Rashi asks: What lead Korach to enter into a dispute with Moshe
and Aharon? The answer is that he was jealous of the fact that
his cousin, Eltzafan, rather than he, had been appointed the Nasi
/ Prince of the family of Kehat (one of the divisions of the
tribe of Levi).
R' Leib Chasman z"l elaborates: What lead Korach, who was a
wise man and was one of the porters of the Holy Ark, to argue
with Moshe and to drag 250 of the greatest leaders of Bnei
Yisrael down with him? It was the awful trait of jealously!
At first glance, Korach's challenge might appear legitimate.
He asked, "Are not all of Bnei Yisrael holy?" However, when he
asked Moshe and Aharon, "Why should you be raised above all of
us?" he revealed that his true motivation was only his jealousy.
Chazal couldn't understand how a man as intelligent as Korach
could go astray until they realized that Korach possessed the bad
traits of jealousy and envy. R' Chasman observes that character
flaws are powerful tools, "like heavy artillery at the top of a
mountain . . . they can dissolve stone and melt iron."
Look how far a person can go under the influence of jealousy.
The 250 men who sided with Korach were all judges and leaders of
Bnei Yisrael. They too must have been intelligent and
understanding men. Yet they knowingly went to their deaths
because of their jealousy.
The rebels' complaint was that Aharon should not be the Kohen
Gadol, but rather, one of them should hold the post. Moshe
responded by inviting Aharon, Korach, and the 250 rebels to
participate in a test. "However," warned Moshe, "only one of the
participants will survive the test. The others will die." Moshe
reminded them that it was not possible to have 250 High Priests,
and that they should reconsider their challenge. Nevertheless,
all 250 of these men were blinded by their jealousy.
(Ohr Yahel, Part III)
The midrash says, "What led Korach to rebel? The laws of Parah
Adumah / the red heifer led him to rebel." What does this mean?
R' Chaim Yehuda Meir Hager z"l (died 1968; the "Vishever
Rebbe") explains that Korach was specifically misled by the law
that the ashes of the Parah Adumah purify one who is impure, but
temporarily defile the pure person who prepares them. Korach
reasoned: "I know that 'machloket' / strife can defile a person,
but isn't it worth becoming temporarily defiled in order to bring
about the pure results which I seek?"
Why was Korach wrong? Because one can never guarantee that the
impurity of machloket will be only temporary. As the gemara
(Sanhedrin 7a) states: machloket is like an overflowing canal --
once the dike is breached, the opening gets wider and wider.
(Zecher Chaim p.172)
R' Nachman said: "I was once walking in the desert and an
Arab said, 'Come! I will show you where Korach's gang was
swallowed up.' I saw two cracks in the ground and smoke
rose from between them. He took a woolen cloth, dipped it
in water, stuck it on the end of a spear and threw it into
the smoke. When he took it out, the cloth was burnt. He
said to me, 'Listen to what they are saying.' I put my ear
to the ground and heard, 'Moshe is true and his Torah is
true, and we are liars'."
(Gemara Bava Batra 74a)
R' Yaakov Lorberbaum of Lissa z"l (early 19th century; author
of Nesivot Hamishpat) explains as follows: Korach was not a fool.
His dispute with Moshe occurred because, like so many
philosophers, his profound, but wrong, thoughts led him astray.
Specifically, the two cracks in the earth represent the two
foundations of Judaism which Korach and other philosophers
denied: (1) The principle of prophecy; and (2) that Moshe was the
teacher of Torah par excellence. The smoke which came from
between the cracks represents the fact that Korach was blinded by
his own logic.
The white cloth represents a mind which is a clean slate, and
dipping it in water represents teaching it Torah. When this mind
was hurled with force into the smoke, it was burnt because if a
Torah scholar rushes into debate with a philosopher, the Torah
scholar may lose. Rather, the arguments of a Korach (or any
philosopher) must be thought through and refuted calmly and
patiently. If you take the time to put your ear to the ground
and listen very closely, then you can hear Korach saying, "Moshe
is true and his Torah is true, and we are liars." (Emet
In this week's parashah, as well as in the parashot which
precede it and follow it, we read of some of the occasions on
which the Jewish people tested Hashem during the forty years in
the desert. Many ask: How is it possible that a generation which
was on such a high spiritual level, a generation which witnessed
all the miracles that this generation saw, could falter so many
R' Yaakov Weinberg z"l (Rosh Yeshiva of Ner Israel; died 17
Tammuz 5759 / 1999) explains that it was precisely the Jews' high
level which caused these problems. They reached such a lofty
level that they could not maintain it all of the time. And when
they slipped, the fall was so much greater.
We find a similar idea in Chazal's teaching, "The best of
doctors is destined to Gehinom." Why? Because when a person is
constantly on the high plane brought about by constantly serving
others through truly dedicated medical practice, he is on a level
which cannot be maintained all of the time. He is therefore at a
greater risk of falling and needs to exercise extra care.
(Heard from R' Weinberg, 12 Sivan 5754)
"And the sons of Korach did not die." (26:11 in Parashat
Chazal say that as Korach's sons were falling into Gehinom with
their father, they repented. Hashem therefore created a ledge
above Gehinom where Korach's sons were saved. Imagine that!
says R' Yechezkel Levenstein z"l. This whole process could not
have lasted more than a few seconds, yet even a single brief, but
sincere, thought of repentance can save a person.
(Quoted in Nedivut Lev p.241)
"And you shall give G-d's terumah from it to Aharon the
This is the mitzvah of terumah / giving a portion of each
harvest to the kohen. The gemara notes, however, that this
mitzvah did not become obligatory until Eretz Yisrael was
conquered, some 14 years after Aharon's death. How then can
terumah be given to Aharon?
Here, says the gemara, we find an allusion in the Torah to the
resurrection of the dead. It is after that event that we will
give terumah to Aharon.
This presents a problem, writes R' Yehuda Rosannes. The reason
that terumah and ma'aser / tithes are given to the kohanim and
levi'im is that they did not receive a portion of the Land.
However, there are those who hold that, when mashiach comes, even
the kohanim and levi'im will be given portions in Eretz Yisrael.
Why then should they continue to receive these gifts?
The answer, explains R' Rosannes, is that when Yehoshua, and
later Ezra, conquered and settled Eretz Yisrael, the Land became
sanctified. That event made the produce of the Land subject to
the laws of terumah and ma'aser. And although we were expelled
from the Land, the original sanctity of the Land never ceased.
Accordingly, the obligation to separate terumah and ma'aser must
continue, for where else will the sanctity go (in the phraseology
of the gemara)?! It is, however, true that should mashiach
conquer new lands and annex them to Eretz Yisrael, the laws of
terumah and ma'aser will not apply there.
(Parashat Derachim: Derech Ha'kodesh VI)
Irving and Arline Katz
on the yahrzeit of mother,
Sarah bat Yitzchak Hakohen Katz a"h
in honor of the publication of
his brother-in-law's sefer.
Copyright © 2000 by Shlomo Katz
and Project Genesis, Inc.
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