Subscribe to a Weekly Series

Posted on June 21, 2012 (5772) By Rabbi Yissocher Frand | Series: | Level:

Parshas Korach

Not Everything Is Black Or White

These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: Tape # 774 — Tachanun: Most Fascinating Insights. Good Shabbos!

Whenever there are 10 male Jews together for a prayer quorum, they are able to publicly sanctify the Name of G-d by reciting Kaddish, Kedusha, etc. This well-known fact is derived from the pasuk “V’Nikdashti b’Soch Bnei Yisrael” [Vayikra 22:32]. The Talmud [Berachos 21b] teaches that this requires a minimum of 10 Jews. The Talmud derives this from a Gezeirah Shavah (word comparison) between the word “toch” (in the midst) in this pasuk and the word “toch” in the pasuk in Parshas Korach “separate yourself from the midst (m’toch) this wicked congregation” [Bamidbar 16:21]. To complete the teaching however, one needs to go a step further and link the pasuk in Korach which says “from this midst of this wicked congregation (Eidah)” and a pasuk in Parshas Shlach which speaks of the 10 spies who returned the slanderous report about the Land of Israel and calls them “this wicked congregation” (ha’Eidah ha’Ra-ah hazos) [Bamidbar 14:35]. In other words, Eidah means 10 and that derivation can be transferred to the pasuk in Korach, which does not specify a number of people.

[This is the derivation in the Talmud Bavli and it is admittedly somewhat convoluted. In fact, the Jerusalem Talmud has a different derivation using the pasuk “And the children of Israel came in the midst (b’toch) of those who came” [Bereishis 42:5] (regarding the brothers of Yosef’s arrival in Egypt).]

It is certainly ironic that the entire concept of Sanctifying G-d’s Name in the presence of a minyan quorum is derived from a combination of the wicked congregation of Korach and the spies in the wilderness, both of whom were guilty of grievous sins.

Here is a similar peculiarity:

Moshe is challenged by Korach: Why have you set up this caste system such that only the Kohanim are entitled to the Divine Service? In response to Moshe’s challenge, Korach brought 250 people who all offered Ketores [incense] – a job normally reserved for the Kohanim – and the people were all burnt on the spot as a Divine sign that their challenge had no basis and that Aharon was the legitimate Kohen. What was the aftermath of this incident? G-d told Moshe to melt down the fire pans that were in the hands of these 250 henchmen of Korach who attempted to offer the incense and to make a covering for the Mizbayach as a memorial for the Jewish people.

If we were there and someone would have asked “What should we do with these pans?” what would we have said? Most likely we would have shouted “Treife!” These are the pans of sinful people who received Divine punishment. We would have thought that the very implement used to commit their sin would be strictly forbidden for use. It should be buried or destroyed. Certainly it should not be elevated to a holy purpose and become part of the sacred Mizbayach. What is going on here?

My good friend Rabbi Yakov Luban had a simple insight which addresses both of these difficulties: We as human beings view things as either black or white, pure or impure, kosher or treife. They are either one or the other. The Master of the Universe however, in His Infinite Wisdom, sometimes sees positive motivations even in evil deeds.

Korach challenged Moshe’s leadership. As Rashi explains, there was an element of jealousy and an attempt to grab power from Moshe. But there was also an element in Korach’s campaign to gain a bigger role in the Divine Service. Korach and his followers felt themselves to be Holy and they wanted to live up to their full potential of being Holy by participating in the Divine Service. The Talmud even obliquely criticizes Moshe’s put down of Korach and his followers when he told them “Rav Lachem” [Bamidbar 16:7] [too much for you]. The exact same words were thrown back at Moshe, so to speak, when he asked to enter the Land of Canaan, despite Hashem’s decree that he would die before entering the Land. “Rav Lach” [Devorim 3:26] is what he is told. This implies that Korach did have within his scheme a desire and a striving to achieve holiness, which should not have been totally rejected. Hashem recognized those aspirations and such aspiration are indeed “holy” and can be used as the basis for deriving the necessary prayer quorum to recite matters of holiness.

Likewise, when 250 people risked their lives to become closer to Hashem and to participate in His Service, there was something good in that motivation as well. There was inherent Kedusha in those pans that they used in their attempts to become participants in the Divine Service. That Kedusha – in the Eyes of the Almighty – could be harnessed for an appropriate covering for the Mizbayach.

In the case of the Meraglim as well, as the commentaries explain at length, there were multiple motivations that caused their report to come out the way it did. There were also positive intentions in what they said. According to some, they felt the people would not be able to live up to the high standards of Eretz Yisrael; according to others they wanted to maintain the idyllic spiritual existence that they had in the Wilderness. Whatever the reason, it was certainly not just a lack of faith in the Almighty. They were wrong, but they were not entirely evil.

The lesson is that the Almighty sees Kedusha even in the apparent evil of the Congregation of Korach and Counsel of the Spies. Even from these less than totally blameless individuals, there is room to find a derivation for the idea of Sanctity within the Jewish people.

The lesson is that people are very complex. They do things for a variety of reasons and there can be Light and Darkness intermingled in their actions and motivations.

The Satmar Rebbe once said that he recalled hearing his great-grandfather (the Yismach Moshe) tell his grandfather (the Yitav Lev) that the Yismach Moshe lived in this world three times. In other words, via the institution of Gilgul Neshamos [transmigration of souls], he came to this world on three different occasions. The first time he was in this world, he claimed, was in the period of the Wilderness at the time of the incident of the Congregation of Korach. Upon hearing this, the Yitav Lev asked his father to tell him about the events of that time. The Yismach Moshe told his son that all the Heads of the Sanhedrin sided with Korach and the masses of the people sided with Moshe. The Yitav Lev then pressed his father and asked him “Who did you side with?” He responded “I was neutral”. Whereupon the Yitav Lev asked him, “How could you not pick sides? – It was Korach against Moshe Rabbeinu and you stood on the sidelines? How could that be?”

The Yitav Lev told his son, I can see that you have no inkling of what a great person Korach was. If you would have been there and you would have seen who Korach was (as Rashi says, Korach was very clever and was one who carried the Aron), you would not be so shocked by my neutrality. Korach wanted Kedusha. There was an element of good within his argument. It was hard to choose sides.

This is the lesson we learn from the fact that the fire pans were utilized as a covering for the Mizbayach. Human beings are very complex. Things are not always just black and white. More often, they are shades of gray.

This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tapes on the weekly Torah portion. The complete list of halachic portions for this parsha from the Commuter Chavrusah Series are:

017 – Visiting the Sick
062 – May the State of Israel Extradite a Jewish Criminal?
106 – The Temple Mount Today-Obligations & Restrictions
151 – The Mitzvah of Pidyon Haben: Some Fascinating Facts
198 – The Ethiopian Jewry Question
244 – Tachanun
288 – “Masiach L’fi Tumoh”: The Coca Cola Question
334 – Leaving a Chasunah Before Benching
378 – Truth Telling to Patients
422 – Bais Din’s Power to Subpoena
466 – Tachanun: To Say Or Not To Say
510 – Pidyon Habein and Vending Machines
554 – The Kohain and the First Aliyah
598 – Siamese Twins
642 – Different Minhagim for Saying Kedusha
686 – Ma’alin B’Kodesh V’ain Moridin
730 – Divergent Minhagim in One Shul
774 – Tachanun: Most Fascinating Insights
818 – Bikur Cholim on Shabbos
862 – Preventative Medicine To Avoid Chilul Shabbos
906 – Tachanun Without a Sefer Torah?
950 – Pidyon Habein: Not Your Regular Cases
993 – Pidyon Habein Without A Bris Milah?
1037 – Should A Chosson Come To Shul During Sheva Brachos?
1081 – Ha’arama: Halachic Loopholes – Advisable or Not?

Tapes or a complete catalogue can be ordered from the Yad Yechiel Institute, PO Box 511, Owings Mills MD 21117-0511. Call (410) 358-0416 or e-mail [email protected] or visit for further information.

RavFrand, Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Yissocher Frand and