Was Korach Bald?
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
"Korach, son of Yitzhar, grandson of Kehas, great-grandson of Levi ..."
What's in a JEWISH name?
One can just imagine standing around at a Bris, just as the one
honored with the pronouncement of the name of the newly circumcised
baby turns to the father to hear the name announced publicly for the
"Korach ben Yitzhar, HaLevi."
Would that not raise eyebrows? "Korach"? "Bald One?"
Perhaps he was hairless at birth, as many babies are. However, is
that any reason to give him a name that would remind him of this the
rest of his life? Hardly. Perhaps, then, Yitzhar and his wife were
prophets and knew something about the future, even though the Jewish
people were still gainlessly 'employed' in Egypt, with no hope of
The Midrash says yes, whether they knew it at the time or not (and it
is true of all parents when they give their children Jewish names).
For, in last week's parshah, as part of their inauguration ceremony
into the Temple service, all the Levi'im were shaven clean. In fact,
this is one of the 'events' that so angered Korach's wife that she
used it to 'intimidate' her husband into following through with his
The Arizal explains why:
This is why he called him 'Korach' ('Bald One'), because, Korach son
of Yitzhar also came from the root of Kayin. Now, he was called
'Korach' because all the Levi'im had been completely shaven bald,
because of the strong "din" that was in them. (Sha'ar HaGilgulim,
In other words, the removal of hair from each Levi was more than just
a cleansing process; it was also a way of softening a Levi's
propensity to be judgmental -- to be din-oriented. For, the Temple
was a place of mercy, a place representative of Divine love, not
Divine judgment, and this had to be expressed through the very people
who performed the Temple service and participated in its upkeep.
Now, Kabbalistically, hair (se'ar) represents 'din,' just as barley
(se'ora) does, which is why it was the Omer-Offering between Pesach
and Shavuos, during which time 24,000 of Rebi Akiva's students died
for less than perfect 'social' behavior.
Interestingly enough is the fact that Rebi Akiva himself was called
'Korach,' at least as a nickname:
Ben Azzai used to say of Rebi Akiva: All the chachamim of Israel are
to me like the peel of an onion, except for this "Bald One."
Without a doubt, Ben Azzai, who actually ended up marrying the
daughter of Rebi Akiva for a short while, was not speaking
disrespectfully about this great teacher of Israel. On the contrary,
Ben Azzai may have been alluding to the secret of Rebi Akiva's great
success: his ability to overcome the 'din' within himself, unlike the
original Korach before him:
.. With this you can understand the sod of Rebi Akiva, who, in the
beginning, had been a complete simpleton who, for forty years, hated
torah scholars. He would say, "If someone would give me a torah
scholar I would bite him like a donkey!' (Pesachim 49b) ... (Sha'ar
HaGilgulim, Chapter 34)
In other words,
Rebi Akiva was also from the root of Kayin, which is the 'Crown of
Gevurah,' and, as a result of his piousness, all the hairs of his
body became 'shaven' which sweetened the strength of his din. Thus,
he was called 'Korach' ... This is also the sod of why Rebi Akiva is
called "Chasid," though he was the 'Crown of Gevurah,' as the Talmud
says: They left Rebi Akiva to his piousness (Sanhedrin 110b). The
Zohar also calls him the 'Pious Elder.'
Just another glimpse into the esoteric under-currents of history,
and, a reminder once again of just how complex people can be. Perhaps
we shouldn't be SO quick to judge people, even when the Torah gives
us the right to judge their actions.
"Tomorrow, put in them fire and place upon them incense before G-d,
and the one whom G-d will chose is the holy one; you have enough
children of Levi!" (Bamidbar 16:7)
YOU HAVE ENOUGH CHILDREN OF LEVI: Korach had been a very smart man,
so why did he act so foolishly? He erred in that he saw a great
lineage coming from him from which would descend Shmuel who would
equal Moshe and Aharon. Therefore, he said, "Because of him I will
This is a great example of how a little bit of (future) knowledge can
be a dangerous thing. According to the midrash Rashi is quoting, it
seems as if Korach might have lacked sufficient confidence to
challenge Moshe and his leadership had he not been somewhat aware of
the future birth of the great prophet Shmuel, destined to descend
from his family.
This 'fact,' Korach took to be, was confirmation that whatever path
he would choose would be the correct one. Otherwise, why would such a
great descendant emanate from him? HOW could such a great descendant
emanate from him, for, it he was wrong in his challenge against Moshe
Rabbeinu, would he not suffer horrible consequences that would
prevent him from be the ancestor of Shmuel HaNavi?
History has supplied the answers to Korach's questions, and, they
were not what Korach himself imagined them to be. Indeed, what Korach
did NOT see, but Moshe Rabbeinu DID see was that Korach's own sons
would divorce themselves from his rebellion at the last moment, and
therefore, Shmuel became destined to descend from one of them, while
Korach himself 'descended' into the depths of the earth.
The Arizal, in Sha'ar HaGilgulim (33) once again provides a deeper
look into what actually happened at such a difficult and confusing
moment in Jewish history (the parenthetical comments are mine):
Korach son of Yitzhar was from the level of the Ruach of Kayin from
the side of evil, as the verse indicates, "And Korach took" (Bamidbar
(There are five parts to the soul, from the bottom up: Nefesh, Ruach,
Neshamah, Chiyah and Yechidah. As the Arizal explains, one of the
main consequences of Adam HaRishon's sin was the mixture of good and
evil, even on the level of the lower souls. Thus, there are 'good'
and 'evil' parts to a soul, both of which can reincarnate into
different people through history. In this case ...)
This evil Ruach of Kayin was enclothed within him, and therefore, he
accused Hevel his brother, Moshe Rabbeinu.
(As it is well-known, Moshe Rabbeinu was the reincarnation of Hevel,
However, Yisro, though he too was also from Kayin, as it says,
"Chever the Kenite separated from Kenites (kuf-yud-nun)" (Shoftim
4:11), was from the level of good of Kayin. Therefore, he gave his
daughter Tziporah to Moshe, was good to him, and fed him bread.
(As Rashi points out at the beginning of Parashas Yisro, one of
Yisro's names was 'Chever HaKini,' the 'Kini' -- kuf-yud-nun-yud --
part being allusion to 'Kayin' --kuf-yud-nun, thus showing that his
soul too came from Kayin.)
Korach thought he had rectified Kayin the firstborn ...
(To whom the priesthood rightfully belongs, for which Korach was fighting.)
... and therefore, he tried to overcome Moshe, who was Hevel.
However, he had erred in this, for, the tikun of Kayin could not have
come through Korach, since he was from his evil side. Rather, it come
only come through his descendant, Shmuel HaNavi, who was also from
the good side of Kayin.
(That is, even though Shmuel HaNavi physically descended from Korach,
still, his soul came from another place in Kayin.)
Chazal have said that Korach prophesized but did not know, because he
saw a fire go out from him (Tanchuma, Korach 5) ... (Sha'ar
HaGilgulim, Chapter 33)
That is, the fire coming out of him symbolized the 'fire' of Torah
and devotion to G-d of the future Shmuel HaNavi. And, yes, Shmuel was
going to be his descendant, but no, it was not to be from him, but
from an already existing son.
Therefore, unbeknownst to Korach at the time was the 'missing' piece
of information that by challenging Moshe Rabbeinu he had indeed put
himself into mortal and spiritual danger. He tried to hint this to
Korach when he ended with the words, "you have enough children of
And, had Korach taken the hint and kept his peace, then, even the
'evil' part of Kayin's soul within him would have achieved
rectification. Had he swallowed his pride, he could have avoided
being swallowed by the earth, just as Hevel's blood was 'swallowed'
by the earth after Kayin murdered Hevel.
Moshe called for Dasan and Aviram, sons of Eliav, but they told him,
"We will not come to you. Does it mean nothing that you have brought
out of the land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us in the
desert, just to make yourself prince over us?" (Bamidbar 16:12-13)
Does chutzpah know no bounds? Not when it came to Dasan and Aviram,
who went back a long way with Moshe Rabbeinu.
In fact, remember this:
After some time, when Moshe was grown, he went out to his brothers
and saw their burdens. He saw an Egyptian beating a Jew, one of his
brothers. He looked both ways, and when he saw that no one was
around, he killed the Egyptian, and buried him in the sand. The next
day when he went out, he saw two Jews fighting with each an-other,
and said to the evil one, "Why do you hit your fellow?" He answered,
"Who made you a noble, an officer, or a judge over us? Do you in-tend
to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?" (Shemos 2:11-14)
The 'evil one' was none other than Dasan, who was trying to hit his
brother-in-law, Aviram (Devarim Rabbah 2:12), with whom he had been
quarreling. And yet, it was just yesterday that the young Moshe had
saved Dasan's life, who had been in the process of being beaten to
death by the Egyptian taskmaster Moshe had killed in Dasan's defense.
That's gratitude for you!
And what had Dasan and Aviram been arguing about? Dasan's wife, and
Aviram's sister, Shlomis bas Divri (mentioned later in Vayikra
24:11)-- whom had been defiled by the Egyptian who had been trying to
kill Dasan the day before, and whom Moshe had killed instead. Dasan,
knowing the facts, wanted to divorce his wife, while Aviram, knowing
that she had not been violated willingly, insisted that they remain
Moshe had walked in just as Dasan was about to express his will in
physical terms, and this time, saved Aviram from blows.
What was their response to Moshe's interference? BOTH of them turned
on Moshe together, and even reported to Paroah that he had killed the
Egyptian (Yalkut Shimoni 1:167), forcing him to flee Egypt. Nice
guys, this Dasan and Aviram, no?
Then of course there was the episode of the manna. Moshe Rabbeinu had
taught the Jewish nation what G-d had told him:
Moshe said, "Eat [the remainder] today, because today is G-d's [day];
today you will not find it in the field. Six days you will collect
it, but on the seventh day, which is the Sabbath, there will be
none." However, some of the people tried on the sev-enth day to
collect some, but found none. (Shemos 16:25)
So what did Dasan and Aviram do? In advance of Shabbos, they even
went out and spread some manna over the ground to make sure those
lacking faith could find some the next day, and make Moshe look like
a liar! That's why G-d sent the birds in to eat it all up, leaving
the manna in THEIR mouths and the egg on Dasan's and Aviram's faces.
However, before we shake our heads in disgust at Dasan and Aviram, we
should recall the warning of the Talmud:
Had the Torah not been given to Israel, no nation or people could
stand before them, and this is like what Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish
said: Three are brazen: Israel amongst the nations, a dog amongst
wild animals, and, a rooster amongst the birds ... (Beitzah 25b)
What a group to be numbered amongst! However, Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish
wasn't simply heaping a burning insult onto his own people, but
offering a warning to the Jews of history: Without Torah, there is a
Dasan and Aviram in just about all of us. This week's parshah
completes the warning, reminding us of the final fate of two of the
greatest of instigators the Jewish people have ever produced.
Part Four: Holy Sparks
Before discussing Yemos HaMoshiach, there is yet another concept that
is important to understand regarding the 'End-of-Days.'
The Torah begins with Day One of history, when G-d ended primordial
chaos and darkness with the creation of primordial light. The rest is
history, of which we are a part. What happened before the first
'bais' of 'Bereishis'? That the Torah does not discuss, giving the
impression that we are not to know.
However, that is not the case, for, what happened prior to creation
is the subject of the deepest parts of Kabbalah (the 'aleph' before
the 'bais,' so-to-speak), explained by the Zohar, and, later, by the
Arizal. In short, it is a discussion about how completely spiritual
'light' was guided by the will of G-d to produce, eventually, the
quite physical world we live in, and, the spiritual world that
Abstract, technical, and complex are gross understatements to
describe this part of Torah learning. However, a very simplified
version of how creation came into being and remains that way involves
a discussion of 'Nitzutzei Kedushah' -- 'Sparks of Holiness.'
I have said it this way because it is easier to relate to 'holy
sparks' than it is to 'sparks of holiness.' 'Sparks' sound physical,
and, we can appreciate that the physical can be imbued with holiness.
However, how can you package an abstract reality of holiness up as a
spark, as something physical?
The answer is, you don't, because Nitzutzei Kedushah are not
physical. But, somehow, it is such 'packets' of spiritual 'energy'
that make all of physicality possible, and keep it running. Somehow,
they imbue all of physical creation with life enough to exist, and
more, when deemed by G-d. They may be 'sparks of holiness,' but they
are really 'sparks of life.'
Joining pre-creation towards the end (just prior to creation itself),
there existed a 'pool,' if you will, of a finite number of Nitzutzei
Kedushah. Finite in as much as they have a Divinely-ordained, exact
limit, but, if you would have seen them at the time, they would have
appeared infinite, being so many in number.
The duration of history -- the true measure of time -- is the 'using
up' of Nitzutzei Kedushah. The goal of existence is, through
free-will choice, to make decisions and expend energy in such a way
as to draw on these sparks and expend them in the most
In other words, Nitzutzei Kedushah are to life and living what
gasoline is to an automobile -- the fuel and potential to do
something. Thus, the entire 'pool' of Nitzutzei Kedushah represents
the entire pool of human potential throughout all of history --
potential to do either good or evil (just as a car can be used for a
mitzvah or a sin).
To make creation, G-d 'drew' from the same pool of sparks, and
brought creation close to perfection. Adam HaRishon, had he CHOSEN to
abstain from eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil for
three hours, would have drawn on the balance of the sparks, and would
have participated in the completing and perfecting of creation.
Of course, he didn't. And, as a result, not only did he NOT use up
the balance of the sparks left over by G-d when making creation, but,
he even reversed some of what G-d had done, and, tragically, returned
many previously perfected sparks back to the pool of impurity from
which they had been drawn and purified. A sin can do just that.
As a result, what could have been accomplished over the course of
three hours at the beginning of history has still not even been
accomplished over 5,761 years! We are still very much working on it
-- the rectification of Adam HaRishon's sin -- and the Final
Redemption can and will only come once the last spark is spent.
'Working on it,' ideally, means performing mitzvos. Mitzvos are able
to draw sparks out of the 'Impure Depths,' cleanse them, and return
them to their place in the Sefiros (thus life is like an upside-down
hour-glass). The greater the mitzvah, the more sparks that are spent,
like putting your foot on a spiritual gas pedal. It brings redemption
Performing a sin, G-d forbid, also requires Nitzutzei Kedushah.
However, a sin 'drags' them through the world of impurity,
necessitating a spiritual cleansing process before they can ascend to
their rightful place in the Sefiros. That is the power of 'teshuvah'
-- sincere repentance for sinning -- or, the pain of punishment,
which acts as atonement.
Whether only the individual sinner is affected or others as well
depends upon many factors, such as, how many sins, how great the
A crucial dynamic here is that the exhaustion of Nitzutzei Kedushah
is not an open-ended matter. There is a fixed time-limit by which all
the sparks MUST be used up, determined by the Divine will. In other
words, there is a LAST POSSIBLE DATE by which Moshiach MUST COME
(called 'b'ittah' -- 'in its time' --by the prophet Yeshayahu) within
the 6,000 years of history, for Kabbalistically-mathematical reasons
built into the Sefiros.
Thus, then, there are really only TWO possible scenarios for world
history. The first is that mankind, through free-will choices and
positive actions, consume all the possible remaining Sparks of
Holiness in advance of this 'Final Date.' Then what? Then Moshiach
comes early, a date in history referred to by the prophet Yeshayahu
as 'achishenah' -- 'I will hasten it.'
It is unlikely that the world will finish its task precisely at the
last moment possible. It is possible, but, unlikely.
So, then, what happens if the date of the Final Redemption approaches
before mankind has successfully exhausted the sufficient amount of
sparks to warrant such a fantastic redemption? The redemption is
pushed off? Not possible. The sparks go unused? Equally impossible.
Back to the car analogy: What happens when you are driving and you
are behind schedule to arrive at your destination? Exactly -- you
step on the gas pedal and speed up.
However, speeding up while driving is more dangerous and adds stress
to the car, not to mention to the driver and passengers. Likewise,
'speeding up' in history is also dangerous for mankind and it also
adds stress to the entire world -- to say the least -- as we have
witnessed throughout history, and, as we are realizing now at this
late stage of time.
For, what we did not demand of ourselves over a longer, more
'relaxed' period of time becomes demanded of us over a shorter,
quicker, more intense period of time.
Another analogy. Imagine an Olympic athlete who has fallen behind in
his training schedule. Had he begun his training on time, and
maintained the curriculum religiously, he might have even enjoyed the
progression from state of fitness and readiness to state of fitness
and readiness. Instead, he has only two choices: drop out of the
running, or, greatly intensify the balance of the schedule.
For the sake of this discussion, we will assume that he has chosen
the latter decision. As a result, his diet is stricter, his exercise
is more intense, and, his trainer is probably going to be more
ruthless to 'whip' him into shape. He'll probably hate every minute
of it, though, it will all be for his own good, and, the result of
his own carelessness.
Now, the trainer could take a different approach. He could take the
'Mr. Nice Guy' approach, and feed the athlete whatever he wants to
eat, let him exercise however much he wants to, and never pressure
him the rest of the training schedule. It's the 'Chesed-approach,'
which, more than likely, will fail dismally at that late stage of the
game. It simply assumes too much about human nature and
responsibility in such situations.
On the contrary, it is the 'ruthlessness' of the trainer that will
make it work in the end. It is his 'Koach-HaGevuros' -- his
strong-hand approach -- that will 'force' the potential Olympic
athlete to make up for lost time and put the extra 'umph' into his
training in order for him to be prepared by the 'fixed date' up the
upcoming Olympics. It is the positive channeling of the trainer's
'negative' energy that will make the athlete burn up the sufficient
energy to be ready for his moment of glory at the scheduled
So it is the same with mankind and history.
However, the analogy is not finished yet. Should the athlete build on
the will of his trainer, and take even more responsibility for
himself, recognizing the need to make up for lost training, he can
soften the 'Gevuros' of the trainer. For, it is easier to be 'pushed'
by our own will, than by that of another.
And that is PRECISELY where the Jewish people stand today. History is
coming to a close, and, there are more Nitzutzei Kedushah remaining
than is supposed to be at this very late stage. This is evident by
the 'Gevuros' being imposed upon the Jewish people all over --
terrorism, severe illness, assimilation, negative growth, etc.
The date for the Final Redemption is immutable, and, waiting another
'few years' for the 'next one' is, of course, not realistic. We've
done that all along with potential early dates -- achishenah -- but,
it is impossible with the Final Date. The pain we feel today is the
'crunch' of General History coming into hard contact with our
particular history, like cars colliding.
To speed up, or to be sped up, that is the question. However, how we
answer that question, either through intensified yearning for G-d and
all things Jewish, or, by simply throwing ourselves at the mercy of
the 'Trainer,' will determine the severity of the events -- such as
the prophesied 'War of Gog and Magog' --and their outcome from this
The War of Gog and Magog, whatever it will be and whomever it will
involve will, undoubtedly, be a frightening example of Gevuros
(temporarily) in control of history. Logically, then, the extent of
such a war will be entirely dependent upon how many Nitzutzei
Kedushah remain at the end of history as we know it. If that is not a
wake-up call, 'Children of Israel,' then what is?