These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: CD #1081 — Ha’arama: Halachic Loopholes – Advisable or Not? Good Shabbos!
Giving Korach and Followers the Opportunity to Say “We Were Wrong!”
Parshas Korach contains one of the most upsetting incidents in all of Torah—Korach challenges the leadership of Moshe Rabbeinu! Despite the fact that Korach started the fight, Moshe Rabbeinu approached them and tried to make peace. This again points to Moshe’s greatness. But Korach does not back down, so Moshe Rabbeinu makes the following challenge: “If Hashem will create a creation, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them and all that is theirs, and they will descend alive to the pit, then you shall know that these men have provoked Hashem!” [Bamidbar 16:30] In other words, Moshe offered a miraculous Divine sign that it was G-d’s Will that Moshe be the leader; if the miracle would fail to occur, it would be a sign that Korach is right and that Moshe usurped the leadership role without Divine acquiescence.
Rashi, on the words “If Hashem will create a creation,” writes: “To put them to death through a death which no person has died up to this point. What is this ‘creation’? The earth will open its mouth and swallow them. Then you shall know that they provoked Hashem and I have spoken the Word of the Almighty.”
Up until this point in history, various strange types of death (misos meshunos) have occurred. Unfortunately, Nadav and Avihu died a strange type of death. There were plagues from Heaven. However, these kinds of death were apparently not sufficient here. It seems strange. Would it have been so bad if Moshe would have merely said, “Listen, if these people suddenly get stopped in their tracks and drop dead on the spot—that is a sign that Hashem appointed me”? That should have sufficed to convince the people that Moshe was right! Or, what if Moshe would have invoked a fire to come down from Heaven and burn them on the spot? That should have been convincing as well! Snakes coming to bite them would also have been convincing, as well as a host of other types of miraculous punishments.
However, Moshe specifically specified something that never ever happened before, and will never happen again—and that is the earth will open and swallow them alive. Why was that necessary?
Moshe does not just invoke miracles to impress people with G-d’s power, as if to say “Watch this trick! I bet you never saw that one before!” Moshe does not do that.
The Margolios HaYam is a Sefer written by Rav Reuven Margolios, who was a prolific author and a great Talmudic scholar. Margolios HaYam is one of the most edifying (Geshmak!) commentaries on Tractate Sanhedrin. There on 109b, he quotes a thought in the name of “the Gaon and Tzadik Rav Yissacher Dov of Belz.” (The current Belzer Rebbe bears the same name and is named after this grandfather.) Rav Reuven Margolios writes that he spent Shabbos Parshas Korach 5673 (1913) with the Belzer Rebbe and he heard a thought from Rav Yissacher Dov that he in turn heard from his father explaining why Moshe specifically invoked this miracle:
The Margolios HaYam asks – was Moshe Rabbeinu sadistic? Did he want them, out of personal revenge, to suffer additional suffering before they died, such that it was not sufficient for them merely to drop dead—they needed to slide down into the open earth and feel the terror of being swallowed up like that? The Belzer Rebbe’s father said that, on the contrary, Moshe Rabbeinu asked specifically for this punishment out of a sense of mercy and compassion for Korach and his followers. When the earth opened up and swallowed them, they did NOT die then. They were swallowed up and sank into the ground—alive! Suddenly it hit them: Guess what? We are wrong. Moshe was right.
I do not know how long it took for the earth to close back up and for them to suffocate. But they had at least a few seconds to contemplate what happened and to do Teshuva in that interval. Moshe Rabbeinu said, I want them to die, but even if a person is wicked his whole life and the last second of his life he sincerely repents, his Teshuva is accepted! The Belzer Rebbe explained that Moshe requested that their end come this way so that they would have an opportunity during those precious few seconds to recognize their mistake and sincerely repent.
The Gemara in Bava Basra [74a] tells the story of an Arab who found cracks in the ground at the place in the wilderness where Korach and his followers were swallowed up. He heard voices coming from the cracks saying, “Moshe and his Torah are true, and they (themselves) are contrivers.” That happened because they had those seconds before expiring to think through the implication of what happened to them. If they would have keeled over and died or if they would have been instantly smitten by a fire from heaven, they would not have had that opportunity.
This speaks to the great compassion and righteousness of Moshe, the great teacher of Israel. Even towards disrespectful and traitorous rebels, he had mercy and was concerned that they be given an opportunity to repent before receiving their final punishment. This was the approach of the father of the earlier Rav Yissacher Dov Rokeach, Rebbe of Belz.
A Second Analysis of the Reason for Korach’s Unique Punishment
The current Tolner Rebbe of Jerusalem, Rav Yitzchok Menachem Weinberg, has a different approach to this question. It is a very interesting approach.
Do you know how Korach got people to buy into his rebellion? Korach was selling one of the most popular theories and political philosophies that has been around since the beginning of time. “For all of the congregation, all of them, are holy!” Equality! Everybody is the same. The Tolner Rebbe said they once called this communism. Korach called it Korachism. The motto of the French revolution was quite similar: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity! Equality is the most popular political philosophy that has ever been around. Everybody is equal. Suffrage for women—women getting the vote! Everybody buys into that. Thomas Jefferson: All men are created equal and they have inalienable rights in the pursuit of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Lincoln freed the slaves. Nelson Mandela stopped apartheid. You want to get popular? Sell them equality!
The Zohar says that Korach disputed Shabbos. What was his problem with Shabbos? His problem was “Why should Shabbos be special? All days are created equal!” All people are the same; all days of the week are the same; all places are the same; everything is created equal. This is Korachism.
The philosophy of the Ribono shel Olam is otherwise. No. Things are not the same. There are Kohanim, Leviim and Yisraelim. There is Shabbos and there are weekdays. There are holy places and there are profane places. And where does the Ribono shel Olam show that this is His opinion? Do you know where He shows that all creation is about differences—varying components of the world which are all necessary for existence? He shows it through G-d’s earth. The same earth that gives out wheat, gives out bananas. The earth that gives out and supports life (the Talmud says that animals are considered ‘products of the ground’) produces all kinds of life—cows, goats, sheep, lions, tigers, elephants, llamas, and all other animals. Creation testifies that components are necessary in this world. Creation testifies that we need differences in this world. Creation testifies that the world is not monochromatic.
Look outside. There is green; there is blue, there is brown – earth colors. This is creation. The earth testifies that the Ribono shel Olam wants symphony in the world. Just like a symphony has different types of instruments, but together they make beautiful music, that is what the world is all about and that is what people are all about. The Almighty did not create a planet of clones. Diversity is the essence of creation.
The biggest single testament to this is the earth. I put man on the earth, but you can only walk on My earth as long as you believe in My philosophy of the earth. Man must believe in My philosophy that everybody is NOT the same. Things are different and they need to be different. Creation requires differences. As long as you believe in that, you can walk on My earth; but the day you say “everything is equal; one size fits all” you cannot walk on My earth anymore.
The natural consequence of rejecting the philosophy of the earth is “the earth opened its mouth.” Sorry. You cannot walk on my earth anymore. That is why the punishment of Korach had to be “this new creation which the Almighty will create…” You are wrong Korach. There is Shabbos and there are weekdays; there are the locations like the Sanctuary and there are profane locations; there are Jews and Gentiles; and there are Kohanim, Leviim, and Yisraelim. There are different animals, and plants and colors in the world. This is My world—filled with differences. Not everything is equal.
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Korach is provided below:
- 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?
- 1124 Segulos for Refuos
- 1166 Do You Really Need Ten for a Minyan?
- 1209 The Chasam Sofer’s Battle Against the Reform Movement
- 1254 Why Shouldn’t You Park In a Handicap Space?
- 1298 The Shul That Did Not Say Tachanun By Mistake; Now What? and Other Tachanun Issues
- 1342 The Case of The Man Who Now Deines That He’s a Kohain
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