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Korach 5772

By: Rav Avigdor Meyerowitz

The Dynamics of Denial – Rav Avigdor Meyerowitz

 

Before Matan Torah Hashem says to Moshe:

 

"And the Lord said to Moses, 'Behold, I am coming to you in the thickness of the cloud, in order that the people hear when I speak to you, and they will also believe in you forever.' "[1]

 

One of the main objectives, if not the only one, of the events of the revelation at Har Sinai was to instill in the hearts of Bnei Yisrael the belief in the prophecy of Moshe Rabeinu.

 

"The Jews did not believe in Moses, our teacher, because of the wonders that he performed. Whenever anyone's belief is based on wonders, [the commitment of] his heart has shortcomings, because it is possible to perform a wonder through magic or sorcery.

 

All the wonders performed by Moses in the desert were not intended to serve as proof [of the legitimacy] of his prophecy, but rather were performed for a purpose. It was necessary to drown the Egyptians, so he split the sea and sank them in it. We needed food, so he provided us with manna. We were thirsty, so he split the rock [providing us with water]. Korach's band mutinied against him, so the earth swallowed them up. The same applies to the other wonders.

 

What is the source of our belief in him? The [revelation] at Mount Sinai. Our eyes saw, and not a stranger's. Our ears heard, and not another's. There was fire, thunder, and lightning. He entered the thick clouds; the Voice spoke to him and we heard, ‘Moses, Moses, go tell them the following:....’

 

Thus, [Deuteronomy 5:4] relates: ‘Face to face, God spoke to you,’ and [Deuteronomy 5:3] states: ‘God did not make this covenant with our fathers, [but with us, who are all here alive today].’

How is it known that the [revelation] at Mount Sinai alone is proof of the truth of Moses' prophecy that leaves no shortcoming? [Exodus 19:9] states: ‘Behold, I will come to you in a thick cloud, so that the people will hear Me speaking to you, [so that] they will believe in you forever.’ It appears that before this happened, they did not believe in him with a faith that would last forever, but rather with a faith that allowed for suspicions and doubts."[2]

 

In light of the above, one of the most perplexing things to understand regarding the rebellion of Korach and his congregation against Moshe is how they could possibly rebel against Moshe and question the authenticity of his prophesy after they themselves stood at Har Sinai. To further emphasize the question it is important to remember the words of the Rambam in Eggeret Teiman:

 

"We have been given adequate Divine assurance that not only did all the persons who were present at the Sinaitic Revelation believe in the prophecy of Moses and in his Law, but that their descendants likewise would do so, until the end of time, as it is written, ‘Lo, I come unto thee in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with thee, and may also believe thee forever.’ (Exodus 10:9).

 

Consequently it is manifest that he who spurns the religion that was revealed at that revelation, is not an offspring of the folk who witnessed it. For our sages of blessed memory have insisted that they who entertain scruples concerning the Divine message are not scions of the race that were present on Mount Sinai. (Nedarim 20a). May God guard us and you from doubt, and banish from our midst confusion, suspicion, which lead to it."

 

How could it be therefore that Korach who is called in the Midrash "Gadol Hador" made such a terrible mistake to deny both the prophesy of Moshe and also the fact that that all that Moshe said was directly commanded to him by Hashem? More so, how are we to understand the "failure" of the promise of Hashem that the revelation at Har Sinai would serve as an eternal proof of the above for all generations, when it didn't even suffice for the greatest people of that generation itself?

 

I have come across three possible answers.

 

  1. Shadal [3] in his commentary on Torah suggests that Korach's argument against Moshe was not that Moshe was a false prophet or that he was conveying mitzvoth that were not given by Hashem, rather he believed that it is in the power of the Navi to influence the will of Hashem by doing certain actions with sacrifices and the like. This belief, claims Shadal, was a result of the influence of the idol worship the Jews were exposed to in Mitzrayim. Korach was suggesting that just like Moshe was capable of "seducing" the Divine will, so was he and others capable of doing so.

 

  1. The last Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson[4], suggested that Korach was completely excepting of Moshe's prophesy, yet he believed that it was in the power of tefilah and individual effort to to change things, and even to merit to become the Cohen - Gadol in place of Aharon.[5]

 

  1. The answer offered by many of the Ba'alei Mussar is possibly the most straightforward and shocking of all. When a person is overcome by bad middot or desire, one can lose sight completely of things which are true and obvious.[6]

 

Korach who was according to Chazal obsessed with "Kavod" - honour, was blinded by it to the extent that he turned his back on the events of Har Sinai as if they never happened. Likewise the 250 princes who were blinded by their desires, and Datan and Aviram by their jealousy.

 

  "Rabbi Elazar HaKapor would say: Envy, lust and honor drive a man from the world."[7]

 

At first glance this seems like quite a simplistic approach, but on second thought, as simple as it is, so it is true. Every time one ignores a mitzvah or violates an issur, is it because of one’s philosophies regarding the truth of the Torah and Masoret of Chazal? Those truths are still there, they are just ignored in favor of momentary desires and obsessions.

 

In conclusion, without going in depth into the issue of the meaning of promises and guarantees made by the Torah: "and they will also believe in you forever", suffice it to say that such promises seem conditional and dependant on ones middot and decisions.[8]

 

"The desire for honor is even greater than the desire for wealth, for it is possible for a person to overcome his inclination for wealth and the other pleasures and still be pressed by the desire for honor, being unable to tolerate being, and seeing himself beneath his friends.

 

Many were caught and destroyed by the desire for honor. … What, if not the desire for honor, brought about the destruction of Korach and his entire congregation? As Scripture explicitly states (Numbers 16:10), ‘And would you also seek the priesthood?’  Our Sages of blessed memory have told us (Bamidbar Rabbah 18.1) that his entire rebellion stemmed from his seeing Elizaphan ben Uziel as prince and desiring to be prince in his place."[9]

 

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[1]  Shmot 19;9.

[2]  Rambam, Yesodei Hatorah, 8;1. See as well Ramban on Shmot ibid.

[3]  Samuel David Luzzatto 1800-1865.

[4]  1902  – 1994

[5]  Sichot Kodesh, 5734, Vol.2. The idea that Korach, and certainly the 250 princes that joined him had noble intentions is an idea shared by other commentators too. See Ha'mek Davar, Bamidbar 16;1.

[6]  See  Hokhmah U-Musar by Rabbi Simcha Zissel of Kelm (1824–1898)

[7]  Pirkei Avot 4;21.

[8] A topic deserving of a full discussion. See Ramban on the Torah, Shmot 4;1.

[9] Mesilat Yesharim Chap. 11.

 

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