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Killing With Love

Korach (Numbers 16-18 )

by Rabbi Boruch Leff

We know that sometimes people ignore the message and kill the messenger. Judaism actually teaches that we must ignore the messenger and apply (or sometimes kill) the message. Our Parsha, Korach, discusses this concept.

Korach engineered a rebellion against Moshe's authority and leadership. Included in the rebellious group were Dasan and Aviram. Moshe summoned them to appear before him to discuss their complaints but they flatly refused. They railed at Moshe saying:

"Isn't it enough that you took us out of a land of milk and honey (Egypt) to cause us to die in the desert? Now, you want to lord over us? You have not brought us to the land of flowing milk and honey (Israel), nor did you give us a field and vineyard! Even if you would threaten to send someone to gouge out our eyes, we will not go up (to you)!" (BaMidbar 16:13-14).

Talk about Jewish chutzpah! Dasan and Aviram lace into Moshe, cynically calling Egypt and not Israel, 'the land of milk and honey.' Then they brazenly blame Moshe for the sin of the spies and his 'failure' to lead the Jewish People to conquer the land of Israel, not to mention their accusation of Moshe 'lording' over them for his own honor. This was surely a devastating, albeit untrue, critique of Moshe.

How does Moshe react? Seemingly, like any one of us. "Moshe became infuriated" (BaMidbar 16:15). But Rashi steps in to show us how radically different and how amazingly beautiful Moshe's response actually was. "He was pained greatly." (Rashi, Bamidbar 16:15). Rashi seems to be saying that Moshe was not angry; rather he was upset and saddened.

But what would be wrong if Moshe was angry? While it is true that Moshe is called the most humble of men (BaMidbar 12:3), humility does not mean that you should be meek, especially when faced with such rebellion and brazenness. What is Rashi trying to convey?

The solution is this. There is a world of difference between those who hate and kill and those who kill out of necessity. The difference lies in whether when we see evil perpetrated by criminals and oppressors, we react by hating the perpetrators or hating the evils committed. Do we hate the person, or the action? If we hate the person, then our response will be based primarily on personal revenge whereas if we detest only the evil action, we will react with a strong desire to root out only the evil deeds.

There may not be a physical or active difference between these two approaches on the ground. In both cases, great battles will need to be waged to fight the evil and sometimes wars and killings will be involved. But this differentiation of intent when fighting evil is immense.

We must feel pained and distressed in our rooting out of evil and our punishing of perpetrators. We must not let our personal feelings of anger and fury dominate us. If we don't accomplish this, we risk killing and punishing for all the wrong reasons. We risk losing control of ourselves and fighting in ways that are completely personal and not for God and truth's sake at all.

One of the tremendous lessons that we have learned about the nation of Israel throughout the terrible crisis and war that we have experienced since September 2000 is how deeply humane we are. Even in enduring deaths of over 500 and thousands of injuries (many serious) to Palestinian terrorism, we have remained humane on the battlefields and in our society.

Far from the incitement, demonization, hatred, and glorification of the killings of innocent civilians that plagues Palestinian society, Israel has never taken pride or satisfaction in fighting or killing its enemies. Israel's wars and violent struggles are always fought with goals of preventing future terror attacks and saving lives. In fact, in an amazing show of Israeli society's intolerance toward hatred for hatred's sake, The Jerusalem Post, May. 27, 2002, reported:

"Five Israeli soldiers have been sent to prison for looting and vandalizing Palestinian property during a six-week Israeli offensive in the West Bank. The soldiers, who were sentenced to up to five months in a military jail, were also dropped to the rank of private, the army said in a statement. Another 20 soldiers are being investigated on similar charges, the army said, adding that some of them are also suspected of violent acts. A platoon commander is being investigated on charges he abused a Palestinian while searching his home, the army said."

Can we ever imagine similar investigations taking place in the courtrooms of our enemies?

Yes, we must indeed wish for evil to cease, but not the evildoers. This often entails destroying and killing the evildoers but we mustn't kill with glee; only with a heavy heart. The Talmud in Brachot 10a expresses this idea and states:

"The verse in Psalms (104:35) says that 'sins should perish,' not sinners. We must pray for the sinners to repent where possible, not for their death and demise."

Returning to Parshat Korach, Moshe is not angry with Korach, Dasan, Aviram, or any of the rebels. His feelings are not personal. Moshe is distressed, saddened, and depressed that these people have steeped themselves into the depths of sin. As Rashi explains, Moshe is not infuriated (as the verse implies on first glance). He is upset and disturbed at the face of evil, but not at the evildoers.

This approach helps explain an event at the end of the Parsha as well. After Korach and his followers have been killed by God's plagues and punishments, the people shockingly complain to Moshe and Aharon saying, "You have killed the people of God!" First, God sends more plagues that destroy many of the complainers, but then He commands Aharon to take a staff, along with the princes of each of the 12 tribes, and place them in the holy tent of the Tabernacle. "It shall be that the man whom I choose, his staff will blossom, and I will remove the complaints of the Jewish people!" (Bamidbar 17:20, translated loosely). Aharon's staff blossoms with buds and almonds the next morning and the complainers are silenced and placated.

What was the complaint of the Jews against Moshe and Aharon? Didn't they understand the seriousness of Korach and his followers' crimes of rebellion? And however we answer that question, how did Aharon's almond blooming blossoms pacify them?

The Jewish people were lamenting the loss of so many of their brethren and their leaders to Korach's folly and they blamed these horrible events on Moshe and Aharon. They surely knew that Korach's revolt had to be put down strongly but they questioned the methodology. They wondered out loud why Moshe and Aharon didn't pray for Korach and his followers to repent (as cited earlier from Brachot 10a). Was Korach's evil so great that repentance could not have helped? And since Moshe and Aharon did not pray for Korach, doesn't that suggest that they simply wanted Korach dead and 'out of the way' for their selfish and personal interests?

The beauty of the almond blossoms symbolized that Moshe and Aharon acted beautifully, peacefully and lovingly. If indeed Korach had the potential for repentance and change, then Moshe and Aharon would most certainly have prayed for it. But such was not the case. Korach had to be killed because that was the only course of action possible to eliminate his evil.

When we criticize, is our goal to 'pay back' the perpetrator with rage or to change his ways with love?

We must apply the lessons of Moshe in his very difficult saga with Korach. We must learn to act forcefully when necessary, but always with love in our hearts, not hatred.

We must hate actions, not people.

At times, we may be forced to kill, but let us do it with love.


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