Dedicated in Honor of Isaac and Helana Haber by Sol and Frieda Ayal Parashat Korach Korach’s Ego Parashat Korach begins with Korach, a member of the tribe of Levi, confronting Moshe and Aharon with Datan, Aviram, On ben Pelet, and 250 followers. “And they gathered together against Moshe and Aharon and said to them, ‘You take too much upon yourselves! We are all holy, and Hashem is with all of us, so why do you exalt yourselves over this congregation of Hashem?’” Korach was one of the greatest men of that generation, but his jealousy brought down him, his entire family, and all his followers. Korach understood that Hashem had picked Moshe as the leader of B’nei Yisrael. Then he watched as Moshe appointed his brother Aharon as the kohen gadol. But when Moshe appointed his younger cousin Elizafan ben Uziel to oversee the Kehat family, Korach was greatly disturbed. He became very jealous and directed his anger at Moshe as if Moshe had deliberately skipped over him. On the contrary, the Torah teaches us that Hashem told Moshe who to appoint, which wasn’t Moshe’s personal decision. It says in Pirke Avot, “Rabbi Elazar Hakappar said: kin’ah—jealousy, ta’ava—lust, and kavod— [a sense of one’s own due] honor remove a man from this world (4:28).” When we see people acting incorrectly, it is often because their personal kavod has been compromised. People can engage in long-lasting vendettas against those they think have infringed on their honor. As we get older, the feeling that we deserve recognition grows more assertive, and we must be careful not to let it get the better of us. In this passage, the Torah repeatedly refers to “Korach and his followers,” though the machloket—divisiveness was between Korach and Moshe. We learn from this that Korach and his followers did not act out of righteousness to “seek the truth.” They sought to put Moshe down merely to raise their status and receive the kavod they felt they’d been deprived of. Korach’s Rebellion In other episodes in the Torah, Moshe always prayed to Hashem on behalf of B’nei Yisrael. But in this case, Moshe asked Hashem to punish Korach and those who sided with him. Moshe asked this of Hashem because Korach attacked his credibility, which meant he attacked the Torah’s validity. This incident had to set a precedent for all the future generations so that no one would attack the Torah’s legitimacy, for the Torah is emmet, Moshe is emmet, and all that stems from Hashem is emmet! The Ohr Hachaim comments that Moshe never wanted to be the leader of the Jewish people. When Hashem instructed him to give the job of kohen gadol to Aharon and his family, it says that Moshe neither asked for those assignments nor desired them in his heart! Moshe pointed out to Korach that these decisions had not been his to make. After this, the Torah gives us amazing advice that will always apply. Rabbi Frand explains the at other instances that Moshe was dealing with a machloket, “[He] would take the tent and pitch it outside the camp, at some distance from the camp (Shemot 33:7).” He walked away from the machloket without saying a word! This is a difficult lesson to practice, but it is the most effective way of avoiding machloket. Be quiet, do not say anything, and walk away! This, along with prayer like Moshe showed us, is guaranteed to nip machloket in the bud. Machloket: Good or Bad? Rabbi Frand says that there are several sins associated with machloket, such as slander, jealousy, hatred, and causing others public humiliation. The core of most machloket is the obsessive need to win. An argument may begin over something small, but as time passes, it grows out of control and takes on a life of its own. Machloket causes enormous rifts within families. Sometimes these disputes could go on for years. Sometimes no one even remembers how they started. As it happens, there are times when an argument is a good thing. This is only when the machloket is leshem shamayim—for the sake of Heaven. In the Gemara the great rabbis argue about every detail of life and halacha, but this type of debate is in pursuit of emmet and is done with love and respect. This episode of Korach reminds me of a story we had in our very own community over thirty years ago. Outside influences were trying to penetrate our synagogues and bring foreign ideas to our community. Despite his gentle demeanor, Chacham Baruch ZT’L spoke vehemently against these negative influences. When defending the Torah and its precepts — and, more importantly, protecting the people of our great community from any negative impacts — Chacham Baruch stood firm and spoke out about the dangers of following those foreign ideas. Timing is Everything As we discussed, Rashi comments that Korach’s motivation for fighting with Moshe was based on the appointment of Elizafan ben Uziel as the Head of the Family of Kehat. Following Divine Command, Moshe Rabbenu gave this honorable job to Elizafan, who descended from the youngest of the sons of Kehat. Of Kehat’s four sons, Amram was the oldest brother. Therefore, Korach was willing to live with the fact that both sons of Amram (Aharon and Moshe) had leadership roles. But, he felt that the next significant selection in the family should go to himself, who was the son of Yitzhar – Kehat’s second son. He was so consumed with jealousy from being passed over for the younger brother’s son that he started a revolution against Moshe. But, Rabbi Frand notes, that the difficulty with Rashi’s scenario is that the appointment of Elizafan ben Uziel took place in Parashat Bamidbar on Rosh Chodesh Iyar! That event took place long ago. If Korach was so upset by this incident, where was he for the last five parshiot—which transpired over far longer than five weeks? When a person is overwhelmed with jealousy, he does not bide his time waiting for an opportune moment. Jealousy is a heated emotion, one that makes a person crazy. The answer is that Korach was a pikeach—a shrewd individual. He was smart, knowing that timing is everything and when to make his move. In Parashat Bamidbar, Moshe was riding high. He was the Master of all Israel. He performed great miracles in the desert. He took care of all the people’s needs. His approval ratings were off the charts! It was certainly no time to mount a challenge to his leadership! Ramban explains the reason why Parashat Korach follows the chapter on the spies. The people were depressed because of the aftermath of the spies’ debacle. Morale was at an all-time low. They faced 40 more years of wandering in the desert. It was at precisely this moment that Korach decided to make his move against Moshe. This was Korach’s ingenuity. If he were foolish, he would have opened his mouth to complain as soon as he was upset about something. Instant gratification is the sign of a fool, an immature baby, and a person with no intelligence. The older we get, the more we realize that we often need to put things off. Korach nursed his grudge against Moshe until the proper time. Perhaps this was not the sign of a person with a sterling character; however, it was the sign of intelligence and self-control. We need to give Korach some credit. He had the wisdom to understand that, in life, timing is everything. Saved by His Wife The midrash tells us that when the mob led by Korach stopped by On ben Pelet’s home to say to him that it was time to come, his wife scared them away and saved her husband’s life. She knew that machloket was something to be avoided, and she said to her husband, “What good would come out of this dispute, and what benefit would it bring to you? If you win, then Korach wins — and you are in the same position as before. And if they lose, Moshe stays, and you will be punished, so it’s even worse!” In other words, whether or not Korach succeeds in gaining some high office for himself, you will remain an ordinary man. So why take the gamble of joining a rebellion against Moshe? King Solomon called her a brilliant woman, yet it seems this should be common sense. The problem is that we lose our logic when we get caught up in divisiveness. This can lead to destructive consequences but, when avoided, can even save a life. The Rewards for Avoiding Machloket Rav Lugassi related a story told to him by a woman named Rachel. In high school, she had a classmate from a wealthy family, but she came from a poor background. The rich friend’s attitude toward her made her feel worthless. Her gaavah—arrogance and condescending remarks were like arrows shooting into Rachel’s heart. The girl might not have realized the damage she was causing, but Rachel said she lost her self-esteem and felt broken. The relationship had such an adverse effect on her life that it was hard for her to date, and she found herself alone, with no direction, at the age of 28. One day, Rachel spotted an old friend, Leba, on the street. “How are you doing?” asked Leba. “Not so great,” Rachel replied, and she told her about all the negative feelings she had carried around since high school toward their old classmate. She just could not let them go. Leba decided to look up the young woman and try to bring peace. She found out that the woman now lived in the United States. She gave her a call and asked how things were. The woman replied, “Baruch Hashem, fine, except I have been married for several years without having children. It’s so hard. We’ve been seeing doctors and rabbis, but nothing is working.” Leba told her about the heartache she had caused her former classmate and said that the best segulah would be to appease Rachel. The woman was shocked to learn that her comments had done so much damage. Nevertheless, she did not hesitate to admit guilt. She didn’t make excuses for her youthful callous behavior; instead, she immediately decided to fly to Eretz Yisrael to beg forgiveness in person. Rachel later described how difficult it was for her to forgive her former classmate. They actually had to meet several times until Rachel could let go of all her negative feelings. Finally, the two young women hugged and kissed each other. Before they parted, the friend said to Rachel, “I am anticipating that you get married this year. Please send me an invitation. I am going to come back and dance with you at your wedding.” Later that year, baruch Hashem, Rachel did get married. However, her friend could not attend the wedding – for an excellent reason because she was in labor with her first baby! The Gemara (Berachot 58a) says, “she’en daatam domeh zeh lazeh, ve’en partzufehen domim zeh lazeh — No two faces are alike, and no two opinions are alike.” We do not have identical faces, so why should we expect identical views, perceptions, and thoughts? Keeping this profound teaching in mind could go a long way in helping us to avoid conflict. May we all learn from this parasha to keep our feeling of kavod in check so we can stay far away from machloket. Also, when we have a difference of opinion with others — whether in our families or our professions — may we try to step back, look out for each other, and help spread simcha and be the kind, caring nation we are known to be. Discussion Point:
Do we have any disagreements with others or hurt feelings that we’re holding on to?
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