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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Korach

And Korach ben Yitzhar ben Kehas ben Levi separated himself (16:1)

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 a mitzvah.

And he (Moshe) said to Hashem; Do not turn to their offering. I have not taken one donkey from them,neither have I hurt them. (16:15)

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 beings.

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.

And Korach gathered the entire assembly. (16:19)

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.

And the earth opened up its mouth and it swallowed them...and all the men that belonged to Korach. (16:32)

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.

On the next morning...and behold the staff of Aharon had blossomed it brought forth a blossom, sprouted a bud and almonds ripened. (17:23)

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 at him.

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.

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