Korach: Don’t Fight!
Korach: Don’t Fight!
Volume XVIII, No. 34
30 Sivan 5764
June 19, 2004
Sponsored by Rikki and Nat Lewin
on the 63rd yahrzeit of Nat’s grandfather, the “Reisher Rav”
Harav Aharon ben Harav Noson Lewin z”l hy”d
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Bechorot 7
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Nedarim 16
In this week’s parashah, we read of Korach’s uprising against Moshe and Aharon. In Pirkei Avot (chapter 5) we learn: “Any machloket / dispute that is for the sake of Heaven will stand. Any machloket that is not for the sake of Heaven will not stand. What is a machloket that is for the sake of Heaven? The halachic disagreements in the Talmud between Hillel and Shammai. What is a machloket that is not for the sake of Heaven? The dispute of Korach and his cohorts.”
R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach z”l observes: This Mishnah seems to imply that the disputes between Hillel and Shammai are fundamentally comparable to the machloket of Korach and his cohorts, except that the former were for the sake of Heaven and the latter was not. Is that really true?
R’ Auerbach explains: All machloket is inherently bad (hence the similarity between the disputes of Hillel and Shammai and the dispute of Korach and his band). Thus, our Sages have taught (in the very last teaching in all of Mishnah): “Hashem found no better vessel for holding blessing than peace.” Indeed, Bnei Yisrael merited to receive the Torah only because they were: “As one man, with one heart.” (See Shemot 19:2 and Rashi.)
However, if a machloket is for the sake of Heaven, then it has the potential to ultimately increase unity. Specifically through this machloket, each participant’s attachment to the Torah is revealed and is strengthened. And, that attachment forges a common bond between the disputants, thus leaving them as closer friends. (Quoted in Avot Mi’Shulchan Rabbotainu)
“He spoke to Korach and to his entire assembly, saying, `In the morning G-d will make known the one who is His own and the holy one, and He will draw him close to Himself, and whomever He will choose, He will draw close to Himself’.” (16:5)
The above is the standard–and at first glance, simplest-translation of our verse. However, notes R’ Aharon Lewin z”l hy”d (rabbi of Rzeszow, Poland and member of the Polish Senate; killed in the Holocaust), this translation is problematic. In particular, the phrase “whomever He will choose, He will draw close to Himself” appears to be redundant after the verse has already stated, “G-d will make known the one who is His own and the holy one, and He will draw him close to Himself.”
Accordingly, R’ Lewin suggests the following alternative reading of the pasuk: In the first half of the verse we read that G-d will select the “holy one”- either Aharon or Korach. The second half of the verse does not mean, “whomever He (G-d) will choose (either Aharon or Korach), He will draw close to Himself.” That would be redundant. Rather, the phrase should be translated: “whomever will choose him (i.e., whomever will choose to stand with the `holy one’ that G-d chooses-either Aharon or Korach), He (G-d) will draw close to Himself.” Read this way, the verse is teaching that Hashem looks with favor upon those who attach themselves to righteous people.
Alternatively, the phrase can be translated: “whomever will choose Him (i.e., whomever will choose to stand with G-d), He (G-d) will draw close to Himself.” Read this way, the verse is teaching that Korach’s true motives were not pure as he claimed. Like so many other rebels against G-d, writes R’ Lewin, Korach insisted that he was only standing up for right and justice, for the dignity of the Jewish People and of G-d himself. We shall see! said Moshe. Tomorrow, G-d will choose the one who has truly chosen Him.
“Moshe said, ‘Through this you shall know that Hashem sent me to perform these acts, that it was not from my heart’.” (16:28)
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 generations.
“The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households, and all the people who were with Korach, and the entire wealth.” (16:32)
The Gemara relates that the sage Rabbah Bar Bar-Chanah once was traveling in the desert when an Arab offered to show him the hole into which Korach had been swallowed. Rabbah saw a fissure from which smoke was rising. He took a ball of wool, soaked it in water, and stuck in on the end of a romach / spear, and then lowered it into the hole. When he removed it, he saw that the wool had been singed by fire. The Arab told him, “Put your ear to the ground and hear what they are saying.” Rabbah did so and he heard, “Moshe is true, his Torah is true, and we are liars.”
What was Rabbah teaching by this story? R’ Yitzchak Shmelkes z”l (19th century rabbi of Lvov, Galicia) explains that Rabbah wanted to indicate the seriousness of fomenting in machloket / strife. First, he took wool, which represents tzitzit in particular and mitzvot in general. (Tzitzit, through their blue color, also remind us of the heavens, and therefore of G-d’s “Throne.”) Next, he dipped the wool in water, which is frequently used by our Sages as a metaphor for Torah. Then, he stuck the water-logged wool on the end of a romach / spear, alluding to the 248 limbs and organs of the human body. (The gematria of “romach” is 248.) By this, he represented a person whose entire being, all 248 limbs and organs, are steeped in Torah and mitzvot.
Finally, he lowered the spear into Korach’s hole and, when he removed it, it was singed by fire. This demonstrates that even if a person is entirely devoted to Torah and mitzvot, once he becomes involved in machloket, it is impossible to emerge unscathed.
(Bet Yitzchak Al Ha’Torah)
We learn in Pirkei Avot (chapter 5): “Any machloket which is for the sake of Heaven will stand. Any machloket which is not for the sake of Heaven will not stand.” At first glance, the Mishnah is stating that a machloket which is for the sake of Heaven will be ongoing. If so, this would seem to indicate that a machloket which is not for the sake of Heaven is preferable, for it will not stand!
No, says R’ Yechiel Mordechai Gordon z”l (1883-1965; rosh yeshiva in Lomza and Petach Tikvah). The Mishnah means the following: Any machloket which is for the sake of Heaven will stand still and will not expand to new venues and envelope innocent bystanders. In contrast, any machloket which is not for the sake of Heaven will not stand still. It will spread continually until many people who have no relationship to the original dispute and no business with it will be caught up in it.
(Quoted in Avot Mi’Shulchan Rabbotainu)
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 about a shul that 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 left the room so that someone else could 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.
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