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by Jacob Solomon

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It is sufficient for you, Children of Levi! (16:7)


The opening verses of Parashat Korach relate the well-known story of Korach and his followers banding themselves against Moses and Aaron. They demanded a share in both the leadership and the priesthood (implied in 16:3). Moses' reply was that G-d had already given them privileged status as Levites: It is sufficient for you, Children of Levi!

The reaction of Moses to Korach and his followers seems unusual when viewed in the light of his previous confrontations with the Israelites. The Spies caused the Israelites to rebel against Moses' authority - as a result of which people said to one another. "Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt" (14:4). Moses did not pray for Divine Justice against the Spies. Instead, using part of the Thirteen Attributes, he pleaded in the hope that G-d would have mercy on the Israelites (Spies not excluded), even though they were utterly unworthy of compassion (see Ramban on 14:17). However Korach was not accorded such consideration. The text shows that Moses directed Korach and his followers towards a situation where they would incur death at the Hand of G-d should they persist in their rebellion.

Both the incidents of the Spies and Korach were mutinies. The Spies caused the Israelites to revolt against the situation in which they were: the Israelites felt helpless against the perceived might of the Canaanites. The uprising of Korach, by contrast, was targeted against Moses' and Aaron's personal authority: for the whole congregation is holy - G-d is amongst them - and why do you lift yourselves above the community of G-d? (16:3). It seems just at this stage that Moses was far less inclined to forgive in any situation where his own authority was challenged. This is all the more strange in the light of the fact that Moses' position was already secure: G-d had placed Divine Authority on him in the presence of the Israelites at Mount Sinai - in order that the people should listen when I (G-d) speak to you, and also that they should believe in you for ever (Ex. 19:9).

The Talmud (Sotah 13b) points out that indeed, G-d was not happy in the way Moses rebuked Korach:

R. Levi said: He (Moses) announced the edict with the words rav lach (It is sufficient for you) and the edict was confirmed with the words rav lach. He announced the edict to Korach and his followers with the words It is sufficient for you, Children of Levi and the edict was confirmed with the words It is sufficient for you - do not continue to speak to Me about this matter (Deut. 3:26).

The Talmud implies that when G-d rejected Moses' appeal to be allowed to cross the Jordan and see the Promised Land before his death, He referred to Moses' dismissal of Korach's claim.

This seems hard to understand. The reason for Moses' not being allowed entry into the Promised Land is explicitly stated (20:12): it was the consequence of the incident of the striking rather than speaking to the rock - nothing to do with Korach. Why does the Talmud link them together?

One reason is because Moses did not give Korach any credit at all for his genuine desire to aspire to holiness by wanting to be part of the Priesthood. True, the Talmud (Avot 5) holds up Korach's rebellion as a 'dispute not for the sake of Heaven' - meaning here that Korach's motivation was for personal aggrandizement rather than for advancing the cause of the Torah Nation. Nevertheless - consider the nature of the means that Korach chose for his self-aggrandizement: not wealth or luxury, but the privilege of the Kehuna - the Priesthood!

The Kehuna is something that according to the Midrash (quoted by Rashi), Esau rejected. In selling the birthright to Jacob, Esau said:

"Behold I am going to die - what is the birthright to me?" Esau said (to Jacob) - "What is the nature of the sacred service of the birthright?" Jacob replied, "There are many warnings, punishments, and deaths associated with it". He answered back, "If I take on the birthright (Priestly duties) I am going to die through it - what is (the birthright) to me?" (Rashi on Gen. 25:32).

Korach, to his credit, wished to be part of the holiness that Esau had rejected. Moses only looked at the baseness of Koracn's personality - an egoist usurping Divine-allocated authority. In his outright rejecting of Korach and his followers he did not appear to consider that there was a strong element of reaching for Kedusha - holiness. This factor may be compared to a wealthy, but unscrupulous individual who wishes to donate a huge sum to a hospital for one reason only - to see his own name displayed in big gold letters. The donor may be a rogue, but there is undoubtedly something praiseworthy in his desire, as he could achieve fame through other, less ethical means. Indeed the Talmud states that mitoch she-lo ba lishma, ba lishma - out of something that is done without any high purpose will eventually be done for that high purpose.

Moses' outright rejection of Korach - It is sufficient for you, Children of Levi! - did not give him credit for his implied desire to achieve fame through climbing the ladder of holiness. He focused entirely on the she-lo lishma. So when Moses wished to climb his own ladder of holiness by entering the Promised Land and experience its high spiritual status, G-d said It is sufficient for you. As you rejected Korach's desire for spirituality in that flagrant way - do not continue to speak to me about this matter - I reject your own wishes for higher spirituality… Some of the ideas for this D'var Torah came from Rabbi M. Miller in Shabbat Shiurim (second series), pp.236-241.



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