In honor of my wife, Stephanie Mandalawi, for all the good she does for us.
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 for 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 Korach was greatly disturbed when Moshe appointed his younger cousin Elizafan ben Uziel to oversee the Kehat family. 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 whom to appoint; it 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 (4:21).” 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 of which they felt they’d been deprived.
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 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 Meam Loez 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.
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 root of the word machloket—divisiveness is chet, lamed, kuf, or chelek—portion. When people are arguing, they are separated and divided. The root of the word shalom—peace, is shin, lamed, mem, or shalem—full. When everyone is together, there is peace and unity.
The maan fell for 40 years in the desert, except for one day. On the day of Korach’s rebellion, the maan didn't fall, whereas on the day of the sin of the golden calf, which was presumably a greater sin, the maan fell because there was shalom and unity among the Jewish people. We learn from this how detrimental machloket is to our parnassah—livelihood.
Recently, a man reported his Jewish neighbor to the building department, to complain about possible violations on his neighbor’s property. His neighbor was building a big, beautiful house, and the man next door felt jealous and therefore did not have such kosher intentions when he made the call.
When the building department arrived, they inspected the project and declared everything up to code. The man tried to argue, spitefully trying to incite machloket due to his resentment. The city inspector looked over at him and said, “Everything looks good for this house, however, I’m noticing that your house has quite a few violations,” and he wrote him a summons for his own house!!
If someone tries to hurt someone and cause machloket, Hashem makes it so that it somehow boomerangs back to that person.
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.
Do we have any disagreements with others or hurt feelings that we’re holding onto?
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