Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Korach

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Rav lachem B’nei Levi (16:7)

Parshas Korach begins with the tragic revolt led by Korach against Moshe and Aharon in which he questions their claims of being Divinely-chosen in an attempt to overthrow their leadership. Moshe attempted to quash their rebellion by explaining to them that serving Hashem as Levites was no small matter and they should be content with their roles instead of seeking to elevate themselves by serving as Kohanim Gedolim.

The Gemora (Sotah 13b) teaches that Moshe was punished for telling Korach and his followers Rav lachem B’nei Levi – it is too much for you, children of Levi. When Moshe petitioned Hashem to annul the decree preventing him from entering the land of Israel, Hashem answered him (Devorim 3:26) using a similar expression: Rav lach – it is too much for you – to hint that Moshe sinned in using this expression when addressing Korach. What was Moshe’s error in speaking to Korach in this manner, and in what way was his punishment measure-for-measure and not just a linguistic play on words?

The Manchester Rosh Yeshiva explains that although Korach and his followers committed a grave sin in their rebellion against the leadership of Moshe and Aharon, it was still inappropriate for Moshe to speak to them in this way. Moshe told them that the spiritual elevation they sought was too much for them. Several commentators explain that Hashem instilled within us a natural lack of satisfaction with our lot so that we will constantly seek to grow and change in spiritual endeavors.

Although they were mistaken and misguided, it was still incorrect to speak to them in a manner which implies that the pursuit of spiritual growth is capped and limited. Moshe’s desire to enter the land of Israel to grow through doing the mitzvos which may uniquely be performed there was met with a response similar to the one he had used to allude to the impropriety of his message to Korach.

Vayilonu kol adas B’nei Yisroel mimacharas al Moshe v’al Aharon leimor atem hemisem es am Hashem (17:6)

Parshas Korach begins with the tragic revolt led by Korach against Moshe and Aharon in an attempt to question their claims of being Divinely-chosen and ultimately to overthrow their leadership. Moshe suggested that the dispute be resolved by challenging Korach and his 250 followers to prepare incense offerings, which they would offer to Hashem. Aharon would do so as well, and the person whom Hashem truly selected to serve Him would survive, while all of the others would perish.

After Korach refused to back down and accepted the challenge even at the risk of his life and those of his followers, Moshe grew angry and petitioned Hashem not to accept the incense offerings of Korach and his followers. As Moshe had warned, Korach and all of his followers were killed while the offering of Aharon was accepted.

The Jewish people reacted by accusing Moshe and Aharon of causing their deaths. This is difficult to understand. Moshe conducted himself with the utmost humility in attempting to dissuade them from their uprising. When this was unsuccessful and with his Divine authority on the line, Moshe was left with no choice but to propose this test, and he warned them of the disastrous results which awaited them. If they ignored his warnings and Hashem punished them, how could Moshe and Aharon be blamed for their deaths?

A student of Rav Yisroel Salanter once approached his saintly teacher. He reverently told Rav Yisroel about a certain Rav who was so righteous that when he became upset by somebody and cursed him, the curse was always fulfilled. Rav Yisroel was far from impressed. He explained that just as we are responsible for causing damage with our hands or actions, so too are we equally accountable for causing damage with our speech.

The student asked Rav Yisroel for a source in the Torah stating that a person is responsible for his speech. Rav Yisroel cited our verse, in which the Jewish people blamed Moshe and Aharon for the deaths of Korach and his followers. He explained that they maintained that it was the prayers of Moshe and Aharon which resulted in this outcome and felt that they must therefore be held accountable. Although they were mistaken, as Moshe and Aharon had no alternative in this situation, we still derive from here that a person is responsible not only for the consequences of his actions, but also of his speech.

We live in a society in which sharp-tongued people are praised and held in high esteem. Although they may occupy the corner office and receive accolades for their witty rebuts, the Torah has a different perspective. One of the 613 commandments is a prohibition against saying something which hurts another person’s feelings (Vayikra 19:33). Although we likely won’t be accused of killing somebody with our speech as were Moshe and Aharon, the Gemora (Bava Metzia 58b) teaches that publicly embarrassing another person is comparable to killing him. The next time we are tempted to roll a sharp line off our tongues as we convince ourselves that it’s only words, we should remember Rav Yisroel’s teaching that words can also kill, and we are held responsible for their effects.

Kein tarimu gam atem terumas Hashem mikol maasroseichem asher tik’chu me’eis B’nei Yisroel un’satem mimenu es terumas Hashem l’Aharon HaKohen (18:28)

The Gemora in Berachos (46a) relates that Rav Abahu once made a festive meal to celebrate Rav Zeira’s recovery from an illness. At the beginning of the meal, Rav Abahu suggested that Rav Zeira recite HaMotzi to exempt the other guests. Rav Zeira responded that it is proper for the host (Rav Abahu) to do so. When the time came to recite Birkas HaMazon, Rav Abahu again attempted to honor Rav Zeira by proposing that he lead its recitation. Rav Zeira again demurred, explaining that the person who said the blessing over the bread should be the one to recite Birkas HaMazon. The Gemora explains that Rav Abahu believed that the guest should lead the recitation of Birkas HaMazon in order to bless the host.

In a letter to Rav Chaim Berlin, the Aderes questioned why the Gemora says that Rav Abahu’s reasoning was based on Rav Zeira’s status as a guest. Shouldn’t it have been based on his status as a Kohen (Yerushalmi Berachos 3:1), as one performs a mitzvah by honoring a Kohen to recite a blessing?

The Gemora in Megillah (7b) recounts that Rabbah and Rav Zeira were eating the festive Purim meal together when Rabbah slaughtered Rav Zeira. Although the Gemora relates that Rabbah prayed and resurrected Rav Zeira, the Aderes suggested that his status as a Kohen ended with his natural death, and there were no longer grounds on which to honor him to say the blessings as a Kohen.

Rav Berlin responded that the Aderes was surely joking with him. The Gemora (Sanhedrin 90b) questions how our verse can teach that terumah should be given to Aharon, who never merited entering the land of Israel where this mitzvah was performed. The Gemora answers that the Torah is hinting to the resurrection of the dead, at which time Aharon will receive terumah. How can the Gemora be understood according to the logic of the Aderes, as Aharon’s status as a Kohen ended when he died a natural death?

In defense of the Aderes, Rav Yaakov Chaim Sofer notes that in his notes on the Rambam’s Sefer HaMitzvos (3:7), the Ramban writes that the anointment received by Aharon and his sons became invalid at the time of their deaths. Upon their resurrection, they will require a new anointment in order to regain their status as Kohanim and serve in the Beis Hamikdash, and by extension to receive terumah, precisely in accordance with the explanation of the Aderes.

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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) As it is forbidden to name a child after a wicked person (Yoma 38b), why did the righteous Yitzhar name his son Korach, which was the name of one of Eisav’s sons (Bereishis 36:5)? (Shu”t Chasam Sofer Even HaEzer 2:22, Pardes Yosef, M’rafsin Igri)

2) Which people who have appeared earlier in the Torah were reincarnated as Korach and his assembly? (Rabbeinu Bechaye 16:29)

3) Rashi writes (16:7) that Korach was misled by the fact that he saw the righteous Shmuel descended from him, and he assumed that this merit would allow him to be saved. Although Korach erred in his reasoning, why was he punished so harshly for an unintentional mistake? (Maharsha Sanhedrin 110a, Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh Vayikra 8:5, Ayeles HaShachar)

4) The Gemora in Kiddushin (46b) derives from 18:32 that if one separates terumah from inferior grain in order to exempt superior grain, his actions are effective but are considered sinful. At present, when terumah goes to waste due to impurity, does this prohibition still apply, or is it now permissible to separate terumah from the inferior product? (Ramban Hashmatos to Sefer HaMitzvos Lo Sa’aseh 7, Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 331:52, Ayeles HaShachar)

© 2013 by Oizer Alport.