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Posted on July 4, 2024 (5784) By Rabbi Yissocher Frand | Series: | Level:

These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly portion: #1298 – The Shul That Did Not Say Tachanun By Mistake; Now What? and Other Tachanun Issues. Good Shabbos!

There is a dispute among the Rishonim as to when exactly the story of Korach transpired. The Torah places it after Parshas Shelach, immediately following the gezeyra (heavenly decree) that Bnei Yisrael must wander in the desert for forty years as a punishment for the incident of the meraglim (spies). The Ibn Ezra holds that this parsha is not placed in its correct sequential order, and the story of Korach actually happened prior to the incident of the meraglim.

There is a certain logic behind the Ibn Ezra’s theory. Chazal say that Korach was motivated to start his rebellion by jealousy over the appointment of Elitzafon ben Uziel as the nasi of Shevet Levi. Korach resented a perceived slight on the part of Moshe Rabbeinu. Korach figured that there were four sons of Levi. Amram (the father of Moshe and Aharon) was the oldest. Yitzhar (the father of Korach) was the second son. Chevron was the third son. Uziel (the father of Elitzafon) was the youngest of the four brothers.

Rashi notes that Korach was willing to accept that Moshe was the “king” and Aharon was the “Kohen Gadol” (High Priest), because they were both sons of Levi’s eldest son. However, Korach, who did not recognize that the appointment of Elitzafon as nasi was by the word of Hashem, felt that he deserved the next honorific appointment, owing to the fact that he was the next oldest cousin in the family! This is what irked Korach and prompted him to lead his rebellion against Moshe and Aharon.

Based on the fact that Elitzafon’s appointment happened at the beginning of Sefer Bamidbar, it makes a lot of sense to suggest that Korach’s rebellion occurred prior to the story in Parshas Shelach. Why would Korach suddenly start his rebellion now after Parshas Shelach?

There is a very important Ramban that addresses this question. The Ramban writes that up until this point, Moshe Rabbeinu was able to ride out any crises that developed in leading the nation. Even after the aveira (sin) of the Eigel Hazahav (Golden Calf), Moshe was able to pray for the nation and acquire Divine forgiveness. He writes that Moshe achieved extreme popularity amongst the people and they would not countenance any challenge to his leadership. The people loved Moshe Rabbeinu and would stone any person who attempted to question their beloved leader.

According to the Ramban, Korach suffered in silence while Moshe’s popularity was at its peak. Korach “kept his powder dry” so to speak. However, when they arrived at Midbar Paran, things started falling apart. People were burned by fire at Taveirah and there were many deaths at Kivros haTa’avah. After the aveira of the meraglim, Moshe did not even pray for forgiveness and was unable to cancel the Heavenly Decree. At this point, the people’s spirit plunged and they had complaints about their leader. Korach felt that this was the time to make his move. He thought that now the people would listen to his message of rebellion.

This Ramban sheds light on another Rashi. Rashi comments that Korach was a pikayach (clever person). Where do we see that Korach was so clever? I believe we see it because a fool “rushes in.” A fool has no patience. An idea pops into his head and he immediately wants to implement it, whether the time is ripe or not. The ability for a person to bide his time and pick the right moment and the right spot to make a move requires wisdom and cleverness.

However, it is surprising that this Ramban writes that Moshe Rabbeinu did not pray for the people after the decree of death in the wilderness for the generation that accepted the evil report of the meraglim. This statement seems to be refuted by explicit pesukim in Parshas Shelach (Bamidbar 14:13-19). In fact, Hashem responded to Moshe: “…I have forgiven according to your words.” (Bamidbar 14:20). So what does the Ramban mean that Moshe did not pray for them after the sin of the meraglim?

The Ramban clarifies his intention: Moshe Rabbeinu was, in effect, able to get the punishment decree for the aveira of the Eigel Hazahav nullified. “…On the day that I make My account, I shall bring their sin to account against them. ” (Shemos 32:34). While the Ribono shel Olam did, in effect, leave that aveira on the back burner, His original threat of total annihilation was withdrawn. However, by the aveira of the meraglim, the Ramban writes: “Perhaps Moshe knew that the decree was stretched out against them and would never be rescinded.” Moshe understood that the best he could accomplish was to mitigate Hashem’s decree of wiping out the entire nation right then, followed by rebuilding Klal Yisrael just from Moshe Rabbeinu and his descendants. Moshe did accomplish getting rescinded the decree for the nation to be wiped out immediately. It took forty years for that generation to die out, but at least the following generation was permitted to enter Eretz Yisrael.

The people, however, did not realize all this. They thought that Moshe Rabbeinu had supreme powers of prayer, and that if he would have only davened intensely enough, the entire decree would have been nullified. It must be, they concluded, that Moshe did not daven for them at all. It was this erroneous sentiment that Korach was able to stoke among the discontented in the nation and get them to conclude: If Moshe Rabbeinu won’t daven for us, then who needs Moshe Rabbeinu?

There is a great irony here. The people loved Moshe Rabbeinu and had the greatest respect for him. They had so much confidence in him they felt that if he would only have davened, he could have nullified the decree. Therefore, since the decree was not nullified, they concluded he was not using his powers to defend them, and consequently they were ready to depose him from his leadership role.

We can make two observations about this scenario advanced by the Ramban:

First, what happened to hakaras hatov? Moshe Rabbeinu has been with the Jewish people through all their trials and tribulations. He took them out of Mitzraim, brought them across the Yam Suf (Red Sea), and saved them from the aveira of the Eigel Hazahav. And now, because he can’t totally gain Divine forgiveness for their grievous aveira, they toss him overboard?

Many years ago, General Motors had a commercial advertisement, which began: “It is uniquely American to ask, ‘What have you done for me lately?'” This always bothered me. This attitude may be uniquely American but it is totally an anathema to the fundamental attitudes of Klal Yisrael. When someone has a long track record of service and accomplishment, he should not be instantly tossed for one error, particularly by those who do not understand the full picture of what has transpired.

The second observation: Why did the people turn against Moshe? It is because they came to the conclusion that he did not daven for them, and if he did not daven for them, it must be because he did not care about their fate. They were wrong about Moshe not caring, but they were right that it is a cardinal crime for a Jewish leader not to care about the people. A leader who doesn’t care cannot be my leader!

President Theodore Roosevelt once expressed a very important maxim: “People do not care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” This is a very powerful rule, basic advice for any rebbi, any rav, for any teacher, and for any person in any educational position. The people, unfortunately, came to the erroneous conclusion that Moshe Rabbeinu did not care for them anymore. If he doesn’t care anymore then he can’t be our leader. Therefore, when Korach came and told them it is time for a new leader, they were ready to agree with him.

Egalitarianism Leads to Baseless Hatred

The following observation comes from the Be’er Moshe, the Ozharover Rebbe.

Korach came up with a complaint that has currency in every generation: “For the entire community is holy; so why do you elevate yourselves over the Congregation of Hashem?” (Bamidbar 16:3) The egalitarian refrain “Why are you any better than us” echoes throughout the history of leadership.

The Gemara says (Shabbos 119b) that Yerushalayim was destroyed only because they equated the katan (small) with the gadol (great). The Gemara marshals a pasuk “And the nation will be like the Kohen…” (Yeshayahu 24:2) The Be’er Moshe asks that this Talmudic statement seems to contradict another statement in the Gemara (Yoma 9b) that Yerushalayim was destroyed (in the time of the second Bais Hamikdash) because of baseless hatred (sinas chinam). If the prevailing attitude was that everyone was the same (gadol = katan), then on what basis did they have mutual resentment and hatred?

The Be’er Moshe answers that this question is based on a mistaken premise: It is not true that when you believe everyone is the same that there will not be baseless hatred. To the contrary: When there is a prevailing mindset that everyone is the same, that is when there will be sinas chinam. If everyone is the same “So, why are YOU the leader?”

Sinas chinam and egalitarianism are two sides of the same coin. Why are you the boss, the manhig, the rav, etc? I am as good as you are! The Be’er Moshe brings an example: A person has a body. Every part of the body is important. But not all body parts are the same. Given a choice between losing a pinky and losing one’s heart, what would a person choose? The pinky, the finger, and even a leg are not limbs without which life cannot be sustained. However, a person cannot live without a heart or without a brain. We are all one body, and all body parts are working with one goal – to keep the person alive. But there are differences. There is a hierarchy of priority, of importance.

The same is true in Klal Yisrael. Klal Yisrael works because there are levels or categories. Someone who recognizes that there are levels and that there are people who are supposed to lead, realizes that there is a category called talmidei chachomim and there is a category called Kohanim. Not everyone is on the same level and therefore not everyone can be a leader. That is what the Gemara means in Shabbos 119b. The fact that they equated the katan with the gadol generated baseless hatred in Klal Yisrael.

The proof of the matter is the rallying cry of Korach’s rebellion: “For the entire nation is holy!” What happened because of that? There was machlokes. When people are willing to accept the idea that there are leaders and there are followers; people who are supposed to make the decisions and people who are supposed to accept the decisions, then society can function. Otherwise, the outcome is Parshas Korach.

Wisdom Is Required To See the Obvious in Times of Passion

The pasuk lists Korach’s co-conspirators: Dassan, Aviram, and Ohn ben Peles of Shevet Reuven. We know what happened to Korach and we know what happened to Dasan and Aviram. But what ever happened to ” Ohn ben Peles”? The famous Gemara in Sanhedrin (110a) states that Ohn was saved by his wife. She told him that he had nothing to gain from the fight. Either Moshe would end up remaining as the leader or Korach would become the leader. Either way, Ohn would remain a powerless and uninfluential follower.

Ohn accepted her logic but was hesitant to abandon his promise to join the rebellion. According to the famous Gemara, Mrs. Ohn gave her husband wine to drink, causing him to sleep through the whole “call to battle.” The Korach mob came to Ohn’s door to summon him to take part in their rebellion. Mrs. Ohn sat in front of the house with her hair uncovered. The mob didn’t want to intrude on her privacy, they left and, consequently, she is credited with having saved her husband.

The Talmud relates this incident to the pasuk in Mishlei (14:1) “The wisdom of women built her house…” But, isn’t this Gemara being overly generous with the praise it lavishes on the wife of Ohn ben Peles? What type of outstanding “wisdom” did she demonstrate here? She basically just told it to her husband like it is: “It is either Korach or Moshe. You have absolutely nothing to gain in this fight.” Where is the great wisdom here?

The answer is that to keep cool and think straight in the time of machlokes, when passions are elevated, requires wisdom. In a time of machlokes, everybody loses it. In argumentative times, everyone becomes emotional. When people are emotional, they don’t think straight. A logical thinker with a cool mind, who can overcome the passion of the moment, has great wisdom. Ohn’s wife could see the truth in the context of the mob’s passion. That is the “Chachmas nashim bansa beisa.”

Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]

Edited 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
  • 1386 – The Importance and Power of Saying Parshas Ketores
  • 1430 – Should Chazanim be Paid?
  • 1474 – Tachanun on Mondays and Thursdays
  • #1519 – Should You Say Tachnun at Mincha?
  • #1560 – We Want to Make Our Own Shul – Are They Allowed?

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