And Korach the son of Yizhar the son Kehas the son of Levi took [himself] and Dasan and Avirum the sons of Eliav and On the son of Peles sons of Reuven.
And Korah took: Rashi: This parasha is beautifully expounded in the midrash of Rabbi Tanchuma.
On this verse Rashi has a long comment beginning with the words "And Dasan and Aviram." In that comment he tells us that Korah was angry that Moses had not appointed him to be the prince of the Kehas family and instead had appointed Elitzaphan. In retaliation, Korah rallied the people and especially some of the dignitaries, to his side for his rebellion against Moses. Then Rashi continues:
Dasan and Aviram: Rashi:…..He (Korach) dressed them in robes that were entirely of purple thread then they came and stood before Moses and said to him 'Is a robe that is completely of purple obligated to have tzizis or not?' He (Moses) said to them 'It is obligated.' Then they began to laugh at him 'Is it possible? A robe of any other material, only one purple thread attached to it, exempts it. This, which is entirely of purple, should it not (logically) exempt itself?'
Why do think Rashi (and the midrash) assumed that Korah asked this particular halachic question of Moses? He could have asked any one of a number of other questions. Why this particular one?
Do you see the significance and relevance of his question?
Hint: Is this question analogous to Korah's claim ?
Understanding the Analogy
An Answer: Certainly Korah had chosen an apt halachic question. His point was to emphasis (in his demagogic manner) the equality of all Jews. As he says (verse 3) "For the whole assembly, all of them, are holy and Hashem is in their midst, so why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of Hashem." He was implying that "Just as a garment which is completely techeiles (purple) that is, completely holy, should not need an additional thread, so too our congregation which is completely holy does not need an additional 'holy person' to rule over it."
Rashi's Choice of Midrash
In fact, the midrash does say that Korah addressed another halachic question to Moses. The question: If a room is filled with Torah scrolls does it require a mezuzah on its door ? You can see that the logic is similar to the techeiles question. The mezuzah has only two parshios in it while the Torah scroll has these very same parshios plus many more. So why the need for the mezuzah?
But Rashi selectively chose just one. Why do you think he did so?
An Answer: The specific halacha regarding tzizis was chosen because this was the last law discussed in the Torah at the end of Parashas Shelach. The question about a mezuzah has no direct connection to the story of Korah. Rashi always chooses the midrash which fits closest to p'shat. (See the introduction the Vayikra volume of What's Bothering Rashi?)
Korach's Cynical Egalitarianism
Korah's cynicism didn't carry the day, although unfortunately it did seem to convince many Jews in the congregation. The halacha is that such a "completely purple" garment is obligated to have this additional purple thread. Perhaps we can say, by way of analogy, that while the additional thread may be no different than the others, the mere fact that it is outside the main garment (i.e. the congregation) affords it a perspective on matters that the other threads (other people) don't have. It is this necessary distance and objectivity that is necessary for a leader. Korah didn't have that distance or the impartiality and therefore his personal crusade was doomed. And Korah, of course, was cynical in his campaign for equality. He wanted the top spot for himself. His reasoning probably was based the Orwellian idea: "All are Jews are equal, but some are more equal then others."
We have good news to announce. The new Bamidbar volume of "What's Bothering Rashi?"is ready and should be in the bookstore soon. Look and ask for it.
"What's Bothering Rashi?" is a product of the "Institute for the Study of Rashi and the Early Torah Commentaries." 2 Wisconsin Circle, Chevy Chase MD 20815
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