By Rabbi Yisroel Ciner
This week we read the parsha of Korach. "Va'yikach Korach ben Yitzhar ben
K'has... v'Dasan va'Aviram... v'On ben Peles... vayakumu lifnei Moshe (And
Korach the son of Yitzhar the son of K'has took and Dasan and Aviram and On
the son of Peles and they stood before Moshe) [16:1-2]." This first pasuk
(verse) seems somewhat strange -- it doesn't tell us what he took!
Rashi explains the words "Va'yikach Korach" not to mean 'and Korach took'
but rather, that 'he took Korach'. Who took Korach? Korach did. He took
himself. He removed himself from being part of the group of Klal Yisroel and
he stood before Moshe to contend with him.
What was bothering Korach? He was jealous of the positions of honor that
Moshe had given to others. In order to understand this, we need to have some
family background. K'has, Korach's grandfather was one of Levi's three sons.
He in turn had four sons of his own. Amram, his eldest, gave birth to Moshe
and Aharon. Yitzhar, the second, was the father of Korach. His third and
fourth sons were Chevron and Uziel.
Korach was jealous that the position of Kohen gadol (high Priest) had been
given to Aharon and not to him. However, he couldn't rightfully contest that
appointment. Aharon's father was Amram, the b'chor (firstborn). His father
was Yitzhar, the second son. Aharon clearly had precedence over him. He bore
this jealousy quietly until he felt that he had valid grounds to contest an
appointment made by Moshe. At that point, he tried to contest all of the
appointments that Moshe had made.
His opportunity came during our second year out of Mitzraim (Egypt). Moshe,
as directed by Hashem, had appointed Elitzafon, the son of Uziel, K'has'
youngest son, to be the Nasi (leader) of the K'has family. At that point
Korach exploded. "My father was one of four brothers. Amram, the eldest, his
two sons took positions of leadership. Moshe, you are the king and your
brother Aharon is the Kohen gadol. Who should be the Nasi? I, Korach, the
son of the second son, Yitzhar. I deserve to be the Nasi. And you went and
appointed Elitzafon, the son of the youngest brother, to be Nasi?! I don't
accept the validity of any of your appointments!"
We discussed last week how the lust for honor blinds a person's perception.
This week we see the disastrous effects of jealousy. As a single grain of
sand shuts down the effectiveness of the whole eye, even a tinge of jealousy
brings an intellectual blindness to the way we perceive a situation.
"Is it a small thing that Hashem has separated you from the rest of Yisroel
to serve in the Mishkan (as Levites)? [16:9]", Moshe said to them. Every
person is unique, with unique contributions to make to this world. Each
individual is given what is necessary in order to make those contributions.
I have what I need and I need what I have. When the world is viewed in such
a way, there is no place for jealousy.
My oldest son is graduating elementary school this year. I attended a
meeting with the Rosh Yeshiva (dean) of a local Yeshiva high school. He
discussed how he loathes when parents asks how their son is doing relative
to the rest of the class. The question must be how the child is doing
relative to himself...
People spend so much time and energy thinking 'what will be if', when that
same time and energy would be much more effectively focused toward 'what can
I best do with what I have'. My wife and I are blessed with six children,
first five boys and then a girl. At times when the house can get a bit
hectic, we envisage how much quiet time we'll have to spend together when
the children all get older. We very quickly catch ourselves and remind each
other that at that time, we'll sit and reminisce how great and exciting it
was with all of the kids around.
The Yeshiva where I teach just ended its academic year. Toward the end, many
boys find it hard to apply themselves as they're so excited about returning
home after having been in Israel for the year. I try to remind them that
when they're back home, they'll be reminiscing about how great it was being
in Yeshiva and having all of the guys around. The time here is spent
thinking about being there, and the time there is spent thinking about being
In the Mishna (Avos 2:17) Rabi Yosi teaches: the property of your friend
should be as dear to you as your own. Besides the obvious message, there are
those who learn an additional point. His property should be as dear to you
as your own but not more dear! So often, when someone else has it, it seems
so great. I must have the same thing. Once we do have it, it seems to lose
its luster. His property should be as dear as our own and our own as dear as
his. We must appreciate what we have and where we are.
The story is told of a stonecutter who would hew stones from the mountain.
"Ping, ping", was the sound of his pick against the hard stone. "Why must I
break my back to feed myself and my family?", he would bemoan his fate.
"Others have such an easy life and for me it's so hard."
One day, as he was perched on the mountain, hammering his pick into its
crevices, he heard a loud commotion coming from down below. The king and his
entourage were passing by and a throng of people had gathered to see their
king. The king looked so splendid in his royal robes, sitting in the royal
coach drawn by elegant white horses.
"I wish I was the king", mused the stonecutter, and ~~poof~~ he suddenly
found himself sitting in the royal coach with crowds of admirers straining
to get a look at him. "Ah, this is the life, I'm the king, the most powerful
in all of the world!", he thought.
After a while he started to feel very uncomfortable. The sun was beating
down on him and his royal polyester outfit. Being king was starting to lose
its luster. He realized that the king was not as powerful as he had thought.
Even the king was powerless before the sun.
"I want to be the most powerful, I want to be the sun", he thought, and
~~poof~~ he was radiating light and warmth to the entire world. "Ah, this is
the life, I'm the sun, the most powerful in all of the world."
He sat there majestically, directed his rays here and there at will.
Suddenly, a group of clouds moved beneath him, obstructing his light. He
focused his energy as hard as he could, but he couldn't pierce the clouds.
He realized that the sun was not as powerful as he had thought. Even the sun
was powerless before the clouds.
"I want to be the most powerful, I want to be the clouds", he thought, and
~~poof~~ he was dumping rain wherever he wished, haughtily blocking the
sun's rays. "Ah, this is the life, I'm the clouds, the most powerful in all
of the world."
He floated about enjoying the view when suddenly, he found himself being
blown by a strong gust of wind. He quickly realized that he was no longer in
control and was at the mercy of the wind. The clouds were not as powerful as
he had thought. Even the clouds were powerless before the winds.
"I want to be the most powerful, I want to be the wind", he thought, and
~~poof~~ he was churning waves in the ocean and blowing off hats in the
city. "Ah, this is the life, I'm the wind, the most powerful in all of the
He flew and blew at will -- nothing stood in his way -- and felt his awesome
power. Suddenly, he came across a mountain. Try as he might, he had to go
around the mountain -- it could not be moved. The wind was not as powerful
as he had thought. Even the wind was powerless before the mountain.
"I want to be the most powerful, I want to be the mountain", he thought, and
~~poof~~ he stood majestically with his peak transcending the clouds. "Ah,
this is the life, I'm the mountain, the most powerful in all of the world."
As he sat there in his splendor, he suddenly felt a sharp pain in his
shoulder. "Ping, ping", was the sound of the stonecutter's pick against his
stone. The pain was unbearable. The mountain was not as powerful as he had
thought. It stood powerless before the stonecutter.
"I want to be the most powerful, I want to be a stonecutter", he thought,
and ~~poof~~ he was perched on the mountain, hammering his pick into its
This is dedicated to the memory and z'chus (merit) of my sister, Devorah
Pesel bas Asher Chaim, a"h, whose yahrtzeit was the thirtieth of Sivan.
Though it is beyond our comprehension, she in her short lifetime
accomplished what she needed to accomplish. At that exact moment, her
neshama (soul) returned to its true place.
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi Yisroel Ciner
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author teaches at Neveh Tzion in
Telzstone (near Yerushalayim).