritual
agenda. They demean anyone who might teach their children a way
of life that is incongruous with theirs. After all, how would
it look if their child were to be more observant than they? It
would cramp their lifestyle if they were to feel uncomfortable
to do whatever they please in the presence of their children.
In this realm, Korach acted correctly. Regrettably, it was
the only such area.
Finally, the people were privy to clear, unequivocal
truth - Aharon was Hashem's choice for Kohen Gadol. Alas,
the miracle of Aharon's staff occurred after Korach and his followers
met their terrible end -- and over fourteen thousand Jews perished
in a plague. Would it not have been more advantageous that the
miracle of Aharon's selection take place in the presence of his
detractors, so that they could witness the truth? Perhaps it
would have inspired them to repent. Such action might have circumvented
the ensuing tragedy.
Obviously, proof would have had little or no effect
upon Korach and his people. Even clear evidence from Heaven would
have made no difference to Korach. He was recalcitrant; the envy
he felt for Moshe was so overwhelming that nothing was going
to stop him. But why? Korach was not a fool. Surely, he would
have realized that he was wrong when the truth glared directly
We suggest that a rasha, wicked person --
or one who is involved in an evil endeavor -- will not stop to
think unless he has first been sensitized to do so. In the Talmud
Berachos 5A Chazal tell us that an individual should
always incite the yetzer tov, good inclination, to fight
against the yetzer hora, evil inclination. If he is victorious,
well and good. If not, let him study Torah. If by studying
Torah he does not achieve his goal, let him recite Krias
Shma. If that also does not help him, let him remind himself
of the yom ha'missa, day of death. A man has within himself
two impulses, good and evil. He must make every attempt to subdue
his evil impulse. Chazal have given us the recipe for
success. If studying Torah and reciting Krias Shma
are not sufficient to catalyze the fortitude to quell his physical
desires, let him confront his own mortality. Let him come to
grips with the fact that he is not here forever. By deferring
to the passions of the fleeting moment, he will be held eternally
responsible. The ultimacy of death should raise one's consciousness
from the nadir of sin, bringing him face to face with the reality
that what he is about to do is wrong.
Upon examining the words of Chazal, we are
immediately confronted with the obvious question: If reminding
oneself of the yom ha'missa is known to be the prime weapon
in one's confrontation with the yetzer hora, why should
it be employed only in case of a last resort? If we know that
it works, why wait? Horav Zalmen Sorotzkin, zl, gives
an insightful answer to this question. In order that the day
of death should leave an impression upon a person, it is essential
that he first study Torah in order to formulate a concept
of the value of life. Torah refines a person as it opens
his eyes, giving him perspective. How often do we see people
flirt with death without flinching? They have no fear of death
or its implications because they do not know what it is to fear!
Only after one studies Torah does he have an idea concerning
reward and punishment and their implications.
We now refer back to Korach and his group. They
had become so obsessed with their mission to "salvage"
the Kehunah and to usurp the Torah leadership from
Moshe and Aharon that miracles would not have impressed them.
They were driven by error and fortified with arrogance. Their
chutzpah knew no bounds. To demonstrate miracles to them
would have been an exercise in futility. For the remainder of
Klal Yisrael, however, it was still not too late.
1. A. When the Torah details Korach's lineage, who is not mentioned? B. Why?
2. Why was Shevet Reuven involved in Korach's controversy more deeply than any other tribe?
3. Which nasi sided with Korach?
4. Was Korach's dispute really leveled only at Moshe and Aharon?
5. How do we understand the gravity of the sin of controversy from the punishment that was received by Korach's congregation?
6. What happened with the firepans that were used by the 250 members of Korach's congregation?
7. Who may eat of the flesh of a firstborn animal
that was offered upon the Mizbayach?
1. A. Yaakov Avinu. B. He prayed that his name not be included.
2. The tribe of Reuven was camped near the Bnei Kehas, which was Korach's home. Chazal derive from here that "woe is to a rasha, wicked person, and woe is to his neighbor."
3. Elitzur ben Shedeiur of Shevet Reuven.
4. No. He was actually rebelling against Hashem.
5. Bais Din punishes a person in this world for sins transgressed after he has attained the age of Bar Mitzvah. The Heavenly Tribunal assess the reward after one is twenty years old. In the case of Korach's sins, even suckling infants were swallowed into the ground.
6. They were made into a covering for the Mizbayach.
7. Kohanim, their wives, children and slaves.
Peninim on the Torah is in its 7th year of publication. The first three years have been published in book form.
The third volume is available at your local book seller or directly from Rabbi Scheinbaum.
He can be contacted at 216-321-5838 ext. 165 or by fax at 216-321-0588.
Discounts are available for bulk orders or Chinuch/Kiruv organizations.
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.