The ONLY Half Of The Story
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
The first line of Rashi on this week's parsha says it all: This
parsha is elucidated well in the Midrash Tanchuma.
It is a rare statement for Rashi to make. Rashi's role, as he says
periodically, is to explain the possukim according to their simple
understanding. Occasionally, he will rely upon midrash (exegetical
teachings) to explain a verse or two. However, rarely will he place so much
emphasis on midrashim to explain the simple meaning of what is going on. The
fact that he does so here is indicative of just how complicated this parsha
is to understand!
What's so difficult about this week's parsha? As long as there has
been a Jewish nation, there has always been rebellion in the ranks at some
point. It seems as if it is true: to be Jewish is to be political ... Who
else can have two Jews and three presidents?
The problem with Korach's rebellion is twofold: how could he
challenge Moshe, G-d's hand-chosen leader, and how could he do it with the
Presence of G-d hovering above so close? Logic would dictate that this was
more than a matter of chutzpah; it seems as if they had in fact gone mad,
and lived with a death wish! As one reads the parsha, one can hear a little
voice in the background saying, "Do you know what you're asking for?!"
The truth is, it wasn't so simple. It has to be remembered that we
are looking at events in the Torah through the eyes of the Torah, as G-d saw
and recorded them. However, had we been there at the time, it is not so
obvious that WE would have acted differently. After all, he did take some of
the greatest men of his generation down with him ... This is why the Torah
had to emphasize that WE should not become like Korach and his group.
Not only did the Torah emphasize this, but the rabbis reiterated the
Any argument that is for the sake of Heaven will result in a
constructive outcome; but one not for
the sake of Heaven will not have a constructive outcome. What is an
example of a dispute that
was for the sake of Heaven? The dispute between Hillel and Shammai.
And which was not for
the sake of Heaven? The dispute of Korach and his company.
What is important to point out is that the above teaching is not
parallel. In the case of the dispute for truth's sake, both sides of the
disagreement are mentioned (Hillel AND Shammai). However, in the example of
a disagreement for selfish reasons, only one side of the dispute is
mentioned: Korach and his followers! The mishah doesn't bother to even
mention Moshe as his rival in the argument!
The truth is, the reason for this omission is alluded to in the
first verse of the parsha:
And Korach, the son of Yitzhar, the son of Kehas ben Levi took ...
He took what? The possuk never finishes its thought, not quite
telling us what Korach took! However, Targum Onkeles interprets the word
"took" here to me he set himself apart, that is, he took HIMSELF. In other
words, Korach was "taken" with himself and convinced that he had a case
against Moshe, and that he was really the champion of the rest of the
people. As He demanded,
"All of us are holy! Why do you [Moshe] lord yourself over the rest
However, the Torah is hinting, the truth was that he was so caught
up in his OWN sense of mission that even though he challenged Moshe, the
truth was, it didn't make a difference WHO he challenged! In the end, he was
simply arguing, and his own sense of self-righteousness convinced him that
it was his RIGHT to speak up and challenge Moshe's appointment of Aharon as
the Kohen Gadol.
This is why the mishnah omitted Moshe's name from the disagreement,
to teach us the tell-tale sign of an argument that is less than altruistic:
when there is no respect for the other side (even when it is authoratative).
In fact, what the Torah and the mishnah are really alluding to is that
Korach had not, in fact, challenged Moshe, but G-d Himself! For, anytime an
argument is based upon false assumptions and insincere motivations, it is an
affront to truth, and that means it is directed against G-d.
The frightening thing about all of this is that Korach came from
fine stock. He himself had been a brilliant man, steeped in Torah and
possessing the finest lineage. And, as if that weren't enough, the entire
disagreement took place with G-d looking down from Above!
It may be hard to understand in retrospect how Korach could have
doubted Moshe's sincerity and Divine authority, but, at least we can draw
one very important lesson. If it could happen to someone like Korach, could
it not happen to us too, especially in a generation within which the Divine
Presence is not so manifest?
If you're going to take sides in a disagreement, make sure you know
what your innermost motivation is. If you want your opinion to make a
difference in the long run, and gain the support of G-d as opposed to the
wrath of G-d, make sure THE truth is your bottom line.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The Torah doesn't tell us much about Korach, and how he had built up
his sense of confidence to challenge Moshe in the end. However, the Talmud
does provide some insight into what made Korach tick, so-to-speak:
" ... And the earth opened her mouth wide, and swallowed them up,
their houses, their tents,
and all the substance that was at their feet ..." (Devarim 11:6)
The Talmud explains that Korach had become a very wealthy man. Some
of the riches that Yosef had collected in Egypt while viceroy and which he
had later hidden, Korach had found. And being so rich, he gained respect in
his own eyes and in the eyes of others, as is often the case with wealthy
people. Yet, ironically, it was his riches that created within him a drive
to have more. This is one of the reasons this episode follows in the wake of
last week's mitzvah of tzitzis, which warned, "Don't go after your heart and
The substance that was at their feet ... This refers to a
man's property, which stand him on
his feet. (Pesachim 119a)
Now, according to Judaism, money is NOT the root of evil. However,
it does provide one very dangerous stumbling block in terms of rising to
greater heights of spirituality. This is why the Torah states:
Be careful with the poor, for it is from their mouths that Torah
will emanate. (Nedarim 81a)
Does this mean the Torah advocates poverty? The answer is YES, and
NO. How typically Talmudic! However,the resolution of this conflict can be
found embodied in the life of one of the greatest rabbis of all time, Rebi
Yehudah HaNasi, or "Rebi," as he was known.
The Talmud teaches that Rebi had been a very, very rich person. Even
in off-seasons, the best of foods could be found on his table. He owned
stables and properties, and even had the respect and admiration of the Roman
Emperor of that time, Antoninius. However, on his deathbed, the Talmud tells
us, Rebi held up his little finger and said, "It is known to Heaven that I
took no pleasure even for this little finger!"
Ah, excuse me for a moment, Rebi. I don't mean to pry, but what
about the famous and lavish banquets? What about the tremendous horses and
stables? What about the fine and princely clothing you wore? Did you derive
no pleasure from any of that?
The answer is, no, at least not directly.
To Rebi, all of his riches were Heaven-sent. To Rebi, he had not
merely become one of the wealthiest men of his time; he had become wealthy
with a mission, and that mission was to secure the fate of the Jewish nation
that was depressed and lost after the destruction of the Second Temple. That
mission was to guarantee that Torah did not become a byword of generations
gone by. Rebi saw himself as a crucial link between the glory of Torah of
the past, and the glory of Torah that was still yet to be. Therefore, every
single cent he owned was simply his expense account to bring about his most
important contribution to the Jewish people: the redaction of the Oral Law
(today we refer to it as the mishnah).
What Rebi spent he did so to accomplish this task. He understood
that he had access to all kinds of money, but, he saw the money as belonging
to G-d, and himself, as a servant of the King with an expense account. This
is why, on the day of his death, he was able to provide his accounting for
all that he had spent without fear of being accused of any kind of
extortion, on any level. Any pleasure he had derived from what he enjoyed in
this world in his position had been the by-product, not the goal of what he
had tried to accomplish, and it was this to what he referred when he held up
his little finger.
YES, riches provide power and influence. But they also destroy
one's connection to spirituality when the person in possession of them uses
them to define himself or herself. In such a case, the independence is not
true independence, but "borrowed" independence. And rather than leave the
person with a sense of contentment, instead, the riches result in an even
greater drive to have more, and more, and more ...
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
There really is so much to discuss and understand, especially when
it comes to parshios like this one. However, one insight instantly reveals
just how deeply "rooted" the fight between Korach and Moshe was:
|100 + 200 + 8
||5 + 2 + 30
Now, I know what you're thinking: SO WHAT! There must be a dozen, if
not thousands of such gematrios (numerical calculations; every letter of the
Hebrew Aleph-Bais represents a pre-assigned number, so that each word can be
reduced to a numerical value by adding up the value of each of its letters,
which is what was done above; hence, Moshe (mem: 40, shin: 300, heh: 5)
totals 345). What kind of connection exists between Korach, Hevel, and
I'll tell you what kind of connection exists between these three
people: they are really TWO people! And not only are they two people, but
they happen to have once been two very related people: Kayin and Hevel (Cain
According to the Arizal (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria), Korach was the
reincarnation of Kayin, and Moshe was the reincarnation of Hevel. This
means that Moshe and Korach's dispute was really the final chapter of an old
one, the one that took place between Kayin and Hevel shortly after being
expelled from the Garden of Eden. And guess what? Whereas the "mouth" of the
earth had "swallowed" the blood of Hevel after Kayin had killed him,
measure-for-measure, in this week's parsha, it is the same earth that
swallowed up Korach himself (a.k.a. Kayin)-twenty-seven generations later!
The only question is, if Korach had been Kayin, and Moshe was
Hevel, then why does Moshe's name total Korach AND Hevel combined?
The answer to this question came two parshios ago. At the end of
Parashas BeHa'alosecha, G-d referred to Moshe as His "most trusted servant
in His house," enjoying exclusive privileges hitherto unknown to any other
prophet. But, in the same breath, the Torah had also described Moshe as the
"humblest man to ever walk the face of the earth." Hence, embodied in Moshe
was the confidence of a Kayin and a Korach, which was tempered by the
humility of a Hevel. That's why Moshe could maintain such a position of
prominence, and yet never lord himself over any other Jew.
Now, at least on some level, we can appreciate why Rashi relegated
the "simple" understanding of this week's parsha to midrashim. For, the true
reason why Korach stumbled so tragically, and all the great men and women
whom he took down with him, was because they hadn't gone deep enough into
the matter, and into their hearts.
As we learned from last week's parsha, and again from this week's,
the surface of any understanding can be very deceiving. It is a lesson for
the ages as well.
Have a wonderful and PEACEFUL Shabbos,
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston
and Project Genesis, Inc.
Rabbi Winston is a teacher and author of many books on Jewish philosophy
(hashkofa). If you enjoy Rabbi Winston's Perceptions on the
Parsha, you may enjoy many of his books.
Copyright © 1995-1998
Project Genesis, Inc.
6810 Park Heights Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21215
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Ramban: Why was Parshas Nedarim given over specifically to "Roshei haMatos?"