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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Korach

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

The Torah deliberately traces Korach's lineage back to Levi, stopping there. Why is Yaakov Avinu not included in Korach's pedigree? Rashi explains that when Yaakov was reproving his two sons, Shimon and Levi, for their deplorable actions regarding the people of Shechem, he said, "Bi'kehalam al teichad kevodi," "In their conspiracy may my soul not enter." Yaakov Avinu did not want his name connected to the evil that their descendants would eventually generate. Rashi adds, however, that when the Torah mentions in Divrei Hayamim that a descendant of Korach was among the Leviim who sang in the Bais Hamikdash, it does trace his lineage to Yaakov. If, indeed, it had been imperative that Yaakov's name not be associated with Korach, why is his name recorded in reference to the singing in the Bais Hamikdash?

Horav Mordechai Gifter, Shlita, explains that Yaakov implored Hashem that he not be the source of Korach's negative character traits. If it had to be so - his name should at least not be included in Korach's lineage. It should be understood that whatever middah, character trait, within Korach had motivated this rebellion was not an attribute that he had inherited from Yaakov. Indeed, Yaakov had criticized Levi for his involvement in the destruction of Shechem, because he saw in him various negative character traits that constituted the foundation of this deed. Korach's conspiracy was a result of these negative traits. Thus, the Torah traces Korach's lineage to Levi. Korach's descendants inherited the spiritual level to sing shirah in the Bais Hamikdash from Yaakov. Regrettably, Korach's negative characteristics overshadowed his positive ones.

Horav Gedalyah Shorr, zl, takes an alternative approach towards explaining this pasuk: Yaakov Avinu is synonymous with another very unique quality. The Torah in Devarim 34:4 tells us, "The Torah that Moshe commanded us is the heritage of the congregation of Yaakov." The ability to create a kehilla, congregation/community, was an inherent skill that Yaakov developed. He prayed that his name not be included in "their kahal." Korach's congregation was not one of unity. He did not inherit this type of organization from Yaakov. The "Yaakov" type of achdus, unity, centers around the middah of emes. It is founded on truth and is maintained only through truth. Korach's type of achdus represents the antithesis of unity, since it is based upon pirud, disunity. His goal was not the truth; he sought to destroy, not to create. This is not the type of kehillah that is worthy of Yaakov's imprimatur.

They gathered together against Moshe and against Aharon and said to them, "It is too much for you! For the entire assembly-all of them are holy.' (16:3)

The Torah recounts a number of controversies that occurred during Klal Yisrael's forty year sojourn in the desert. They complained and complained. They complained about water and about meat. There were spies who slandered Eretz Yisrael. Yet, after all is said and done, the one dispute that has been recorded in history as the paradigm of machlokes, controversy, is the machlokes of Korach. Why? At least Korach's dispute had a spiritual dimension to it. They questioned the Kehunah. They sought to serve in the Bais Hamikdash and offer korbanos. They even made use of lomdus, logic, using a Tallis made completely of techeilas or a house filled with seforim, to prove their point. A holy congregation does not need spiritual leadership. They were wrong, but should we view this as the nadir of controversy? Is this behavior worse than complaining about a "lack of beef" or a shortage of drinking water?

Chazal view things from a different orientation, a clearer perspective than we do. They say that Korach's l'shaim Shomayim, his Heavenly intentions, were all a ruse, a total sham. His complaints were even more materialistic than asking for meat or water. They made it appear like they sought frumkeit, religiosity, but they only wanted kavod, honor. They covered up their basic desires with frumkeit. This is the work of the yetzer hora, evil inclination. He dresses everything in Heavenly attire. He goes so far that at times the person himself does not realize what he is doing. Korach realized. He knew exactly what he wanted. He was a demagogue who sought to usurp the spiritual leadership of Klal Yisrael from Moshe. He used frumkeit as a smoke screen to conceal his true malevolent intentions. The Torah reveals his controversy for what it was - the worst and lowest form of machlokes in the Torah.

What made Korach go wrong? How did such a brilliant, successful individual destroy everything, his reputation, family and life? Chazal say "eino hitaaso," "his eyes mislead him." He saw that Shmuel Hanavi, who was equal to Moshe and Aharon, would descend from him. How could he have been wrong and still be the progenitor of such a distinguished descendant? He did not realize that his sons would repent, and Shmuel would descend from them. Horav Elchanan Sorotzkin, zl, gives deeper insight into Korach's mistake. Korach's primary contention was, "It is too much for you! - For the entire assembly - All of them are holy." In other words, there is no need for leadership - We are all leaders! The entire system of a Kohen Gadol and a Melech is superfluous when each one of us is holy and could himself be that leader. Shmuel Hanavi responded similarly when the people came to him requesting a king. "Why would you need a human king when you have Hashem, the king of kings?" Can we fault Korach for his words? After all, did not his illustrious descendant make the same statement: "Klal Yisrael does not need leadership"?

There is, however, a difference. During Shmuel's tenure, the people wanted a king for all of the wrong reasons. They desired to live like the surrounding nations. Their goal in seeking a king was primarily to restrict Hashem's reign over them. Shmuel reprimanded them. Why seek a mortal when you have Hashem? Korach's intention was to denigrate Moshe and Aharon in order to obtain the leadership for himself. His goal was personal gratification. Korach's argument did not contain one iota of selflessness for the sake of Heaven. He manipulated the people; he twisted words. He presented himself like his descendant, Shmuel. He thought he could fool the world. He was tragically wrong.

Fire emerged from Hashem and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who had offered incense... The fire pans of those who sinned against theirs souls - make them into beaten plates, a cover for the Altar. (16:35, 17:3)

As part of Korach's rebellion, the two hundred and fifty men who were part of Korach's group were to offer incense in fire pans. They received their due punishment in that they were being consumed by a fire from Hashem. Their fire pans, instead of being discarded, were melted and shaped into a covering for the Mizbayach. Until now the Altar had been a hollow frame which was filled with dirt every time Klal Yisrael camped. Now, the outside surface was to be covered with a thin mass plating composed of the sinner's fire pans. This is enigmatic! Is it right to take fire pans that were originally used for sin and transform them into a substance for a mitzvah? Moreover, obviously up until this point in time it was fine to offer incense upon a mizbayach filled with dirt. Why should the Mizbayach now require brass plating?

The Shem Mishmuel explains the profound nature of the actual test of offering incense in brass fire pans, as well as the reason it was later melted down to be used as a covering for the Altar. We find that gold was the designated metal to be used for offering incense. The Mizbayach upon which the incense was offered was made of gold. On Yom Kippur, when the Kohen Gadol entered the Kodesh Hakedoshim, Holy of Holies, he came bearing a pan of gold. The glowing coals, which were used to burn the daily incense, were brought to the Mizbayach in a gold pan.

Three metals were used in the construction of the Mishkan: gold, symbolizing fear; silver, denoting love; and brass, which alludes to strength of character. In a number of places in Tanach, we find the connection between strength and power as symbolized by brass. In this case, brass is used to signify the ability to remain firm and resolute in the face of challenge, strong and unyielding in one's conviction, and fidelity to Hashem. This strength can manifest itself in a positive manner, as well as in a negative sense. One individual may be stubborn and resolute, while another may be brazen and insolent. This characteristic may very well be the most powerful of all traits, because of its ability to swing from one extreme end of the pendulum to the other.

The Midrash tells us that gold represents Avraham, silver represents Yitzchak and brass represents Yaakov. Each of our Avos, Patriarchs, possessed unique qualities and virtues to which the various metals allude. For our purposes, we will focus on brass. This metal symbolizes a character trait - which, when thoughtfully utilized - is most credible, manifesting itself as determination in confrontation with challenge and adversity. If this metal is left uncontrolled it becomes inflexible, obdurate and brazen. Yaakov Avinu was the essence of truth. He symbolized the positive aspect of brass, maintaining his conviction in the face of Eisav and Lavan's challenge. He was not afraid that Eisav would inflict bodily damage on him, nor did he fear Lavan's challenge to his spiritual status. He remained resolute and strong as brass. Korach, his grandson, inherited this trait. Regrettably, he utilized its negative aspect. He demanded kavod, honor. He sought a position in Klal Yisrael's hierarchy. He was determined to get more for himself; nothing was going to stand in his way. Indeed, Korach epitomized the "brazenness" of brass. Hence, it was necessary to determine which way Korach's followers were leaning. Were they brazen or were they resolute?

To pretend that there was no realm of good in Korach's rebellion would be wrong. Korach, regrettably, took the "brass" aspects of resoluteness and conviction, and manipulated them into brazenness and arrogance. The ability to stand up for one's principles was distorted by self-seeking hautiness. Korach's followers were excessive in their resolution; they were "carried away" with conviction. They began to believe in themselves, transforming their ideals into full-fledged rebellion.

Thus, we may justify using the brass fire pans as a surface for the Mizbayach. The pans symbolize the basic good intentions of Korach's followers. After the men died, the fire that was upon the pans was "lifted up" and thrown away. The fire symbolized the excess - the frenzy of arrogance that so often is the result of misplaced good intentions. This left the empty fire pans, representing the good aspect of their character. In Jewish theology, mitzvos and sins do not cancel out one another. One is compensated for each mitzvah and sin. Hence, while the men were punished for their arrogance, they still deserved a reward for their original good intentions. The good element, the original brass, was, therefore, used as a covering for the Mizbayach.

Originally, offerings were brought directly upon the earth of the Mizbayach. Earth is synonymous with Avraham Avinu, whose humility was paradigmatic of "dust and ashes." He symbolized remorse and contrition, the broken spirit and crushed heart one needs, the ingredients necessary for an effective korban. While this emotion prevailed in early times, the people later experienced a resurgence of the strength of character as exemplified by Yaakov Avinu. This personality change in people made it appropriate for korbanos to be offered on brass, which symbolized this strength of character. After Korach's rebellion, the brass fire pans were used as an everlasting memorial to a character trait that is inherently good.

To the Leviim shall you speak... When you accept from the Bnei Yisrael the tithe... you shall raise from it a gift... your gift shall be reckoned for you like grain from the threshing floor... (18:26,27)

The Levi who receives his portion of Maaser from the Yisrael must, in turn, give Terumah to the Kohen. The Torah tells us that this Terumas Maaser is considered the same as Terumah Gedolah, which is offered by the Yisrael. Imrei Yosef cites the Zidetchoiver Rebbe, zl, who claims that this pasuk alludes to an ethical lesson for he who has been raised above his peers to be selected for spiritual leadership. One might think that it is his virtue and scholarship, his good deeds and meticulous mitzvah observance, that effected this "promotion". The Torah tells him not to permit this change in position to make him arrogant. He is not better than the others; he is not more virtuous, nor does he possess greater scholarship ability. He was chosen for another reason, unknown to him or anyone else. Hashem has determined that he should ascend to leadership. It is similar to the halachah we find concerning the shiur, measure/amount of Terumah, one is required to contribute. Chazal say "chitah achas poteres es hakri," one stalk of what exempts the entire pile of grain. In other words, there is no set measurement. A person can conceivably fulfill his obligation by giving only one kernel of grain!

Veritably, all stalks of grain were planted and grew equally. There is no advantage of one over the other. Hashem commanded that the people give Terumah, and since "this" kernel of grain is elevated to be that Terumah, it becomes holy and raised up above the rest. Suddenly, the kernels of grain are no longer equal. Does this kernel of Terumah have something about which to be arrogant? Is it any different than the rest of the grain? No - it just happens to be that it was selected for Terumah. Had the goral, lot, fallen on another kernel, then it would have been used as Terumah. It is not because one is better than the other; it is just that one happened to be chosen.

A parallel perspective applies to one who has been selected for leadership. He should not view himself as better, just as the grain which was chosen. It could have been someone else. It just happened to be him. In a homiletic rendering of the pasuk, he says, "Your gift shall be reckoned for you." That which Hashem has raised you above your peers should be considered "like the grain from the threshing floor;" you are only like the one kernel of grain whose lot it was to be selected for Terumah. You should not view yourself as being better than the others; just, perhaps, a little luckier.


1) How do we see the dictum of "woe is to a rasha and woe is to his neighbors" in effect in our parsha?
2) Which great person descended from Korach?
3) Did Moshe have an expense account?
4) From what age does the Heavenly tribunal punish a person?
5) One who disputes the Kehunah is punished with ________________?
6) Why does the Torah emphasize that there was only one staff representing Shevet Levi?
7) Who partakes of the meat of a bechor beheimah that was offered upon the Mizbayach?


1) Members of Shevet Reuven took part in Korach's dispute as a result of their proximity to the camp of Bnei Kehas, where Korach lived.
2) Shmuel Hanavi
3) No. Moshe proclaimed that when he went to retrieve his family from Midyan, he did not use even a donkey belonging to Klal Yisrael for his personal use.
4) Twenty years old.
5) Tzaraas
6) This is done to preclude the notion that Shevet Levi is broken into two distinct families: Kohanim and Leviim.
7) Kohanim, their wives, children and slaves.


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