Volume 33, No.38
3 Tammuz 5779
July 6, 2019
Dr. and Mrs. Irving Katz
on the yahrzeit of his mother
Sarah bat Yitzchak Hakohen a”h
Nathan and Rikki Lewin
on the yahrzeit of his grandfather
Harav Aharon ben Harav Nosson Lewin z”l Hy”d
(the Reisher Rav)
In this week’s Parashah, we read about the Machloket / quarrel that Korach and his followers instigated with Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon Ha’kohen. The Mishnah (Avot ch.5) points to this dispute as the paradigm of a Machloket that was conducted She’lo L’shem Shamayim / not for the sake of Heaven. In contrast, the Mishnah points to the disagreements between the Sages Hillel and Shammai (and their Yeshivot, Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai) as the paradigms of Machloket L’shem Shamayim / disagreements for the sake of Heaven.
What defines a Machloket as L’shem Shamayim or not L’shem Shamayim? R’ Zachariah Gelley z”l (1933-2018; Rosh Yeshiva in Sunderland, England; later, rabbi of K’hal Adath Jeshurun/ “Breuer’s” in New York) explains: Hillel and Shammai (and their students) had only one goal–to understand what is written in the Torah. Their relentless pursuit of the truth led them to sometimes disagree; however, if one side proved that its view was correct, the other side gave in (see, for example, Gittin 41b). That is what happens when the goal is discovering the truth. Korach, in contrast, was interested in what he wanted, not in the truth. He cared only about proving that his viewpoint was correct.
R’ Gelley adds: Midrash Rabbah relates that Korach refused to reply when Moshe addressed him. Korach knew that he could never best Moshe in a debate, so he chose to keep silent. In contrast, King David writes (Tehilim 119:99), “I have learned from all who taught me.” One whose only interest is ascertaining the truth is not afraid to engage with, and learn from, everyone–even from his students (see Ta’anit 7a). (Quoted in Yeshurun Vol.40 p.644)
“They gathered together against Moshe and against Aharon and said to them, ‘It is too much for you! For the entire assembly–all of them–are holy and Hashem is among them; why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of Hashem?’” (16:3)
Rashi z”l explains Korach’s argument: “For the entire assembly are holy”–They all heard the Dibrot / utterances on Sinai from the mouth of the Almighty. [Until here from Rashi]
R’ Meir Leibush Weiser z”l (1809-1879; Poland, Romania, and Ukraine; known as “Malbim”) asks: Korach’s argument seemingly proves Moshe’s supremacy over Bnei Yisrael, for Bnei Yisrael heard only the first two Dibrot directly from Hashem, while Moshe heard all ten! What was Korach arguing?
Malbim explains: In his compilation on the Halachot of Avodah Zarah, Rambam z”l describes the origins of idolatry. He writes that in the time of Enosh, grandson of Adam, people began to believe that Hashem is too great to concern Himself with our world; therefore, they believed, man must pray to Hashem’s entourage, i.e., angels and heavenly bodies.
The Torah (Bereishit 4:26) describes this event with the words: “Then they began to call in the Name of Y-K-V-K [the four-letter Name of Hashem that we do not pronounce].” Malbim explains: The Name Y-K-V-K is a contraction of the Hebrew words, “He was, He is, and He will be.” Thus, it refers to Hashem as the G-d of all of history, but not necessarily having any connection to mankind. In contrast, the name A-D-N-Y, which means “My Master,” indicates a connection between Him and us. In the generation of Enosh, the Torah is teaching, they called G-d only by the Name Y-K-V-K, not by the Name A-D-N-Y. They felt distant from Him and began to pray to His entourage instead of to Him.
Malbim continues: The first two Dibrot counter the views of those idolators. “I am Y-K-V-K, your Elokim . . . You shall not give recognition to any of the ‘powers’ that serve before Me.” When Korach said that all the people heard these two Dibrot, he was not arguing that Bnei Yisrael were holy merely because they heard these words from Hashem. He was aware, of course, that Moshe Rabbeinu had heard all ten Dibrot directly. Rather, Korach meant: “We all heard the first two Dibrot. We all heard Hashem say that we should not give recognition to any of the ‘powers’ that serve before Him. Why, then, do you expect us to honor you?”
Malbim adds: It is true that Hashem created laws of nature which seem to operate independently, thus making it appear that Hashem is aloof from the world. However, He also created a form of interaction with the world in which He is actively involved–for example, when He performs open miracles. This relationship is what He created on Shabbat, when He “rested” from creating nature. (Eretz Chemdah)
“Do this – Take for yourselves fire-pans–Korach and his entire assembly. Put fire in them and place incense upon them before Hashem tomorrow. Then, the man whom Hashem will choose–he is the holy one. It is too much for you, offspring of Levi!” (16:7)
Rashi writes: Korach was not a fool. Why, then, did he go ahead with this test? Korach saw in a prophetic vision that a line of great men would descend from him, amongst them the prophet Shmuel, who is considered equal in some respects to Moshe and Aharon together (see Tehilim 99:6 and Berachot 31b). Therefore, Korach said to himself, “On his (Shmuel’s) account, I shall escape the punishment.” [Until here from Rashi]
R’ Shaul Yisraeli z”l (1909-1995; rabbi of Kfar Ha’roeh, Israel and a Rosh Yeshiva in Yeshivat Merkaz Harav) comments: This is both amazing and frightening at the same time. Korach used Ruach Ha’kodesh / Divine inspiration to see that the prophet Shmuel would descend from him, and that very vision led him to instigate the fight that is considered the paradigmatic Machloket / quarrel (see front page). The lesson for us, writes R’ Yisraeli, is that sin is waiting for a person, and the greater a person is–as Korach was a great man–so will his challenges and tests be greater. (Siach Shaul)
Siddur Avodat Yisrael cites a custom to recite Psalm 5 on the Shabbat on which Parashat Korach is read. Accordingly, we present here verses from, and commentaries on, that Psalm.
“May You doom ‘Dovrei’ / the speakers of deception; Hashem abhors a bloodthirsty and deceitful man.” (Verse 7)
R’ Aharon Lewin z”l Hy”d (the Reisher Rav; killed in the Holocaust) writes: The word “Dovrei” can mean “the spokesmen of . . . ,” i.e., the leaders of a society. Some leaders are openly self-interested or even evil. Others, however, deceive those whom they lead; they appear to be righteous, dedicated leaders and they cloak themselves in a veil of law and justice, while, in reality, they are leading their charges to destruction–all in the leader’s self-interest. Such “leaders” are a greater threat than those who are openly selfish or wicked, because it is more difficult to protect oneself from someone who is deceitful.
The Gemara (Bava Metzia 30b) states: “Yerushalayim was destroyed only because its inhabitants adhered to the letter of the law.” Why is that bad? R’ Lewin explains that it refers to justifying crooked and unjust practices as strict adherence to the letter of the law. We read in Iyov (15:16), “Surely it is so for the loathsome and tainted one, man, who drinks iniquity like water!” Why “water”? Because when a person drinks wine, there are indications (either in the color of the liquid, on the person’s breath, or in his behavior) that are noticeable by others; not so, when a person drinks water. Similarly, a leader whose true aims are concealed is “loathsome and tainted” compared to a leader who is openly evil. (Ha’drash Ve’ha’iyun: Bereishit No.29)
Avot D’Rabbi Natan
This work, which dates from the time of the Gemara and major Midrashim, expands on many of the ideas found in Pirkei Avot. Here, we present excerpts from and commentaries on Avot D’Rabbi Natan.
Do not associate neither with an Adam Ra / bad person nor with an Adam Rasha / wicked person . . . (Ch.9)
R’ Yom Tov Tzahalon z”l (1559-1638; Tzefat, Israel; known as Maharitatz) asks: What is the difference between an “Adam Ra / bad person” and an “Adam Rasha / wicked person”?
He explains: A Rasha is someone who transgresses the most serious sins–idolatry, adultery, and murder–for some gain. (A person might serve an idol for gain if he believes the idol has power.) In contrast, an Adam Ra is someone who transgresses less serious sins, but for no particular reason and not for any gain. Each of these sinners is worse than the other in one way and better than the other in one way. The Rasha is worse than the Adam Ra in that he commits more serious sins, but he is better in that he is not motivated by evil intentions, only by personal gain. The Adam Ra is the opposite: he is worse than the Rasha in that he sins for no reason, but he is better than the Rasha in that he commits less serious sins. Association with either of these types of people is forbidden. (Magen Avot)