This week, our Parshat HaShevua Korach is sponsored by Rabbi Joel and Shelly Padowitz and dedicated for a full and complete Refuah Shleima for Joel’s Grandfather, Yissachar ben Hindl. To the Padowitz family, many thanks for your sponsorship and for your continued kindnesses.
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Our Parshat Korach vort is compiled with the disaster in Meron on Lag B’Omer very much in mind, and during the current iteration of the intermittent war with Hamas — with help from Hezbollah and from their friends in the streets of Israel’s major cities, and of course, their mutual sponsors in Iran. We start with a blast from the past citing an excerpt from a Torah vort nearly eleven years ago 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?
…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.
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.
This vort also cites excerpts from a D’var Torah by Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel:
This week’s Torah portion is Korach (Numbers 16:1–18:32), and it is named after one of the Torah’s major rabble-rousing troublemakers. It may have been his extreme sense of jealousy that led him to pick fights. Most famously, he was jealous that his cousins Moses and Aaron got all the glory.
He felt that he deserved to be a leader of the Jewish people as well. The jealousy and fighting eventually led to Korach’s and his followers’ death. This week’s Torah portion is a classic example of the damaging nature of arguments.
As mentioned, Korach challenged the leadership of Moses. Recall that Moses never wanted to be the leader in the first place. He initially refused the position. It was only because God forced him to become the leader that he eventually agreed. As such, Korach was essentially challenging God, not Moses. Moses would have been happy to retire!
Responding to Korach’s claim that Moses illegally assumed the leadership, Moses tells Korach and his people to prepare fire pans filled with incense for an offering ceremony along with a Divine public display of who is the rightful leader. “Let God choose His leader,” Moses said.
Here’s the question: It is noted that Korach only started his rebellion many months after Elizafon was appointed leader #3. What took him so long to show his anger and rebel? Where was his anger and jealousy when Elizafon was actually given the job?
It is explained that Korach was actually a very shrewd guy. He knew that timing was everything. He knew when to remain quiet and when to make a move. When Elizafon was first appointed, he was very popular. Everyone loved him. They were happy he got the job. Moses was also enjoying enhanced popularity at the time. Korach realized all this and knew that it was not the time to start up.
It was after last week’s Torah portion, the episode of the spies, that Korach realized that the time was ripe for him to make his move. This is because after the episode of the spies, and the decree (punishment!) that Am Yisrael would be wandering the desert for 40 years, morale was at an all-time low. NOW was the time for Korach to be noticed and heard. He realized that at that moment he had a chance.
And as Israel’s politicians have mostly all learned, as encapsulated at the end of Rabbi Enkin’s vort:
There is something good that we can learn from the evil Korach, and that is that timing is everything….. A person must be certain that the time is ripe for expressing a controversial or even unique idea or opinion. That was Korach, a master of social psychology. A master in judging when the time was right. Timing is everything.
Sefer Shem Mishmuel says of Korach that he seemed to resent that Moshe was the leader of B’nei Yisrael, that Aaron was the Kohen Gadol and that he [Korach] 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 Pharaoh. 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” (citing Mishlai 18:23).
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(ibid);
“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 descendants 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 descendants, 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.” (ibid, 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.
There could be another understanding regarding Korach, with enduring lessons for today’s Israeli electorate and “leadership” contenders, as well how the Jews and Israel are viewed and perceived by the nations.
Rabbi A. Henach Leibowitz, in his sefer, “Majesty of Man” on our Parshat Korach (pages 232-234) comments, citing Gemara Sanhedrin 52b and Rashi:
A Talmid Chacham — a wise man — appears in the eyes of an am ha’aretz — an ignoramus: the Talmid Chacham shines brilliantly, like a golden vessel. However, the Gemara continues, once the Talmid Chacham benefits in any way from the am ha’aretz, he [the Chacham] is viewed by him as a clay container which, once broken, is beyond repair.
Rashi comments that this description applies directly to Korach’s relationship to … Talmidei Chachamim… who eventually came to side with him in his rebellion…. He [Korach] found ways to convince people and bring them over to his distorted way of thinking, Yet, in viewing…Talmidei Chachamim, he felt he could not reach them. They were truly a shining object in his eyes, steadfast in their integrity, and tamim — pure — in all their actions.
However, this aura was shattered when Korach invited the wise men to a meal and they accepted. The Gemara teaches us that accepting this invitation was a fatal mistake, for it caused a drastic change in Korach’s relationship with them. Immediately, their lofty stature was diminished in his eyes. They no longer seemed invulnerable. Korach felt that he could now approach them and influence them. He tried and succeeded.
….In one slightly improper action of accepting Korach’s invitation, the wise men shattered their image as pure, invincibly righteous men in Korach’s eyes. He no longer looked up to them and kept his distance. He approached them, confident he would win them over, and he did. Because of this miniscule miscalculation in associating with an evil person like Korach, they were eventually doomed to the same fate as Korach.
…The Mesilas Yesharim writes that even if we know we are not as worthy as people think we are, we have an obligation to live up to the higher standards they expect of us. This applies in all of our interactions with both Jews, and non-Jews, whether at work, in the community, or at home with our families…. Damaging a good image could lead to tragic results, as in the case of the Chachamim.
It seems then, that human nature indicates that when an individuals’, or a groups’ heretofore high standards are perceived as compromised, the consequences are that others who had previously held that individual or group in high esteem now have less regard, less respect for that individual or group.
One could, therefore, equate Korach’s view of the Chachamim, once he gained their support for his distorted views, with one of the more famous quotes of the late, great comedian Groucho Marx:
“… I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member”.
Again, googley-eyed Groucho:
“… I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member”.
Therein lies Israel’s political/governmental malaise as reminiscent of, and lessons unlearned, from Korach and his new “Friends.” Those who shift their positions as the timing and wind blow, lose the respect and credibility not only of those with whom they ally themselves, but they lose credibility among the entire nation.
May we, the B’nei 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 and that the thrice expelled families of Amona be restored to their rebuilt homes, at government expense; both due to alt-leftist-agendized, supreme court legalized Yassamnik gunpoint. Baruch Hashem that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard is now free of his parole and restrictions and that he and his ill wife Esther Yocheved bat Rayzl Bracha are finally home in Eretz Yisrael. May the MIAs be liberated alive and returned to us in ways befitting Al Kiddush Hashem — as with the return in April, 2019, via Russia, of the remains of Zachariah Baumel, as should the remains of the two chayalim from the Gaza War of five and a half years ago. 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 prevent Chas V’Challila the handing of Jewish land over to anyone, let alone to enemies sworn to Israel’s and Judaism’s destruction and eradication. And may we soon and finally see the total end to the Communist Chinese corona virus pandemic and all like viruses. May we fulfill Hashem’s blueprint of B’nei 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 Al’Kol HaGoyim”, the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayrah b’yamainu — speedily, in our time”, — Achshav, Chik Chuk, Miyad, Etmol!!!
Chodesh Tov and 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.