Korach’s Dispute

“Korach son of Yitzhar son of Kehat son of Levi took, with Datan and Aviram, sons of Eliav, and On ben Pelet, the offspring of Reuven”

(Bamidbar 16:1)

Why did Korach begin his dispute specifically after the sin of the spies (see Ramban, Bamidbar 16:1; Kedushat Halevi, Korach)? Why wasn’t he immediately disturbed by the appointment of Elitzafon ben Uziel as Nasi?

There are those who say (Kedushat Halevi, Korach) that Korach was envious of Elitzafon from the start. However, since he thought that Bnei Yisrael were very close to entering Eretz Yisrael, he was not overly disturbed by his new position. He hoped that upon arriving there, he himself would be appointed to a more prestigious position than that of Ark-bearer, a temporary job. But, after the fateful and fatal sin of the spies, Bnei Yisrael were decreed to be detained in the Wilderness for another forty years. Korach realized that the journey to the Promised Land was a long one. He then began his diatribe against Moshe, fanning the flames of dissention and dispute. (The Sefat Emet, Likutim, Korach offers a different opinion.)

Korach has gone down in history with a black reputation. Yet he began as a righteous individual. Let us unearth evidence of his original virtue. When Moshe tried to avert the quarrel, he turned to Korach respectfully, stating (Bamidbar 16:7), “It is too much for you, O offspring of Levi!” Korach was, indeed, an honorable man. The Arizal (Likutim, Tehillim 92) states that in the future, Korach will be the Kohen Gadol. This is deduced from the pasuk in Tehillim (92:13), “*צדי~ק* כתמ~ר* יפר~ח – A righteous man will flourish like a date palm.” The last letters of these words spell the name קרח (Korach).

Another proof of his righteousness is the fact that he succeeded in attracting two hundred and fifty heads of the Sanhedrin after him. They recognized Korach as a great tzaddik, and were thereby drawn after his claims. Furthermore, when Korach and his cohorts offered their pans of incense before Hashem, Moshe had to pray a special prayer, (Bamidbar 16:15), “Do not turn to their gift-offering,” so that Hashem would not accept their offerings. When Korach first approached Moshe Rabbeinu with his charges, he began by saying (ibid. 16:3), “The entire assembly – all of them – are holy, and Hashem is among them.” Korach felt the Shechinah with him. This is definitely an indication of a high spiritual level. And the last point that bears evidence to his greatness is the fact that he was among those who bore the Aron (Tanchuma, Korach 2).

After understanding a measure of Korach’s exalted level, we cannot claim that he was possessed by a brazen spirit and acted out of brashness. With his exceptional virtues, he recognized the futility of earthly pursuits. They are nothing at all compared with the superior satisfaction of serving Hashem. Whoever increases his level of Avodat Hashem merits additional closeness to Him and added awareness of His Presence. For this reason, Korach was dissatisfied with the job of bearing the Aron, which was not a steady occupation. He preferred a task in which he would constantly be involved in Avodat Hashem, such as the position of Nasi. Then he set his sights on the High Priesthood.

As the nation neared Eretz Yisrael, Korach kept his peace. He knew the dictum of Chazal: that a mitzvah performed in Eretz Yisrael is worth double that of the same mitzvah done in chutz la’aretz (see Yalkut Shimoni, Devarim 885; Ramban, Bereishit 26:5; Vayikra 18:25). Korach waited for the day when he would serve Hashem in the Holy Land, doubling the value of his avodah in bearing the Aron. But when he observed how Bnei Yisrael were detained for forty years in the Wilderness after the sin of the spies, he could control his passions no longer. He aggressively demanded to be promoted to a more elevated position, in order to come closer to Hashem.

We might consider Korach’s dispute l’shem Shamayim, as it came from a pure desire to connect with Hashem. But Chazal (Avot 5:17) categorically state, “What sort of dispute was for the sake of Heaven? The dispute between Hillel and Shammai. And which was not for the sake of Heaven? The dispute of Korach and his entire company.” In spite of the righteous indignation which prompted Korach to act as he did, his argument was not for the sake of Heaven and therefore did not endure. Arguments and quarrel over prestigious positions diametrically oppose acting for Hashem’s sake.

The following incident, which took place in France, will give us further insight into this subject. A wealthy Kohen who had a minimal connection with mitzvah observance wished to marry a divorcee. I told him that this is strictly forbidden by the Torah. He pontificated on the virtues of such an act, as this woman was shunned by everyone else. Furthermore, he claimed that by untying her shackles of abandonment, he would cause his parents untold pleasure. But I tried to convince him that his Father in Heaven would be terribly displeased by this act. Hashem is not happy with such a union. “You are concerned with pleasing your parents, yet your Creator’s displeasure means nothing to you?!” I demanded. This story shows how a person can pervert the truth to make his deeds seem worthy, when, in reality, he is doing a most abominable act.

Chazal’s evaluation of Korach was correct. Korach began with the honorable quest for closeness with Hashem by means of becoming the Nasi. But then he set his sights on the High Priesthood. After that, the very night that he and his congregation offered their ketoret, he sat with the heads of the Sanhedrin and ridiculed Moshe Rabbeinu. They finally fell to the depths, as we read Moshe’s description of them in his words (Bamidbar 16:26), “Turn away now from near the tents of these wicked men.”

A frightening aspect of Korach’s quarrel was the charge he made against Aharon (Yalkut Shimoni, Tehillim 614). He fabricated a story about a poor, pitiful widow who was required to give a portion of her bread to Aharon HaKohen as terumah. Korach depicted the Kohanim as money-hungry individuals who robbed the poor people of their sustenance. However, he himself desired to become the High Priest. But then he, too, would be part of this distasteful form of extorting the people. This incident, too, proved that his quarrel was not for the sake of Heaven.

In Summary


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