The midrash relates that Korach was incited to rebellion by his
wife. She argued: "Why did Moshe appoint his brother as Kohen
Gadol and leave you to carry the heavy aron/ark?" (Korach was
one of the levi'im who carried the aron containing the luchot.)
Yet, this midrash is difficult to understand, because the Sages
teach that the aron was weightless; in fact, it "carried its
carriers" so that they expended no energy when walking! What
then were Korach and his wife complaining about?
Also, Rashi asks what led Korach to "shtut"/"foolishness"?
Were Korach's actions merely foolish or were they wicked?
R' Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg shlita explains that the ease or
difficulty of any endeavor is dependent on one's attitude. If
one believes in the Torah's power to carry a person, it will do
so. If one views the Torah as a burden, it will feel like one.
Similarly, if one devotes himself to spiritual growth, it is
not hard to accomplish. This is the meaning of the teaching in
the gemara (Sukkah 53a) that at the end of time, tzaddikim will
be surprised to discover how "big" the yetzer hara is. Because
tzaddikim devote themselves to overcoming the yetzer hara, it
seems easy to them.
Certainly Korach's actions were wicked, R' Scheinberg
concludes. However, he could never have stooped so low if he had
not first been foolish enough to confuse righteousness and
wickedness (i.e., to confuse the Torah with a heavy burden).
Thus Rashi asks: What led Korach to "shtut"/ "foolishness"?
(Derech Emunah U'Bitachon p.177)
"Therefore, you and your entire assembly that are joining
together are against Hashem! As for Aharon - what is he
that you protest against him?" (16:11)
R' Moshe Teitlebaum z"l (died 1840) writes: There is a
discussion in the Talmud as to whether the kohanim who served in
the Temple were "shluchei d'Rachmana"/G-d's agents or "shluchei
di'dan"/"our agents." R' Yonatan Eyebschutz z"l (died 1764)
observes in his work, Keshet Yehonatan, that Korach must have
held that the kohanim were shluchei di'dan/our agents. The
Shulchan Aruch states that any member of the congregation may
veto the appointment of an agent of the congregation (e.g., a
chazzan), and thus Korach attempted to veto Aharon's appointment.
However, such a veto clearly has no place against shluchei
On the other hand, R' Teitlebaum writes, the mere fact that
Korach wanted to be Kohen Gadol implies a belief that the kohanim
were shluchei d'Rachmana. If the Kohen Gadol was G-d's agent,
that was an honor worth fighting for - but to be man's agent? Is
that worth fighting for? To the contrary, one could argue that
being the person who sends the agent is more honorable than being
the agent himself!
Thus, Moshe said to Korach: You are challenging Hashem's choice
to be His agent, for you clearly hold that the kohanim are
shluchei d'Rachmana. If not, if your complaint is against Aharon
himself, for you consider him to be shluchei di'dan, what is he?
What is the position of kohen gadol worth if it is only to be
man's agent? (And, since you are challenging Hashem's choice,
you have no right to do this, as R' Eyebschutz explained.)
R' Natan Zvi Brisk z"l (rabbi of Cs‚ke, Hungary; killed in the
Holocaust) writes: Based on the above, we can understand the
mishnah (Pirkei Avot ch.5): "Which dispute was not for the sake
of Heaven? The dispute of Korach and his entire company."
How can we be sure that Korach and his company did not act for
the sake of Heaven? Also, why does the mishnah say "The dispute
of Korach and his entire company" rather than "Korach's dispute
If a group of people bands together to depose the chazzan, the
members of the group can argue that they are acting for the sake
of Heaven. The chazzan is shlucha di'dan/our agent, and it is
within our rights to replace him. However, if each member of
this group nominates himself to be the new chazzan, we cannot say
that they are acting for the sake of Heaven.
Korach and his company were not merely trying to depose Aharon.
Each member of the group wanted to be Kohen Gadol in Aharon's
place. There was a dispute between Korach and his company, and
that is how we know that their dispute was not for the sake of
(Nachalat Zvi Al Pirkei Avot, p.54b)
"Ha'ish/Shall one man sin, and You be angry with the entire
Rashi writes: "He is the sinner! Should you be angry with the
What is Rashi teaching us? R' Wolf Heidenheim z"l (1757-1832;
noted grammarian and printer in R”delheim) explains: Rashi is
informing us that the common translation of this verse is
incorrect. The pasuk is not merely a question, "How can You be
angry with the whole assembly if only one man has sinned?" That
translation would be correct if the word "ha'ish" was vowelized
with a "patach" (a short horizontal line) under the letter "heh."
However, because the vowel under the "heh" is a "kamatz" (the
vowel that looks like the letter "T"), the correct translation
is: "He is a sinner! Should you be angry with the entire
R' Heidenheim continues: Although the letter "heh" often
introduces a question, sometimes the Torah or the prophets omit
it. How then do we know what the verse means? Kuzari (II 72)
explains that we know based upon the trop (the tune). In
conversation, a speaker doesn't always say what he means, and we
have to derive his meaning from his gestures and intonations.
Similarly, much of our understanding of Torah comes from correct
pronunciation and correct reading of the trop. The trop tells us
where to put the commas, periods and question marks, and it tells
us the tempo of the verse, i.e., whether to slow down or to speed
up. The trop conveys the meaning, and that is why, R' Heidenheim
writes, the gemara (Megillah 31a) says, "If one reads without a
tune, about him it is said (Yechezkel 20:25), 'So, too, I gave
them laws that were not good'."
R' Heidenheim adds another point: An popular proverb says that
it is better to learn from a teacher than from a book. This is
because so much of the meaning is conveyed by the teacher's
gestures and intonations, rather than by the words alone.
"Moshe said, 'Through this you shall know that Hashem sent me
to perform these acts, that it was not from my heart'."
R' Yaakov Kaminetsky z"l (died 1986) writes: Moshe said these
words on his own, without consulting with Hashem. By doing so,
he placed the entire Torah at risk. If Hashem had not caused a
miracle to happen (i.e., the earth swallowing Korach), the
implication would be that Moshe was not Hashem's agent.
How could Moshe take this risk? He had no choice! If his own
contemporaries could question his authority and not be dealt with
decisively, how could later generations be sure that Moshe spoke
for G-d? If Moshe had not risked his own reputation (and the
Torah's) to impress his own generation, he would have lost future
Letters from Our Sages
This week's letter is from She'eilot U'teshuvot Maharik
(No. 9) by R' Yosef Colon (France and Italy; approx. 1410-
1480), an important halachic authority who is quoted
frequently in later works.
What follows is a brief excerpt from a lengthy responsum
involving a shul which had the following custom: On the
Shabbat on which Parashat Bereishit was read, the first
aliyah (usually reserved for a kohen) was given to a member
of the congregation who donated oil for the entire year. The
custom was that if a kohen was present, either he bought that
mitzvah or he left the room, allowing someone else to be
called to the Torah.
One year, there was a kohen who did not buy the mitzvah and
also would not leave the room. The members of the
congregation agreed to prevent this kohen from entering their
shul and they enlisted the help of the municipal government.
Maharik's letter follows:
A Torah scholar to whom secrets are revealed, the foundation of
the building, one who asks relevant questions, my soul's friend,
the wise man, R' Shmuel: . . .
It appears, in my humble opinion, that even if that kohen is as
great as [the sages of the Mishnah] Shimon ben Azzai and his
friends, he went too far, for we should not change the customs
which our forefathers before us, pious men and men of deeds,
practiced. Regarding matters such as this, Chazal said, "Leave
the Jews alone - if they are not prophets, they are the sons of
prophets." Certainly this is true regarding this custom which
honors and elevates the Torah. It is obvious that [the honor of
the Torah] is elevated when people jump at the chance to read its
beginning in exchange for money - there is no love of Torah
greater than this. Also, in this way, oil to light [the shul] is
more readily available.
In all of the holy communities of France and Germany, a similar
custom is observed on Simchat Torah. These and these intend
[their deeds to be] for the sake of Heaven, except that these do
it when they finish the Torah and these do it when they begin the
Torah . . .
Regarding the most insignificant custom we learn in Bava Metzia
[86b]: "R' Chanina ben Chachilai said, 'One should never deviate
from the local custom, for Moshe went up to the Heavens [to
receive the Torah, and he did not eat; the angels came to visit
Avraham, and they did eat]'." Also, we learn in Bereishit Rabbah
on Parashat Vayera: "When you enter a city, follow its customs."
Certainly then, in the case of an important custom such as this
which honors and elevates the Torah; it may not be changed and
must be followed.
Sponsored by Dr. and Mrs. Irving Katz
in memory of mother Sarah Katz a"h
The children and grandchildren
of Rabbi Sam and Lorraine Vogel
in honor of "Zaidy and Grandma's"
35th wedding anniversary