Parshat Korach 5775: Lessons for Today from Korach, Two Wives and the Southern Side of B’nai Yisrael’s Encampment

Shalom Friends;

This week, our Parshat HaShevua, Parshat Korach is being co-sponsored anonymously L’ilui Nishmas for the Yahrtzeit of Aharon ben Yosef z”l as well as by R’ Barak and Sarah Schecter L’ilui Nishmas for Barak’s grandfather, Yosef ben Yisrael David z”l. To our anonymous co-sponsor and to the Schecter family, many thanks for your co-sponsorships and for your continued kindnesses.

You can celebrate a Simcha — a birth, a Bar/Bat Mitzvah, a Chassuna or other Simcha event in your life, or commemorate a Yahrtzeit of a loved one, or for whatever other reason by sponsoring a Parshat HaShevua.

Please forward to your relatives and friends and encourage them to sponsor a Parshat HaShevua. And please be in contact with me with any questions, or for further details.

Best Regards,

Moshe Burt
skype: mark.burt3

Parshat Korach 5775: Lessons for Today from Korach, Two Wives and the Southern Side of B’nai Yisrael’s Encampment

by Moshe Burt

Over several years, this author has cited a Torah Vort by Rabbi Scott Ressler of the Jeff Seidel Student Center who asked the following:

Why would 250 people follow him [Korach] to their certain death, with apparently little to gain?

Parshat Korach relates the story of Korach, Dasan, Aviram and 250 members of the shevet (tribe) of Reuven challenging Moshe’s choice for Kohen Gadol (high priest). The end result was that the 250 members were burned by a heavenly fire, and the other 3 were miraculously swallowed by the earth. From a motive perspective, Korach makes the most sense, because he felt slighted for not having been chosen himself. But why would 250 people follow him to their certain death, with apparently little to gain?

The answer can be found in Rashi, the great medieval commentator, who writes that just as Korach’s family camped on the southern side of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), so did the tribe of Reuven. Rashi quotes the words of Chapters of the Fathers [Pirkei Avot], “woe to an evil person, and woe to his neighbor.” The 250 people met their death, simply because they were influenced by their neighbors! This points to the awesome influence that friends, neighbors and associates have on us.

The south side of the encampment seems to have been kind of a rough neighborhood full of apparent potential conspirators. One could say the event of the Miraglim brought about an unholy alliance, the opening of the proverbial “Pandora’s Box.”

Korach ben Yitzhar ben Kehat ben Levi (son of Levi) saw that descended from him would be Shmuel HaNavi and, therefore, felt slighted either because Aaron, rather than he, was appointed Kohen Godol; or because he felt passed over by the choice of his cousin Elizaphan ben Ammihud as the Nasi of Kehat, making him (Korach) subordinate.

Sefer Shem Mishmuel says of Korach that he seemed to resent that Moshe was the leader of B’nai Yisrael, that Aaron was the Kohen Gadol and that he was not the one appointed head of the Children of Kehath, his branch of the priestly family. Korach’s motivations were complex, the layers of discontent behind his abortive challenge to the leadership numerous as is discussed by the great commentators. (Shem Mishmuel on Parsha Korach, page 335)

“The Midrash Says,” by Rabbi Moshe Weissman (on Sefer Bamidbar, pages 202-203) notes that although the other members of the Tribe of Levi lived in poverty, Korach was fabulously wealthy because he been a treasurer in Mitzrayim under Pharoah. Moshe’s command that all the Jews were to take belongings from the Egyptians pertained only to those Tribes who were subjected to slave labor. The Tribe of Levi remained in Goshen, were not enslaved, and learned Torah throughout the enslavement.

“The Midrash Says” also relates that Hashem, Who leads each person in the life’s path of the person’s choosing, satisfied Korach’s lust for wealth by leading him to discover part of riches that Yosef concealed in the royal treasury. This discovery made Korach among the wealthiest individuals in recorded human history. As a result of his massive riches, “The Midrash Says” records:

Korach was self-assured…. He thought himself favored by Hashem, and therefore entitled to contend against Moshe, for “A rich man speaks with impudence” (Mishlai 18:23).

As if Korach’s self-assured impudence wasn’t enough, he apparently was egged on further by his wife. “The Midrash Says” notes:

Korach’s wife inflated her husband’s ego and repeatedly reassured him that he was on a par with Moshe and Aaron. To his misfortune, Korach listened to his wife.

“The Midrash Says” then cites R’ Bach’ya regarding men whose wives led to their downfall (Sefer Bamidbar, page 203):

There were two extremely wealthy people, one Jew and one gentile, who listened to their wives, were destroyed, and lost their fortunes. The Jew was Korach, whose wife inspired him to rebel against Moshe. The non-Jew was Haman, who listened to his wife to erect a gallows… for Mordechai. Little did he realize that he was preparing the gallows for himself.

Just as the story of Korach’s rebellion relates how Korach’s wife fed his ego urging him on in rebellion against Moshe, another wife, of Ohn ben Peles of the Tribe of Reuven who was an original supporter of Korach, saved her husband’s life by speech and action, preventing him from being swallowed up when the earth opened up enveloping Korach and his other supporters.

The sefer “Inspiration and Insight”, Discourses on the weekly Parsha by the Manchester Rosh Yeshiva Rabbi Yehudah Zev Segal, Shlita z”l (pages 226-227), as well as The Encyclopedia of Biblical Personalites by Yishai Chassidah cite Gemara Sanhedrin 109b which explains:

Rav said: “Ohn ben Peles was saved by his wife. She said to him,’What difference is it to you [whether Moshe, Korach, or anyone else is your leader]? If this one is your teacher, then you are but a student, and if the other is the teacher, then you are still but a student!’ Ohn told her, ‘What can I do? I took part in their plans and swore to join them.’ She said, ‘I know that the entire nation is holy, as it is written, “For the entire assembly is holy” (Sefer Bamidbar, Perek 16, posuk 3). Sit and I will save you.’ She then gave him wine and he was intoxicated and put him to sleep inside their tent. She sat herself at the entrance of the tent and uncovered her hair. Whoever saw her went away.”

Yehuda Nachshoni’s “Studies in the Weekly Parsha” cites Chasam Sofer (page 1033) who indicates that Korach’s contesting against Moshe stemmed from the Divine Conveyance of:

The monarchy and priesthood to the 2 grandsons of Kehas, Moshe and Aaron — sons of Kehas’ oldest son Amram. This was seen as a total negation of any claim by Kehas’ next 2 sons, Yitzhar and Chevron…

In short, the Chasam Sofer seems to indicate that Korach contested based on promoting a claim that the positions of power should have distributed evenly amongst Kehas’ 3 sons. He thus campaigned based on his assertion that Moshe employed nepotism and consolidation of power.

Shem Mishmuel relates a thought on Korach from Rashi;

“Korach was an intelligent man. If so, why did he involve himself with this nonsense? His eyes deceived him, for he saw a chain of noble descent emerging from him, ending in Shmuel HaNavi [the great prophet], who was considered equal to Moshe and Aaron. He said, ‘On his [Shmuel’s] account, I will be saved.’ There were also to be twenty-four stations of his descendents who would prophesy with the Divine spirit … He said, ‘Is it possible that all of this greatness will emerge from me and I should be silent?’ Therefore, he joined [with the other rebels] and came to the opinion that when he heard from Moshe that all of them would perish save one … he mistakenly assumed that it referred to him. He failed to look carefully, for his sons did teshuva…” (Rashi, Bamidbar, Perech 16, posuk 7 as related in Shem Mishmuel on Parsha Korach, page 335)

It seems that in Korach’s case, he had basis for reasoning that his descendents, the generations of nevi’im who came before Shmuel would emanate from him and thus “it must be because he himself was a worthy and holy person.” (Shem Mishmuel on Parsha Korach, page 335)

Korach’s perception of history brought him to envision himself as “born to lead” and therefore, he took issue with the leadership of Moshe and Aaron HaKohen. Thus, while Hashem and history look disapprovingly at Korach’s attempt at a leadership grab, one might be able to understand what was behind Korach’s actions and possible rationale behind his false claims.

Then you had those two perennial bad boys Dasan and Aviram (ben Eliav), both of Shevet Reuven who were trouble, with a capital “T”, dating back to their being the cause of Moshe’s earlier flight from Pharoah and Mitzrayim through to being involved with sources of friction which occurred in the camp in Bamidbar.

And finally, you had the Shevet (Tribe of) Reuven who harbored ill-will both due to their loss of first-born priestly status to the Kohanim and Hashem’s “redemption” of the Kedusha of the first-borns through the Levi’im.

Yehuda Nachshoni’s “Studies in the Weekly Parsha” (pages 1032-1033) on our Parsha Korach cites Ramban’s view that the cause of the rebellions: Korach, Dasan and Aviram and the First Borns’ was:

The spies’ severe punishment, which brought death to the generation of the desert and plague to its princes. It [the punishment]… brought to the surface all of the accumulated bitterness of the dissatisfied, who until now had not dared to come out against Moshe. Now they took advantage… to settle accounts.

We now return to the wife of Ohn ben Peles about whom sefer “Inspiration and Insight” (page 226) comments:

Ohn’s wife used very simple logic: Why get involved in a dispute of such magnitude when you stand to gain nothing? It would seem that Ohn should have realized this himself…. another proof of the yetzer hara’s prowess in beclouding our thinking and preventing us from recognizing obvious truths. Persuaded by Korach’s arguments and perhaps afflicted with his own envy, Ohn was was at the fore of the… challenge to Moshe’s authority. His wife, however, was free of such influences and had no difficulty perceiving that which was obvious.

This author returns to the above quote by Rabbi Ressler in his citing of Rashi from Pirkei Avot:

“Woe to an evil person, and woe to his neighbor.” The 250 people met their death, simply because they were influenced by their neighbors! This points to the awesome influence that friends, neighbors and associates have on us.

There are lessons here not to be lost on today’s generations, as individuals and as an Am.

In an age where one can easily be manipulated, endoctrinated, swept-up and dumbed-down by questionable national leaders, politicians, academicians and media types projected over easily accessible electronic media, i.e. television, internet, i-phone applications, etc., simple logic can often get lost amidst the maze of talking-heads, i.e. Ehud Barak’s recent calls for Unilateral Steps if the PA refuses to talk. As prime minister, he initiated Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from South Lebanon into which Hezbollah filled the void with the resultant installation of at least 100,000 rockets targeting all of Israel. He supported the expulsion of his fellow Jews from Gush Katif into which Hamas filled the void with the resultant installation of tens of thousands of rockets targeting all of Israel. And now, totally oblivious to historical facts, he wants to set borders in denial of Jewish history, spirituality and the Divine legacy of Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael. He wants to set borders characterized by no less that Abba Eban as Auschwitz borders — putting our population centers at risk from short-range rockets, destroying tourism and the rest of Israel’s economy, putting air travel in and out of Ben-Gurion airport at risk from mortar and rocket fire from inside the so-called “Palestinian (sic) state.”

It seems to this author that one does not have to be Halachically observant to apply simple historical logic and common sense gained over Israel’s 67 years of modern-day nationhood to the ongoing equivocal governmental-politically-correct-diplomatic chaos existing in modern-day Israel. But then again, I was born in the year of Israel’s modern-day nationhood, long before the Ehud Baraks, Buzis and Tzipi Livnis, Ya’ir Lapids, etc. came to the political fore.

May we, the B’nai Yisrael be zocha that our brethren — the refugee families from Gush Katif be permanently settled and be made totally whole — be totally restituted for all that was stolen from them at leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized gunpoint, that our dear brethren Jonathan Pollard and Sholom Rubashkin, as well as the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem. May we have the courage and strength to stand up and physically prevent the possibility of Chas V’Challila any future eviction of Jews from their homes and the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nai Yisrael as a Unique people — an Am Segula, not to be reckoned with as with “the nations” and may we be zocha to see the Moshiach, the Ge’ula Shlaima, as Dov Shurin sings; “Ki Karov Yom Hashem V’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!

Good Shabbos!

Moshe Burt, an Oleh, is a commentator on news and events in Israel and Founder and Director of The Sefer Torah Recycling Network. He lives in Ramat Beit Shemesh.

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