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by Zvi Akiva Fleisher

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Ch. 16, v. 1: "Va'yikach Korach" - And Korach took - What did Korach take? Here are a few answers found in the gemara, medrash, and Torah commentators: 1) Himself 2) Bad counsel 3) An entirely blue talis 4) Bad commodity 5) Doson, Avirom, On ben Pelles, and 250 great sages 6) His heart through haughtiness. The gemara and medroshim give many explanations for Korach's challenging Moshe's position of leadership. As well, there are numerous opinions regarding exactly which point(s) Korach and his adherents disagreed with Moshe. The famous book of astounding medroshim, named Medrash Plioh, says that what caused Korach to disagree with Moshe was the "breisa," the teaching, of Rabbi Yishmoel.

Perhaps this can be explained with the words of the M.R. 18:16 which says that Rabbi Levi says that Korach contested the positions of Moshe and Aharon by positing that Moshe and Aharon only received their respective positions as king and Kohein Godol through the procedure of being anointed with the special "shemen hamish'choh." I, Korach, who is the son of oil itself, my name being Korach ben YITZHOR, YITZHOR meaning olive oil, surely deserve to be the king or the Kohein Godol. This reasoning, called a "kal vochomer," is one of 13 rules of exegesis listed in the "breisa" of Rabbi Yishmoel, which is part of our daily morning prayers.


The Ibn Ezra says that it took place before the incident of the spies. Although this is related later in the Torah, we apply the rule that the Torah does not always relate happenings in the correct chronological order, "Ein mukdam u'm'uchar baTorah" (gemara P'sochim 6b and Sanhedrin 49b). The Ramban disagrees and says that this rule is only applied where there is a compelling proof that something is not chronologically in order. He says that the Ibn Ezra too easily applies the rule of "ein mukdam." We find more of this in the Ibn Ezra at the beginning of parshas Matos, where he says that it is proper to assume that two juxtaposed parshios happened in reverse order.

Rashi's opinion is the same as the Ramban, as he says on 16:4 that the bnei Yisroel had already sinned three times, including the sin of the spies, and this was their fourth failing.

Ch. 16, v. 2: "Va'anoshim mibnei Yisroel chamishim u'mosoyim" - And men from among the bnei Yisroel two-hundred and fifty - Who were these 250 men?

1) All first-born (Ibn Ezra)

2) All from the tribe of Levi (Rabbeinu Chananel's opinion brought in the Ramban)

3) The tribal leaders plus mostly from the tribe of Reuvein (Rashi)

4) A mixture from all the tribes (Ramban)

5) Twenty-three men from each of eleven tribes, excluding the tribe of Levi - This is equal to the quorum of a Sanhedrin from each tribe. Although this equals 253 people, the verse means 250 men besides Doson, Avirom, and On ben Pelles. (Rabbi Moshe of Kutzi)

How did Korach convince 250 people of such great spiritual stature to go along with his revolt against the leadership of Moshe? As well, how did they willingly risk their lives with the test of sacrificing the incense?

During a visit to Eretz Yisroel the Holy Admor of Satmar zt"l spoke to a large crowd of educators. He said that it is very dangerous to accept funding from those who are opposed to Torah ideals, even for the purpose of furthering Torah-true education. This is true even if they offer the funding with no strings attached. Just by the mere acceptance of the money, one is influenced to think along the donours' line of ideology. This is an insidious bribe. He brought a proof for this from the fact that Korach, who was fabulously wealthy, gave gifts to people prior to disclosing his true intentions, although he gave no stipulations with the gifts. Through this he was later able to influence them to join in his rebellion against Moshe's leadership.

An educator in the audience who considered himself a great Torah scholar, who worked in a school system that received funding from a source which he himself was at odds with ideologically, derided the Holy Satmar Rov, saying that there is no source for his words in any medrash, etc. These words reached the ears of the Satmar Rov who responded that his words are taken from Rashi on the gemara Sanhedrin 52a d.h. "b'chanfei" and 52b d.h. "l'mah." Rashi says that through their receiving benefit from Korach, he had the ability to persuade the 250 men to rebel against Hashem. The bribe blinded them to the point that they were even willing to risk their lives with the test of offering incense.

Ch. 16, v. 6: "K'chu lochem machtos" - Rashi explains that the machtos were pans with which one would shovel coals, and these vessels had a handle. It is most unusual for Rashi to give us a detailed description of a machtoh here, rather than earlier in Vayikra 10:1 where the machtoh is first mentioned and Rashi made no mention of the handle.

Rabbi Sho'ul of Amsterdam answers as follows: The gemara M'nochos 99a says that we derive from our verse that "maalin bakodesh," we elevate by sanctity. This means that if something had sanctity and we want to change its usage, we should not use it for a lower or equal level of sanctity, but rather, we must use it for an elevated level of sanctity. We see that after the pans were used for incense, they were hammered into a covering for the outer copper altar. First they served the altar and now they became part of the altar.

However, on the gemara Yoma 47a the Tosfos Y'shonim says that the incense sacrificed by Korach's adherents was not placed onto the altar, but rather, was burned in the pans themselves. If so, how do we have a proof for elevation? The pans themselves were used as an altar.

The answer to this is that although the pans were considered an altar, their handles served the contained area of the pans and were not themselves an altar. They also were hammered into the flat plates which were added to the covering of the altar. This is what motivated Rashi to explain that they had a handle.

This also answers a difficulty raised by the Turei Ovven. He asks, "How do we derive 'maalin bakodesh?' The verse clearly states that the purpose of incorporating the pans into the altar is to create a permanent reminder of the punishment meted out to those who rebelled against Moshe, as is stated in 17:3, 'v'y'h'yu l'ose livnei Yisroel.'" According to the above, the permanent reminder is created by making the container component of the pan an integral part of the altar, and the rule of "maalin bakodesh" is derived from also using the handles as part of the altar.

Ch. 16, v. 21: "Hibodlu mitoch ho'eidoh hazose" - Separate yourselves from this congregation - Note that the concept of separating from the troublemakers is expressed in four different terms. Here we have "hibodlu," in verse 24 "hei'olu," in verse 26 "suru," in verse 27 "va'yaalu," and in 17:10 "heiromu," four different terms for the same basic concept to "distance/separate from."

This is an attempt at sorting this out in an orderly manner:

1) The Rasham on 17:10 raises the issue of "hibodlu" and "heiromu." He answers that "heiromu" connotes distancing oneself further, which is appropriate here, as the plague had already begun, "heicheil hano'gef."

2) The Paa'nei'ach Rozo and Rabbi Moshe of Coucy's teacher also tackle this and answer that "hibodlu" is used when those who are to separate themselves are mixed in with the others (This is clearly demonstrated in Vayikra 11:47, where it says, "L'havdil bein hato'mei u'vein hatohor," which Rashi explains means to differentiate between ritual slaughtering that is acceptable, when the majority of the windpipe is cut, and not acceptable, when only a half is cut.), while "heiromu" is used when they are already separate, but are being commanded to distance themselves even further. Moshe came to discuss the matter with Doson and Avirom in chapter 16 and was right next to them, but in 17:10, after the earthquake and the fire of death, people separated themselves from anyone who was sympathetic to Korach's cause.

3) Rabbeinu Chaim Paltiel says that "heiromu" is used when the intention is to respond quickly, as was surely in place when "heicheil hano'gef."

4) The Kli Yokor says that "hibodlu" is used where the command is for the rank and file bnei Yisroel to act, while "heiromu" is used when it applies only to Moshe and Aharon, who were already on an elevated level, and the command to them was expressed in the same manner. (The Ohr Hachaim Hakodosh disagrees with this, as he clearly states that the command "heiromu" was to be told to those of the bnei Yisroel who were not part of the uprising or complainers.)

5) In a bit of a lengthy insight offered in Sedrah Selections 5765, "heiromu" is explained by the Baal Mo'ore Voshomesh, which relates to "va'yiplu al pneihem." It is most interesting, so make sure to see it.

6) The Meshech Chochmoh explains that "hibodlu" is used when the separation consists of a physical parting, as we find by the lacerating of the nape of the avian offering, "lo yavdil." "Heiromu" is used when the intention is to elevate oneself. Moshe told Aharon that the plague had actually begun even though Moshe wasn't eye witness to it, because Hashem said "heiromu," meaning that the complainers had fallen in their spiritual level, and this was obviously apparent through their being struck by the plague. Thus even though "heiromu" is a command to the rank and file, they are elevated in comparison to those who have fallen spiritually and are victims of the plague.

Now we have the difference between "hibodlu" and "hei'olu/va'yei'olu":

1) The Sforno seems to totally equate "hibodlu" with "hei'olu."

2) Rabbeinu Zecharioh says that when they were together, as was the situation when they assembled at the entrance of the "ohel mo'eid," "hibodlu" is used, meaning to distance themselves. When they are in their homes and are asked to evacuate and distance themselves, "hei'olu' is used. When the command targets Moshe and Aharon, the most elevated of people, "heiromu," a term in kind, is used.

3) "Hei'olu" is used when the intention is to ascend. The command was to separate themselves from the evildoers and go towards the Mishkon. It was always set up on a hill (similar to the Beis Hamikdosh, which was built on a mountain). (Ro'isi)

We now go on to "suru:"

This is further complicated by virtue of Hashem's telling Moshe to tell the bnei Yisroel "hei'olu," and Moshe's saying "suru," and then when they complied the verse reverts to "suru."

Note that Moshe says to turn away from the tents of "Ho'anoshim horsho'im ho'eileh" (16:26). Moshe calls them evil, not part of Hashem's command, which was without titles. Moshe gave an extra push to have them separate themselves by calling Doson and Avirom EVIL, which would in all likelihood motivate the bnei Yisroel to cooperate. The verse goes on to say that they complied as per the term of Hashem "va'yei'olu," not needing the extra push. Moshe rightfully called Doson and Avirom EVIL because Doson hit Avirom back in parshas Shmos, and Moshe called Doson a "rosho." (This is a new insight into being swallowed into the ground, as they tattled on Moshe that he killed an Egyptian and hid him in the ground.) Targum Yonoson ben Uziel says that they were called "r'sho'im" because they were deserving of death for earlier transgressions.

"Hasoroh" is a term used for moving away from a spiritual value, in this case evil, because it will influence you, as in "Sur meira" (T'hilim 34:17). Although we also find "suru" by Lote's advising the angels to turn to his home (Breishis 19;2), we might say that since all the other residents of Sdom were evil, as is proven by their being destroyed totally, "suru" again means to turn away from those who might influence you negatively. (See Rashi there, who explains "suru" differently.) We likewise have "turning away" when one turns away from good, "V'sartem vaavadtem elohim acheirim" (Dvorim 11:16), which Rashi explains that it means to turn away from the Torah, and Medrash Hagodol says to turn away from the path of life to the path of death, both spiritual concepts.



See also Oroh V'Simchoh - Meshech Chochmoh on the Weekly Parsha, Chasidic Insights and Chamisha Mi Yodei'a

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