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Never Again!

Korach (Numbers 16-18 )

by Rabbi Ozer Alport

After Korach's rebellion was quashed and the doubts that he raised about the legitimacy of the leadership of Moshe and Aharon were erased, the Torah teaches that there will never again be an episode like Korach and his assembly (Numbers 17:5). How is this to be understood?

Although in a literal sense many commentators understand this verse as a biblical prohibition against engaging in disputes, Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik offers a homiletic interpretation with a lesson that we would do well to internalize.

In the rebellion led by Korach and his followers, their position was 100% wrong, without any legitimacy whatsoever. The position of Moshe and Aharon, against whom they were fighting, was revealed by God to be 100% correct. Rav Chaim suggested that this verse may be understood as a Divine guarantee that there will never again be a dispute in which one side is completely correct and the other is absolutely in error.

When we disagree with our families, friends, and coworkers, each side all too often falls into the trap of assuming that his position is completely justified and engages in a campaign of "proving" to the other side the absolute absurdity of their opinion. If we remember the promise of the Torah that there will never again be such a one-sided disagreement as that of Moshe and Korach, it will be much easier for us to see and understand the logic of our spouses, children, coworkers, and neighbors, which will naturally result in much happier and more peaceful resolutions for all parties involved.

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Rashi writes (Numbers 16:1) that Korach argued that his father was one of four siblings. The oldest of them was Amram, so his children Moshe and Aharon took the positions of king and Kohen Gadol, respectively. However, Korach felt that as the son of Yitzhar, the second oldest of the siblings, he deserved to be appointed leader of the tribe, yet Moshe gave the position to the son of the youngest of the brothers, which inspired Korach's rebellion. If this was the basis for his rebellion against Moshe, why didn't he attack Moshe immediately when these appointments were made, and what inspired his wrath specifically at this time?

Nachmanides explains that at the time of the appointments of the tribal leaders, Moshe was immensely popular. Even when the Jews committed the unparalleled sin of the golden calf, only a relatively small number died, as Moshe spent 40 days and nights praying for forgiveness on their behalf. At that time, all of the Jews loved Moshe, and anybody who attempted to challenge his leadership would be killed by his supporters, so Korach had no choice but to wait patiently. Now, however, many Jews had been killed for complaining, first through a Heavenly fire (Numbers 11:3) and then through the meat that they demanded (Numbers 11:33).

Additionally, after the sin of the spies, Moshe's prayers on their behalf did not succeed in annulling the decree against them. Now that many people were angry at Moshe and questioned his effectiveness, Korach thought that they would be more willing to listen to his arguments and join his rebellion.

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Parshas Korach revolves around Korach's challenge to the authority and leadership of Moshe and Aharon. Korach ultimately leads a full-fledged rebellion against them, one which ends in disastrous and tragic results as he and his followers and all of their possessions were swallowed up by the ground (Numbers 16:32-33). Judaism teaches that people are punished for their sins measure-for-measure. In what way was Korach's punishment of being swallowed alive by the earth for rebelling against Moshe and Aharon specifically appropriate for his crime?

Rabbeinu Bechaye explains that Korach erred in seeking to rise to a lofty position for which he was unfit. Therefore, he was punished by being swallowed up by the ground and sent down to the lowest level of Gehinnom (Numbers 16:33).

Rabbi Wolf Strickover answers that Korach challenged Moshe and Aharon (Numbers 16:3), "Why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of God," accusing them of arrogance. In reality, the Torah testifies (Numbers 12:3) that Moshe was the most humble man on Earth and viewed himself as no greater than the ground itself. In order to punish him, Korach had to be lowered below Moshe. Since Moshe considered himself equal to the ground, the only choice was for the earth to swallow him up.

Alternatively, the Mishnah (Avos 3:2) teaches that without a leader to make and enforce laws, people would consume and devour one another. Since Korach argued that the entire nation was holy and didn't need a leader, he was punished by being swallowed up by the ground to hint to the natural consequence of his proposal.

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The Talmud (Sanhedrin 109b) teaches that although On Ben Peles was originally one of the leaders of Korach's rebellion, his sagacious wife convinced him to withdraw from the dispute. She pointed out that he had nothing to gain from the fight, as even if Korach won, he would be just as subservient to Korach as he currently was to Moshe and Aharon. In what way was her argument considered wise and eye-opening, as it seems to be simply telling him things that were self-evident and that he knew already?

Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz explains that when a person is involved in the heat of an intense conflict, his emotions are so strong that they overpower his rational thinking process. Under such circumstances, insights which would normally be considered straightforward and self-evident must often be provided by an objective and uninvolved party, in this case On's wife.

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The Talmud (Yoma 75a) teaches that the Manna fell at the doorsteps of the righteous, far away from the tents of the wicked, and somewhere in-between for the average. Why wasn't Moshe able to answer Korach's argument that he was as righteous as Moshe and Aharon by publicly pointing out that Korach's Manna fell far from his tent, revealing his true wicked core?

The Shevet Mussar (37:22) cites a Midrash which teaches that fighting and discord is such a severe sin that on the day of Korach's rebellion the Manna didn't fall, whereas on the day of the sin of the golden calf, which was presumably a greater sin, the Manna did fall because there was peace and unity among the people. This explains why Moshe was unable to demonstrate Korach's true spiritual status based on the location of his Manna.

As far as what the people ate on that day, Rabbi Aharon Leib Shteinman (Exodus 16:4) suggests that they had to purchase food from nomadic merchants in the area.


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