The Connection Between Shechem, Joseph, Zimri and Korach
Vayechi (Genesis 47:28-50:26 )
Bereishis, 49:5-6: "Simeon and Levi are comrades; their weaponry is a stolen craft. Into their conspiracy may my soul not enter. With their congregation, do not join my honor. Because in their rage they murdered people and at their whim they hamstrung an ox."
Rashi, 49:6, sv. Into their conspiracy may my soul not enter: This [refers to] the act of Zimri. When the tribe of Simeon gathered to bring the Midianite woman before Moses...
Sv. With their congregation: When Korach, who was from the tribe of Levi gathered all the assembly against Moshe.
Sv. In their rage they murdered people: This [refers to] Hamor and the people of Shechem...
Sv. And at their whim they hamstrung an ox: They wanted to uproot Joseph who is called an ox...
In his blessings to his sons, Jacob rebuked Simeon and Levi for two earlier episodes in their lives; the destruction of Shechem, and their plot to harm Joseph. Rashi tells us that before those two rebukes, Jacob mentions two future events involving their descendants - the sin of Zimri of the tribe of Simeon, and the dispute of Korach, a member of the Tribe of Levi. The Torah connects the earlier two 'incidents' with the future sins, through use of the word 'ki' meaning 'because'. It is unclear how the two sets of incidents are connected.
The Maggid MiDubno explains the connection between the allusion to the sin of Zimri and Simeon's involvement in the destruction of Shechem.(1) In order to understand his words it is necessary to elucidate two important concepts: The first is 'maasim shel adam mochichim zeh es zeh' which means that the actions of a person in one situation can reflect on his behavior in other circumstances. The second concept is that any sin that descendants of great people committed reflect that their ancestor had some small failing in that same area and that it was magnified in their offspring, for if they had been totally flawless then it would have been impossible for their progeny to sin so badly in that same area.
With this foundation we can understand the words of the Maggid MiDubno: He writes that the reason that Simeon and Levi gave to justify their destruction of Shechem was their disgust at Shechem's immoral actions towards Deena. Yet many years later Simeon's descendants sinned in this very same area! The fact that they stumbled so badly in immorality indicates that their ancestor, Simeon must have had some minute flaw in the purity of his thoughts in that area. For had his intentions been completely dedicated to rectifying the stain of immorality caused by Shechem, then Jacob would not have rebuked him so severely. The fact that he had a slight weakness in that area itself shows that his intentions in his violent act were not totally due to his being repulsed by immorality, rather less pure motives played a small role as well. And without this complete purity of thought, the act of killing out the men of Shechem reverted to being a blameworthy act.(2)
We can now understand the connection in the verse between Shimon's role in the destruction of Shechem and his descendant's sin with the Midianite women. Yet It remains to be understood what the connection is between the other deeds mentioned; Korach's dispute with Moses,, and the plot to kill Joseph. It seems that this can be understood in a similar vein as a criticism of Levi's role in the plot against Yosef as reflected by his descendants' sin of arguing with Moshe. How is this the case?
The main argument that the brothers had against Joseph was that he wanted to rule over them, as they say in reaction to his first dream, "will you reign over us? Will you then dominate us?" (3) The commentators explain that the brothers' motivation in initially wanting to kill Joseph were essentially leshem Shamayim (pure) - they felt that because of Joseph's perceived arrogance and willingness to rule them, he had forfeited his right to be one of the Tribes. This argument, although incorrect, did seem to derive from pure motivations. However, with regards to Levi, it seems that Jacob saw a slight flaw in the purity of his intentions through the future actions of his descendant, Korach. Despite Korach's seemingly altruistic arguments against Moses' leadership that all Jews were holy, the Sages tell us that, in truth his motivations were selfish - he really wanted to rule the Jewish people in place of Moshe and Aaron. Based on the Maggid MiDubno's line of reasoning, it is possible to suggest that the fact that such a desire for power emerged in such an extreme form in Korach, indicates that his ancestor Levi had some minute desire for power as well. Accordingly, this took away from his justification for challenging Joseph's perceived desire to rule his brother. Thus Jacob rebuked him for his role in the plot, as reflected by Korach's future failing in that very same area.
We have seen how precarious it is to perform actions that are essentially forbidden, such as acts of violence, but for constructive reasons. For in such actions any tiny amount of impure intentions removes the justification for the whole action. This lesson is very pertinent to occasions when a person deems it necessary to perform such a deed, for example, lashon hara [derogatory speech] for constructive reasons. There are times when it is permitted and even obligatory to speak lashon hara, however, if there is any impurity in one's motives, then it is forbidden to do so. This teaches us how careful we must be in embarking on such courses of actions without ensuring that the action is justified and our intentions are pure.
1. Quoted in Ayeles HaShachar, Bereishit, 42:6.
2. This concept of a future act reflecting badly on a previous one is found in a number of places. See Zevachim, 101b which explains that King Yehu was punished for killing out the family of Achav. The problem is that Yehu was commanded by the Navi to destroy Achav's family because of their sins of idol worship, so how can Yehu be reprimanded for killing them?! The Gemara answers that later Yehu himself also worshipped idols, this retroactively showed that Yehu's motives for killing Achav's family could not have been totally pure. Without the purity of motive, his actions revert to being considered murder.
3. Bereishit, 37:8.