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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And Korach took. (16:1)

Was Korach a fool? Absolutely not. Did he lack yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven? No. indeed, Chazal teach that Korach was a chacham gadol, very wise man, a pikeach, clever and astute person. He was among those Leviim who carried the Aron HaKodesh, Holy Ark. What happened to all of this chochmah, pikchus and yiraas Shomayim? His eye deceived him. He saw a great and distinguished lineage descending from him. Shmuel HaNavi, the great prophet, was one of his descendants. Such lineage can turn anyone's head.

First of all, Korach was correct in what he saw. He was the progenitor of an illustrious lineage. His mistake was in not noticing what should have been the most salient point of this image - that his sons would repent and reject their father's miscreant ways. Otherwise, Korach's picture would have been quite definitive. So, if Korach was wise, smart and basically a yarei Shomayim, G-d-fearing person, how did he have the audacity to confront Moshe Rabbeinu, and to entice Klal Yisrael's spiritual elite to join him in rebellion and slander of Moshe, Aharon and ultimately Hashem? Chazal say eino hitiso, his eye deceived him. He figured, if Shmuel could be his grandson, how could he go wrong? He was dead wrong.

Horav Nissan Alpert, zl, offers an alternative explanation which has great practical meaning. Korach, indeed, had the qualities that under most circumstances should have stimulated his development as a righteous, upstanding, and virtuous person. Like all men, however, he was drawn to arrogance and petty jealousy. These two character traits have destroyed many a potential leader among men.

Rav Shimon ben Lakish says (Sukkah 52b): "Man's yetzer (inclination) tries to overpower him, trying to kill him, as it says, 'The evil one gazes upon the tzaddik and attempts to kill him'" (Tehillim 37:32). Horav Yisrael Salanter, zl, comments that the "evil one" referenced in the pasuk is not some sinister person, some evil individual who attempts to kill the tzaddik; rather, the "evil one" is actually man's subconscious. Thus, for all outward appearances, a person could portray himself as a tzaddik, but, within him, he is a rasha, evil person. If it were not for Hashem's help, we would all succumb to the yetzer hora's evil manipulation of our lives.

Hashem's help is not guaranteed. It is accessible to the individual who seeks to move in a positive direction. On the other hand, Haba l'tamei poschin lo, "One who wishes to contaminate himself will be granted the opportunity to do so." What is the line of demarcation which divides tumah, spiritual defilement, from taharah, spiritual purity? One who acts inadvertently, who acts like a human being with his foibles and urges, will not deliberately cross the line. He is only acting human, and human beings are imperfect. When one acts audaciously, however, with malice aforethought, then his actions place him beyond the pale, beyond the parameters of human imperfection. It is then that he has declared that he is haba l'tamei, seeks to contaminate himself. Sadly, he, too, will be assisted along the path of infamy which he has chosen for himself.

Korach crossed that line of demarcation. This occurred when he impugned the integrity of Moshe's leadership. By challenging our quintessential Rebbe and leader, he indicated that the rasha, evil one, from within had taken over and was now in charge. The external tzaddik was now an external rasha. Chazal present us with ammunition for dealing with the "evil one" which resides within us. "Should that disgusting one meet up with you, drag him into the bais hamedrash" (Sukkah 52b). How does studying Torah serve as the antidote to protect from the effects of the yetzer hora? Rav Alpert explains that this occurs when one studies Torah analytically, with sincerity, ruminating over every word, carefully examining everything that he learns, turning it over and over, to be certain that he has viewed all sides and aspects fairly and honestly. He questions himself: "Is this side correct? Perhaps the other side makes greater sense? Do I really understand what the sage says, or could I have misunderstood his position?"

One who takes such an approach, questioning back and forth, clarifying the issue until he has removed as much ambiguity as he can, such an individual can be called ha'ba l'taheir, one who wishes to purify himself. He has an open mind in the sense that he seeks only the truth. He is assisted from Above. Honesty is a prerequisite for religious life. While it is imperative that one deal honestly with others, it is especially vital that he does so with himself. He must acknowledge the three avos ha'tumah, primary categories of spiritual defilement: excessive pride, excessive drive for honor, petty jealousy. These are the very same forces that took down Korach, and they are, indeed, a part of himself - as well.

One must question his personal motives: Why am I doing this? What is motivating me to perform the chesed, kindness? Do I want attention, acclaim, honor? Am I jealous of others? Are my actions the result of yiraas Shomayim, fear of Heaven, or the consequence of seeking aggrandizement?

Rav Alpert presents us with a litmus test for determining the source which is motivating our actions. Does he have any doubt, any misgiving concerning his actions, or is he totally convinced that what he is doing is correct? One who commences a project or endeavor with absolutely no self-doubt should be acutely aware that he is probably acting on behalf of the yetzer hora, which has caused him to delude himself.

This is what happened with Korach. Vayikach Korach - "and Korach took." What did he take? He took himself - lock, stock and barrel. He convinced himself that what he was doing was appropriate, even laudatory. He did not humbly deliberate and analyze whether his intentions were l'shem Shomayim, for the sake of Heaven. He believed in the lie that the "evil one" helped him to conjure up in his mind. He told himself that everything was fine. By crossing the line, he was no longer a candidate for Divine assistance. He had chosen the path leading towards tumah.

And Korach ben Yitzhar ben Kehas ben Levi took. (16:1)

Rashi observes that the name of the family Patriarch, Yaakov Avinu, is not mentioned. He quotes the Midrash Tanchuma that explains that Yaakov pleaded that his name not be associated with Korach's controversy. While this may be laudable, it is not as if his name is never associated with Korach. Indeed, in Sefer Divrei Hayamim (I: 6:23), where the service in the Bais Hamikdash is detailed, the entire yichus, pedigree, is detailed, and the Patriarch's name is mentioned. The question is obvious: The fact that Yaakov's name is not mentioned does not detract from reality that he was Korach's ancestor; so, why not mention it?

Veritably, questions abound concerning the entire Korach debacle. Each one has merit, with the explanations that are derived, thereby imparting critical lessons concerning interpersonal relationships and the tragic consequences of controversy. For our purpose, I will focus on a difficult lesson to be gleaned from the parsha of Korach, a tragic encounter between Jewish leadership which seems to plague us throughout the generations. Sadly, when people with deficient character traits are involved, there will be machlokes, controversy, and it will take its toll on the Jewish community. The only way to prevent it from occurring is to ignore the rabble rousers. It takes two to maintain a dispute. When the wicked one initiates the controversy, our function is to ignore him. If he has no one with whom to contend, he will go away. If we respond to him, we become partners in a machlokes.

When Moshe Rabbeinu was confronted with the tragedy of a rift within Klal Yisrael, he understood that this was a transgression that would not go away. The people must learn the egregious nature of controversy and acknowledge the seriousness of its consequences. While Moshe was not going to respond to the rabble rousers, he could not allow this infraction to go unabated. The punishment sustained by the would-be usurpers of Klal Yisrael's Heaven-picked leadership must be one that would be remembered throughout the generations. Moshe prayed to Hashem, "If these (men) die like the death of all men, and the destiny of all men is visited upon them, then it is not Hashem who sent me…" As soon as Moshe concluded this prayer, the ground opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households and all the people who were with Korach and all their possessions. They and all that was theirs descended alive to the realm of the dead.

For all appearances, Moshe wanted an "earth-shattering" punishment that would send a reverberating message concerning the evil of machlokes. If this is the case, what prompted him to choose this particular punishment? Why did the earth have to open its "mouth"? What "mouth" does the earth have? It does not speak, and, if it had, what words would have emerged from the earth's mouth as it consumed Korach and his followers?

Horav Pinchas Freidman, Shlita, quotes the Talmud Sanhedrin 11a, which teaches that from the very depths of the earth, Korach and his assembly actually do justify and acknowledge Hashem's verdict, by their declaration, Moshe v'Toraso emes, "Moshe and his Torah are true." The Talmud relates that Rabbah bar bar Chanah met an Arab merchant who indicated to him the exact spot at which Korach and his assembly were swallowed up. He pointed to two cracks in the ground which were emitting smoke. The Arab then instructed him to bend his ear to the ground in order to listen to the sounds/voices emanating from deep within the earth's recesses. This is where he heard, Moshe v'Toraso emes. Apparently, every thirty days Korach and his assembly are returned to that exact place where they make this declaration.

Rav Friedman now introduces us to a novel idea, presented by the R'ma m'Panu in his Asarah Maamaros. He quotes the Arizal who observes that the last letters of the words, Tzaddik katamar yifrach - kuf, raish, ches - (the righteous) [person] will bloom like a date palm) (Tehillim 92:13), is, indeed, a reference to Korach who, from the moment that he entered the bowels of Gehinom, began justifying the Heavenly decree issued against him and his assembly. Thus, they chant Moshe emes v'Toraso emes. Thus, when the world as a whole will achieve its tikkun, spiritual rectification, so, too, will they.

The Shlah HaKadosh reiterates this thought, but adds that this is possible only because Moshe Rabbeinu prayed that Korach and his followers be swallowed alive. Since they entered Gehinom alive, they were able to repent, and one day will achieve their ultimate repair. Had Korach actually died, he could not repent, since there is no teshuvah, repentance, after death. The efficacy of teshuvah is only as long as one is in control of his faculties. Therefore, although Korach was taken down to the realm of the dead, he will one day be allowed to rise and flourish like a date palm.

Having said this, we conclude that Moshe's decree that Korach be swallowed up alive served a dual purpose. On the one hand, it provided the nation with living proof of the glory of G-d. When one witnesses a terrifying punishment being meted out to one who rebels against Hashem, the Almighty is glorified. The horrible sounds/screams and the devastating sight which they witnessed encouraged the people to run far and fast from a dispute and also to believe that everything Moshe did was in accordance with the will of Hashem.

On the other hand, Korach benefitted exponentially from Moshe's decree, since he now was availed the opportunity to repent. It allowed him/them to achieve their tikkun, through their confession that "Moshe is true and his Torah is true (and we are liars)."

Having explained Moshe's actions, we gain a new perspective concerning our quintessential leader's inordinate and atypical prayer that such a horrible punishment be administered to Korach. Moshe had always demonstrated incredible forbearance and compassion, begging forgiveness on behalf of the Jews a number of times. Yet, this time, he seems to have been acting in a manner totally out of character. We now realize that Moshe actually did Korach an everlasting favor by allowing him the opportunity to be spared from eternal ostracism.

We turn to our Patriarch's prayer that his name not be associated with Korach's dispute. We know that he was Korach's ancestor; how does deleting his name from Korach's lineage make such a difference? The Or HaChaim HaKadosh explains that Yaakov did not want his name associated with Korach, because he did not want the element of "Yaakov," the origin of Klal Yisrael's neshamos, souls, to become tainted. He explains this esoterically: When Hashem created mankind, He created a tree that contained all of the branches of kedushah, holiness. When Adam HaRishon sinned and became personally blemished, all the souls associated with him also became affected by this spiritual taint. When Avraham successfully passed the Asarah Nisyonos, Ten Trials, the spiritual stigma was expunged, leaving the contamination on the branch of Yishmael. When Yitzchak Avinu withstood the trial at the Akeidah, Binding of Yitzchak, his neshamah was cleansed, leaving the taint on Eisav, thus allowing for Yaakov's neshamah to emerge unsullied of any spiritual contaminant.

Yaakov was similar to Adam prior to his sin, allowing him to become the tree, which now had twelve branches. One of these branches was Levi, which was divided into three: Gershon, Kehas, Merari. Kehas' branch divided into four: Amram, Yitzhar, Chevron and Uziel, with Korach branching off from Yitzhar. When Korach sought to alter the branches of Kehunah, Priesthood, he blemished the branches of kedushah from which he descended. Until now, all of these branches had been holy at their roots, which were connected to the tree. Korach negatively affected the branch of Yitzhar and Kehas, since they comprised his roots. Indeed, this spiritual defilement went all the way back to Levi's branch. By not mentioning Yaakov's name, the original source, the basic essence of the "tree" was left unimpaired. This was the essence of Yaakov's prayer: Do not allow the spiritual disease to reach the original source/Yaakov, of the tree. Thus, the tree could one day rejuvenate itself, since the scourge that affected the rest of it had not affected its origin.

The Sfas Emes takes this idea a bit further, claiming that Yaakov Avinu symbolized the middah, attribute, of emes, truth. When Yaakov prayed to Hashem that his name not be included b'adas Korach, in Korach's mutinous assembly, he was asking that his attribute of emes not become tainted. This nekudah, internal point, this Divine spark of emes, is the source of the neshamah within us. Despite the various transgressions committed by a person, he will not become sullied. It is connected to the source of all purity, the tree of Yaakov. Only because of Yaakov's prayer the Korach dispute not blemish the "tree's" root of emes. When Korach and his followers recite vidui, confession, in Gehinom, they declare, Moshe emes v'Toraso emes; they are granted Tikkun, spiritual emendation, since the internal spot of emes within them, their neshamos, did not become affected. Yaakov did not merely pray for his dignity. His prayer saved not only Korach and his followers; it also spared us from having our nekudas ha'emes sullied. Thus, once a person confesses his transgressions, he becomes worthy of achieving his tikkun.

And On ben Peles. (16:1)

On ben Peles was one of the original leaders of the Korach dispute. Yet, he was ultimately absent from the end confrontation; thus, he was spared the horrible punishment meted out to Korach and his followers. In the Talmud Sanhedrin 109a, Chazal teach that On was blessed with a wise and righteous wife, who saw where this confrontation was going and devised a plan, a logical argument, by which she was able to convince her husband to stay "home." She said to him, "What do you (personally) have to benefit from this folly? Regardless who emerges the winner, Moshe or Korach, you will still be the stooge. You will never achieve leadership status; so, why not stay home and let the others fight with Moshe?"

As a result of the argument which she presented, Chazal refer to her in the pasuk in Mishlei 14:1, Chochmas nashim bansah beisah, "The wise among women, each builds her house."

When we analyze the argument which On's wife presented, we wonder if it really demonstrates such unusual wisdom on her part. It is not as if she argued that Moshe Rabbeinu was the nation's quintessential leader, who was chosen by G-d. He was the Adon Ha'Neviim, master of all prophets, whose integrity one may not impugn. Furthermore, she claimed that, regardless who emerged successful, he - On - would continue as the subservient one, the "loser." Why did she simply not say that Korach was an apikores, heretic, who was subverting the nation? This would have indicated true wisdom on her part!

Horav Eliyahu Baruch Finkel, zl, explains that wisdom connotes knowing what to say and what will be effective. Korach was trying to precipitate an argument concerning Moshe's suitability and right to lead. On ben Peles' mind was made up. He believed in Korach and resented Moshe. When two sides argue philosophically, supporting one side against the other only lands the supporter right in the middle of the argument. Hence, On's wife was compelled to come up with an argument that would keep her husband's mind away from the fray. She also knew the true reason that Korach and his followers were in contention with Moshe. It had nothing whatsoever to do with who was a better leader. It was all about kavod, glory, and kinaah, envy. As a wise woman, she had to play on the kavod and kinaah that was driving this machlokes.

She saw that whoever won, her husband would be subservient. He would never become a leader - because he was not destined for leadership. A smart person analyzes a situation and determines the proper course of action. This is what she did. She addressed the yetzer hora, evil inclination, within her husband. "Even if you are correct that Moshe is not as qualified to lead as is Korach, where does that put you?" She understood the perverted psyche of these men. They had no problem impugning Moshe's leadership, denying Hashem as the nation's Divine leader, and undermining the Torah, but Heaven forbid should they gaze on a woman whose hair was uncovered! She was acutely aware of the double-standard that governed the lives of these men. Wisdom does not mean that one presents a better argument; rather, it is the one whose argument has greater efficacy that makes the difference.

And Dasan and Aviram came out and stood at the door of their tents. (16:27)

Rashi explains that these two reshaim, miscreants, who acted as Moshe Rabbeinu's nemeses, going back to Egypt, were here again to do what they were good at: harassing and undermining our nation's leader. When Moshe came by, they remained firm and resolute in their commitment to degrade and humiliate Moshe in every way. One wonders how these individuals survived so long. Eighty percent of the Jewish People who were in Egypt died during the three days of the plague of darkness. Dasan and Aviram did not. They continued their subversive activities at every juncture of Klal Yisrael's journey. Yet, they were still here to join Korach, fueling his dispute. What merit allowed them to leave Egypt with the twenty percent who were worthy of the geulah, redemption?

There were a number of reasons to keep Dasan and Aviram on the scene, despite the many challenges they created as a result of their wicked nature. The Melitzer Rebbe, Shlita, explains that, at times, Hashem maintains the wicked person, so that others will derive a lesson from his bad example. Dasan and Aviram taught us the evil consequences of slander, when they slandered Moshe after he killed the Egyptian man that was harassing them.When they searched on Shabbos for the manna which Moshe had warned would not descend, they demonstrated the extent to which one who lacks faith in Hashem and whose desire for wealth is overwhelming, can descend.

Second, the positive actions of the righteous have greater radiance when compared to the negative actions of the wicked. Moshe and Aharon's humility and quest for harmony among men becomes much more luminous when compared with the arrogance and controversy prone nature of Dasan and Aviram. Light is much brighter when held up against a dark background.

Next, if there would be no reshaim, wicked people, one's bechirah chafshis, free will, would become stunted. Everyone is availed the opportunity to gravitate towards the tzaddik, righteous person, instead of the rashsa or vice versa. No one is compelled to do so.

Last, the Kedushas Levi writes that Hashem allows reshaim to exist, so that they can serve as the vehicle for glorifying His Name in the world. When we think about it, had there not been an evil Pharaoh, there most likely would not have been ten plagues, which brought about an unprecedented Kiddush Shem Shomayim, sanctification of Hashem's Name. We can thank Dasan and Aviram for the earth opening its "mouth" and swallowing up these miscreants. Every person during his lifetime has the opportunity to become the vehicle for sanctifying Hashem's Name. It is his decision, however, whether he wants to do this as a rasha or as a tzaddik. It is his own choice.

Va'ani Tefillah

V'Torascha u'devarcha yasim al libo. And he will take to heart Your Torah and Your word.

Horav Yosef Tzvi Dushinsky, zl, explains this phrase inspirationally. Fortunate is he who merits to hear the Bas Kol ha'yotzais mei' Har Chorev, "the voice that emanates from the mountain upon which the Torah was given to us." This is a reference to Hashem calling out to His People, "Observe My Torah; keep My mitzvos." Fortunate is he who applies these words to his heart and carries out Hashem's "word." What about, however, the many who unfortunately, as a result of all of the adversity to which our people have been subjected, just cannot adhere to the strict regimen demanded by the Torah? What about the Jew who has caved in to his desires as a result of the influences that the exile has caused to permeate within him? These people have a spiritual audiological impediment. They cannot hear; it is not that they do not want to hear; they simply cannot. What protects them from the punishment that will be visited upon those who "know," but do not care, who know, but do not do? This is especially poignant at a time when every one of his organs (which represent the mitzvos) cry out to him: "Please! Observe the mitzvos! We depend on it!"

Hashem understands that, when the unfortunate man does not hear the clarion call of Sinai, the cries of his limbs begging him to observe Hashem's mitzvos for their sake, it is due to the many pressures, the persecutions, the adversity, the daily problems, which all play a role in negatively impacting his ability to hear. Then, there are also those who are "fortunate to hear and listen and take Your word to heart!"

Dedicated in memory
Moshe ben Shmuel z:l

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