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They stood before Moses together with 250 Israelites, who were leaders of the assembly, those summoned for council, men of renown (16:2).
These words give the setting of the rebellion of Korach and his company against Moses. Korach himself was from the distinguished branch of the Levites, and his associates were "anshei sheim" - men of renown, high status people within the community.
Indeed, in the eyes of the Kli Yakar, the high position of the members of Korach's rebel force is heavily emphasized with the words "leaders of the assembly, those summoned for council". He comments that the deeper meaning of the additional words anshei sheim is that they had agendas of their own. They joined in with the belief that they would advance further under Korach than under Moses. Thus according to the Kli Yakar, anshei shem translates as "men who wanted to advance their name" - and fame and power. Self-interest was their underlying motive in their attack on Moses' position. They had plans of their own, and found Korach's plot as the means of serving their own selfish plans. In other words, realpolitik.
Indeed, the evil intentions of the anshei shem may be supported where the same phase occurs much earlier in the Torah (as anshei hasheim), in describing the dor hamabul - the generation that was wiped out by Flood:
"The Nephilim (can be translated as giants, as in 13:33) were on the Earth in those days, and also afterwards… they were the mighty men who were from time immemorial were anshei hasheim - men of renown. G-d saw that the wickedness of Man was great… and his every intention was just evil. So G-d regretted having made Man on earth… and He said 'I will blot out Man whom I created from the face of the ground… for I regret having created them'. But Noah found favor in the eyes of G-d" (Gen. 6:4-8).
So the Torah's use of the words anshei sheim is not a compliment, but an insight into the evil that was really behind the strength of Korach's rebellion. It gives the same descriptor to Korach's amigos as it does to the antediluvian people of power and influence whose "every evil intention" - sheer selfishness - misled humanity downhill in the dor hamabul.
That means that consequences of Korach's rebellion would be - by degrees - a society ruled by people with their own self-centered, self-seeking ambitions, rather than working for the good of the community at large. Ultimately - as in the generation of the Flood - the destiny of the Israelites would be a small corrupt elite "farming" the masses for whatever they could get out of them; something that can be observed in many societies in history and even today. Those words anshei sheim describe that type of elite, and the elitist aspirations of Korach's distinguished supporters.
Indeed, G-d reacted to their plans in the same way as He did to their predecessors in generation of the Flood. He declared to Moses and Aaron: "Separate yourself from this assembly, and I will destroy them in an instant" (16:21).
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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