by Zvi Akiva Fleisher
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OROH V'SIMCHOH - MESHECH CHOCHMOH ON PARSHAS KORACH 5766 BS"D
The Rambam in his list of negative mitzvos lists as the first, second, fifth, and six mitzvos "Lo y'h'yeh, Lo saa'seh l'cho fessel, Lo sishtacha'veh, and V'lo so'ovdeim." The Ramban says that all of these are to be considered one mitzvoh. He proves this from the gemara Makos 23b-24a that derives from the words "Torah tzivoh lonu Moshe" (Dvorim 33:4) that Moshe taught the bnei Yisroel 611 mitzvos, the numeric value of the word TORAH, while the TWO mitzvos "Onochi" and "Lo y'h'yeh," the bnei Yisroel heard directly from Hashem. If we count the negative commands that are found in the verse that begins with "Lo y'h'yeh" as separate mitzvos, we have a total of five mitzvos that we heard directly from Hashem. This leaves us with only 608 mitzvos that we heard from Moshe, totally contrary to the words of the gemara. The Ramban, in asking his question, assumes that along with "lo y'h'yeh" we must include the complete verse with the cantellations of "taam ho'elyone" as being heard directly from Hashem or this complete parsha until the next paragraph space. Indeed, the Megilas Esther, a commentator on the Sefer Hamitzvos l'hoRambam, answers the Ramban's difficulty by saying that only the first words of the verse "Lo y'h'yeh" were heard directly from Hashem, leaving us with only two mitzvos, "Onochi" and "Lo y'h'yeh."
However, the MESHECH CHOCHMOH gives a most interesting answer based on the words of the Rambam himself, in Moreh N'vuchim 2:33. The Rambam writes that hearing "Onochi" and "Lo y'h'yeh" does not mean that the bnei Yisroel actually heard the words of these two mitzvos articulated. Rather, they heard a most awesome celestial sound.
(Perhaps this is indicated in Dvorim 4:12, "Kole dvorim a'tem shomim," - You hear a voice of words, but not the words themselves. Another allusion to this might be in Dvorim 4:35, "Atoh horeiso lodaas," - You were SHOWN to know, but did not hear it, since the verse does not say "Atoh SHOMATO lodaas," "ki Hashem hu ho'Elokim," this is "Onochi," ein ode milvado, this is "Lo y'h'yeh.")
The sound emanating from heaven left the bnei Yisroel with the clear knowledge that "Onochi" and "Lo y'h'yeh," - I am your G-d and there shall be no other besides me. This is what is meant by the gemara Makos. Since they did not grasp the other three mitzvos from this sound, only two were heard (understood), and Moshe taught them 611 mitzvos including the three following "Lo y'h'yeh." Moshe, on the other hand, was able to discern the actual words conveyed with the sound and heard the articulated five mitzvos in the verse of "Onochi."
All of this brings us to a question on the Rambam from the words of the M.R. that states that Korach equated all the bnei Yisroel to Moshe because they also heard the first two "dibros." According to the Rambam all the bnei Yisroel heard "Onochi" and "Lo y'h'yeh" as an unarticulated sound, while Moshe heard it clearly as words. If so, how could Korach claim that all the bnei Yisroel were on an equal footing with Moshe by virtue of also receiving the same prophecy, since Moshe heard it on a much higher level of perception?
To answer this, another piece of information is needed. The Tosfos Yom Tov in his commentary on the words in Pirkei Ovos 5:6, "Ten things were created on the eve of Shabbos just as Shabbos was to begin. They are, the mouth of the earth (which would swallow Korach), etc. Tosfos Yom Tov raises a few questions.
1) How could Moshe question IF Hashem would create a new creation (See Rashi on verse 30), since our mishnoh clearly states that the mouth of the earth was already created during the six days of creation?
2) Why did Moshe say "U'FOTZ'SOH ho'adomoh es pihoh" rather than U'FOS'CHOH?
3) Why did the bnei Yisroel run away from the sound, "Nossu l'kolom" (verse 34)? Shouldn't they have run to the sound emanating from the earthquake to see the great wonder that Hashem had wrought?
(There will be more on the words "Nossu l'kolom" later.)
4) The M.R. 18:4 and Tanchumoh #3 say that Korach descended to the lowest level of the abyss alive. There is an indication to this in T'hilim 9:18, "Yoshuvu r'sho'im L'sh'oloH." The prepositional Lamed, TO, at the beginning of this word and the repetitive prepositional Hei, again TO, at the end of the word indicate that he went to the lowest level. How was this known to the bnei Yisroel?
To answer all these questions the Tosfos Yom Tov says a great "chiddush." Moshe said that the earth would U'FOTZ'SOH. This is to be translated as "The earth will SPEAK, as we find in Shoftim 11:35, "POTZISI fi" and T'hilim 66:14 "Asher POTZU s'fosoy." Moshe said that not only would the earth open to swallow Korach, but that it would also speak, clearly stating that Korach has descended to the seventh level of depth of the abyss. The bnei Yisroel ran away out of fear upon hearing the earth speaking, a most terrifying experience. Upon reviewing the four questions raised by the Tosfos Yom Tov, you will see that they are all resolved. (How does the Tosfos Yom Tov explain Breishis 4:11, "Min ho'adomoh asher POTZ'SOH es pihoh?")
Given this collection of information, we might have a most interesting answer to the question posed on the Rambam earlier. Indeed, Korach was quite wrong in equating the nation's hearing "Onochi" and "Lo y'h'yeh," which were only received as a celestial sound, with Moshe's hearing "Onochi" and "Lo y'h'yeh" as clearly articulated words. Although there was much more to fault Korach besides this, since these were the words of his complaint, Hashem punished him in kind. It is safe to assume that along with the earthquake there was an accompanying powerful crashing sound, not much different from that of thunder. Rabbi Eliyohu Mizrochi says that this was the sound that was heard, as mentioned in verse 34. According to the Tosfos Yom Tov the voice emanating from the earth was heard besides the regular din of an earthquake. Thus Korach was punished "Midoh k'ne'ged midoh." He equated hearing a sound from Hashem with hearing clear articulated words. Hashem likewise had the earth open and swallow him, accompanied not only by a general sound, but also by a miraculous never before experienced, clear articulation of the earth, saying that Korach has descended to the lowest abyss alive.
Ch. 17, v. 2: "V'yo'reim es hamachtos" - The gemara Sanhedrin 55a says that the item through which a person has sinned and has brought about his death should be destroyed. The MESHECH CHOCHMOH asks, "If so, why weren't the pans in which Korach's followers brought the incense destroyed?" He answers that the gemara says that there are two reasons for destroying these items. One reason for destroying the object is "kolone," the embarrassment this brings to the memory of the dead person. Every time someone sees the item, it reminds him of the tremendous sin that was done. A second reason is "takoloh." Once a sin was done through this item it could bring about another person sinning with it in the same manner. Thus the next verse answers why the pans were not totally destroyed. As far as embarrassment, there is none, since the incense was brought for Hashem, "ki hikrivum lifnei Hashem." As far as the fear of someone similarly sinning with one of the pans in the future, once used as cladding for the altar they serve as a sign not to sin, "v'yi'h'yu l'ose livnei Yisroel."
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