Parsha Korach

June 27th, 2020

5th of Tamuz 5780


Difficult is the Dispute that is Not for the Sake of Heaven

Rabbi David Hanania Pinto

"Korach son of Yitzhar son of Kehat son of Levi separated himself" (Bamidbar 17:1)

Parshat Korach is one of the most difficult Parshiot in the Torah. It is a Parsha that describes discord, which is likened to fire. Every year when we arrive at this Parsha, we once again wonder: What motivated Korach to spearhead this difficult dispute? It is hard to understand Korach's motive, for he possessed Divine Inspiration and was one of those who carried the Aron - the Ark. Who could carry the Aron and remain alive? Only a select few of the generation. This is the reason why the family of Kehot were few in number since the Aron would eliminate them.

Rashi clarifies the words, "Korach…separated [lit. took] himself", for the verse does not say what he took: "Korach took himself to the side, to be at odds with the rest of the assembly, to protest against Aharon's assumption of the priesthood." Onkelos translates 'separated' as 'he separated himself', he separated himself from the rest of the community to support dissension. About this we are told, "Any dispute that is for the sake of Heaven will have a constructive outcome, but one that is not for the sake of Heaven will not have a constructive outcome. 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" (Avot 5:17).

The above Mishna does not refer to 'the dispute between Korach and Moshe Rabbeinu', as it words 'the dispute between Hillel and Shammai'. Why is this? The simple reason is that Korach did not find a partner for his debate since Moshe did not attach importance to himself. On the contrary, when he realized that Korach and his assembly wished to start a dispute, he only showed distress and did his utmost to try and silence them. However, he was unsuccessful, for one who becomes entangled in discord, loses all his rational judgement as a result of his anger or mockery. In this case, it was due to Korach mocking Moshe Rabbeinu's words. Or perhaps it was his desire for honor that made Korach lose his mind and 'argue' with Hashem, for by taking himself to the side and arguing about the priesthood, he was separating himself from Am Yisrael. When faced with this kind of situation, there is nothing to do but punish the person so that he should not draw others after him.

The punishment was measure-for-measure. Just as they set alight the fire of discord, so fire that consumes everything and does not differentiate between good and evil, descended from heaven and consumed the people. Korach himself was swallowed up by the ground and his burial place is unknown. Since he separated himself from Am Yisrael, this is the punishment that he deserved.

We find the complete opposite with Hillel and Shammai. All their arguments were for the sake of heaven and only took place inside the Beit Midrash. Even so, Beit Hillel were humbled and studied the words of Beit Shammai before considering their own opinion, therefore the final ruling follows the opinion of Beit Hillel, for only after considering and investigating Beit Shammai's opinion, did they come to the conclusion that it was incorrect, and only then offered their differing opinion with derech eretz. When they left the Beit Midrash they reconciled with each other, and Chazal tell us (Yevamot 14b), "Even though Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai disagreed…this did not prevent Beit Shammai from taking wives from Beit Hillel and vice versa, to teach us that they treated each other with love and friendship, in fulfillment of the verse, '[Only] love peace and truth'. This shows us that their entire motive behind their dispute was only for the sake of heaven, and this is why their dispute had a constructive outcome. However, Korach's entire intent was for his personal honor, therefore there was no constructive outcome to his argument and he is remembered with eternal disgrace.

The following story is told about Rabbi Chaim Pinto HaGadol zya"a. When he reached the ripe old age of ninety-five, the Rabbanim of the Essaouira kehilla wished to check if his mind was still lucid, for this is the accepted ruling. However, since they were afraid that their opinion might be biased, they asked the Dayanim of Marrakesh to carry this out. As soon as these Dayanim entered Rabbi Chaim's home, he called out to them, "You forgot the Chazal, 'The older the talmidei chachamim become, the more their minds are settled'". They immediately understood his intention, kissed his hand and left.

This incident teaches us how one must always conduct oneself for the sake of heaven. On the one hand, one of the local Rabbanim could have assessed the tzaddik's capabilities, but either they thought they may be prejudiced, or they were afraid to do so because "the fear of your teacher should be like the fear of Heaven". On the other hand, if they do not investigate the matter, G-d forbid he might rule inaccurately due to his old age. Therefore, they decided to bring different Rabbanim to check whether his mind was still lucid. After receiving the Rabbanim, Rabbi Chaim could have punished the local Rabbanim with the power of his holiness, for disgracing him by sending Rabbanim to evaluate his lucidity. However, the tzaddik zya"a did not hold it against them and did not look at the act as one of disgrace or personal affront, for according to the law they were correct since it was quite possible that his old age had affected his body and mind. On the contrary, the tzaddik zya"a accepted their actions without holding it against them. This is considered as a dispute without dissention. Since it is carried out for the sake of heaven, it has a constructive outcome.

May Hashem save us from dissension that is not for the sake of heaven, and may we try with all our strength to increase love and brotherhood, peace and friendship among us, Amen.

Walking in Their Ways

Taking Stock of Our Lives

A wealthy man taught me how we must dedicate ourselves wholeheartedly to Torah study and mitzvah observance. This man has shares in many companies and has businesses branches throughout the world. He is a maven on the stock market.

I once met him and could not resist asking, “Tell me, please. Since you invest all your time in the stock market, when do you find time for eating and drinking?”

“I have very little time for such things as food and drink,” was his pithy response.

“And how much do you sleep at night?” I continued.

“Also a very minimal amount.”

He explained that as the night spreads its blanket of darkness upon his land, and all his countrymen turn in for a good night’s sleep, the day is just beginning on the other side of the globe. A new business day is dawning. What a shame to waste precious hours on something as mundane and trivial as sleep. He therefore remains awake, following the proceedings of the stock market. He must know which stocks are worthwhile investing in, and when is the best moment. By the time he has made his decisions, the light of a new day has appeared in his homeland. Of course, it heralds an opportunity for more business and following the stock exchange there. All of this ultimately translates into increasing his assets but hardly leaves him any hours during which to sleep.

“What about prayer and tefillin?” I press. “How many hours of your day are set aside for Torah study, food for the soul?”

“Sorry, but I have no time for such activities.”

I looked at him in sheer shock. “What will you do with all of your fortunes after you pass away? You surely know that you can’t take them with you. Why, then, are you working so hard?!”

The man avoided my gaze. He said that he preferred not to think of the day of death, or the day after.

I could not help but think about this wealthy pauper. He sacrificed everything on the altar of earning more wealth. Not only did his life lack spiritual content, he even forewent basic physical pleasures, all in order to make more money.

I personally took a mussar lesson from this man. Just as he literally devoted his entire life to amassing greater fortunes, we must sacrifice ourselves for the sake of Torah study and mitzvah observance by reducing our worldly pleasures.

Words of the Sages

A Parking Space in the Middle of Geulah

"This distressed Moshe greatly, and he said to Hashem, "Do not turn to their gift-offering!" (Bamidbar 16:15)

The Alter of Slabodka derived a compelling lesson from this verse, concerning the enormous power of prayer.

Moshe Rabbeinu had to ask Hashem not to accept their incense offering, meaning their prayers. Even, G-d forbid, had their prayers been accepted, this would have appeared to validate their heretic outlook against Moshe and the Torah and negated the entire Torah, nevertheless, Moshe still had reason to fear that their prayers might be accepted, for so great is the power of prayer.

The magnitude of the power of prayer is demonstrated by the following impressive story:

A young child of only eight years old asked his father to take him to the Beit Knesset on Shavuot night so that he could say the tikkun. His father considered the idea and then replied that he should rather go to sleep since he is still young. As his father made his way to the Beit Knesset, he suddenly felt bad for his son. Why indeed had he not agreed to take him? Here is a child wishing to learn Torah the entire night, why should he turn him down?

The father decided to return home, fetch his young son and bring him to the Beit Knesset. He opened the door and beheld his young son standing by the doorway as if he was waiting for his father to come and fetch him. "Why are you waiting for me?" his father asked him. "Did we not decide that you must go to sleep? How did you know that I would come to fetch you?"

What was the child's innocent reply?

"I prayed to Hashem that you should come back home to take me to the Beit Knesset. I knew that Hashem would listen to my prayer, so I was sure that you would come!"

This child grew up and was very successful in his Torah learning, eventually becoming the well-known Gaon and tzaddik Rabbi Shimshon Pincus zt"l, famous for his greatness in Torah and fear of G-d.

The introduction to the sefer 'Nefesh Shimshon', quotes Harav Pincus testifying about himself, "If I ever merited something, it was because I talked to Hashem as one talks to a friend, concerning every single matter".

Also in this light, Harav Aharon HaKohen shlita relates a story that he personally experienced ('Dirshu' magazine):

"I once travelled with someone, in the middle of the day, to the Geulah neighborhood in Yerushalayim. As everyone knows, parking spaces are hard to come across in this area of town. Seeing that the driver found a spot quite easily, I asked him how this happened since sometimes people drive around unsuccessfully for half an hour?!

The driver answered, 'I will tell you the truth. Every time I come to this neighborhood, I recite a chapter of Tehillim and ask Hashem to help me find a parking space. Today too, this is what I did, so what is so amazing that I found a spot so easily?!'"

Guard your Tongue

Blessing One's Friend Loudly

A person must take care when extolling his friend, that the praise not lead to loss. For example, a guest who publicizes to one and all how his host fed him so generously and went out of his way to take care of him, could cause unscrupulous people to swarm to his house and take advantage of him, causing him to lose much money. About this it says (Mishlei 27:14), "If one blesses his friend loudly from early in the morning, it will be considered a curse to him".

The Haftarah

The Haftarah of the week: "And Shmuel said" (Shmuel I, 11-12)

The connection to the Parsha:  The Haftarah tells about the Jewish people who requested that Shmuel anoint a king over them, whereas the Parsha relates the episode of Korach rebelling against Moshe Rabbeinu a"h and requesting greatness for himself.

The Haftarah also mentions that Shmuel asked: "Whose ox have I taken?" The parsha mentions a similar statement said by Moshe Rabbeinu a"h: "I have not taken even a single donkey of theirs".

From the Treasury

Rabbi David Hanania Pinto

Korach's Claim was Flawed

I would like to suggest the difference of opinion between Korach and Moshe Rabbeinu a"h. Moshe Rabbeinu a"h claimed that anyone wishing to merit the crown of Torah and become a true ben Torah, must invest all his strengths and desires in the Holy Torah alone, and must not concern himself with business matters, or pursuing money, possessions and wealth. Rather, his time should be dedicated solely for Torah and the service of Hashem.

On the other hand, Korach's assertion was foolish. He claimed that it was possible to become a ben Torah and merit the crown of Torah, even if one dedicates part of one's time to commerce. According to his opinion, dividing one's time between Torah study and acquiring wealth, greatness and honor, is no contradiction. Due to this, he disagreed with Moshe and asked to receive the priesthood, since the priesthood benefits a person with wealth.

This is why Korach wished to receive the scepter of leadership and guide the congregation. He desired the priesthood for he thought that it is possible to pursue both the Torah and wealth at the same time. His opinion was that a ben Torah should not distance himself too much from worldly matters.

This was Korach's foolish mistake which of course is a mistaken conception. Korach coveted wealth and chased after money and honor in equal measure to his love for Torah. In the end, he lost also all his Torah and fell to the lowest levels. What caused this? His burning desire for money that merged with his wish to merit Torah. Chazal have told us (Pesachim 119a), "Wealth is set aside for its owner to his detriment, this refers to Korach's wealth".

Korach descended from the tribe of Levi. The way of this tribe has always been not to occupy themselves with any worldly matters, concerning themselves with Torah and mitzvot alone. They are the teachers of the nation and this is their entire goal in this world. They are the 'army of Hashem' about whom it says, "Bless, O Hashem, his resources", and Hashem merits them, as it says, "I am your share and your heritage".

Pearls of the Parsha

The Reckoning of Two Hundred and Fifty Men

"With two hundred and fifty men from the Children of Israel" (Bamidbar 16:2)

How did Korach arrive at this number of two hundred and fifty men who were prepared to follow him?!

The Chizkuni explains that Korach took twenty-three men from each tribe, the number required for a Small Sanhedrin. Since he did not take men from the tribe of Levi, the calculation of eleven (tribes) times twenty-three amounts to two hundred and fifty-three. Without counting On, Datan and Aviram, this leaves in all two hundred and fifty men.

They Made Peace Above

"That he not be like Korach and his assembly" (Bamidbar 17:5)

Chazal have told us, "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" (Avot 5:17).

It is related that the Chatam Sofer zya"a, was particular not to place the sefarim of Rabbi Ya'akov Emden and Rabbeinu Yehonatan Eybeschutz next to each other, because of the controversy that existed between them during their lifetime.

The sefer 'Reshumim Bishmecha', writes that towards the end of his life he no longer held onto this custom, explaining, "The Rabbis made peace between them in the Heavenly Yeshiva", in heaven there is no longer controversy between them.

For the Sake of Heaven's Honor

"You have killed the people of Hashem!" (Bamidbar 17:6)

With their own eyes Bnei Yisrael saw Korach and his assembly being swallowed up by the ground, as a punishment from heaven for affronting the honor of Moshe and Aharon. If so, how did they dare say to Moshe and Aharon, "You have killed the people of Hashem"?!

Rabbi Ya'akov Mutzafi zt"l asks this question and adds, what does the fact that the cloud had covered the Tent of Meeting come to teach us?

He clarifies this difficulty according to the Gemara (Shabbat 149b), "One whose friend is punished on his account, is not allowed in Hashem's presence". The reason is that he should have forgone his honor but he did not forgive.

Therefore, all Bnei Yisrael came to Moshe and Aharon and complained, "You have killed the people of Hashem". You did not forgo your honor, so because of you Korach and his assembly were killed. This is why the following verse (ibid 7) says, "and behold! the cloud had covered it, and the glory of Hashem appeared". Hashem was hinting to the people that Korach and his assembly were not punished for insulting the honor of Moshe and Aharon, they were punished only because of Hashem's honor.

The Punishment is Suited to the Time of the Act

"If these die like the death of all men, and the destiny of all men is visited upon them, then it is not Hashem Who has sent me" (Bamidbar 16:29)

Korach's sons did not die as it says, "But the sons of Korach did not die" (Bamidbar 26:11). The Yalkut Shimoni tells us that the reason is because they repented.

The difficulty is, Moshe Rabbeinu was taking a risk by saying, "If these die like the death of all men, and the destiny of all men is visited upon them, then it is not Hashem Who has sent me"? For if they repent, certainly Hashem will not punish them, for He does not desire the death of the wicked, rather that they should repent from their evil ways. Moshe's words seem to imply that, G-d forbid, Hashem had not sent him?

The answer is, writes Rabbi Yitzchak Adarbi, one of the Rabbis of Salonica, in his sefer 'Divrei Shalom', that Moshe Rabbeinu chose his words with precision and said, "if these die like the death all of men" with the stress being on the word "these", meaning these people who are right now rebelling. If indeed they will repent, they will become like a new creation, for "a person does not sin unless a spirit of foolishness enters him". Once he repents, his sanity returns to him and he is considered as a new being.

A Novel Look at the Parsha

"You shall safeguard the charge of the holy…and there shall be no more wrath against the Children of Israel" (Bamidbar 18:5)

The 'Kol B'ramah' magazine published by Harav Moshe Michael Tzoren shlita, printed a most moving and encouraging letter, in praise of Am Yisrael who are honorably facing this challenging coronavirus crisis, may we be spared in the future. The writer describes the feelings that overwhelmed him concerning a specific point, and it is something with which we can all certainly identify, in whichever society one belongs to.

Below is a quotation of the original letter, which speaks for itself:

"I pray in one of the minyanim which were organized once the authorities permitted outdoor minyanim. A minyan that takes place outside of the Beit Knesset, naturally leads to temporary permissiveness concerning the regular rituals of prayer. We would have expected that the regular procedures, which under normal circumstances are fully accepted by the community, should now have been carried with laxity or even dropped completely. For this is the nature of the world.

Of course, when we say 'nature of the world', we refer to the 'world' that does not invest in self-perfection. For those who care about their Avodat Hashem and are particular to fulfill every section and clause in the Shulchan Aruch, will continue observing these rulings even when their regular routine is turned upside down.

Even when they are praying, for example, in a vatikin minyan in Brooklyn Park (in Bnei Brak), and the chickens are running around between their legs, and even crowing their cock-a-doodle-do at this early hour of the morning, these talmidei chachamim will continue praying as if nothing is going on. As if right now they are inside the Beit Knesset.

What I am trying to say is that it is most heartwarming to come across talmidei chachamim who continue serving their Creator in every situation. Even when they are not sitting in their permanent seat in the Beit Knesset, and even if now they are lacking peace of mind, they will not lose their constancy and will not deflect from their regular practices, even when everything is so temporary. Right there in Brooklyn Park, the Kohanim raise their hands and offer the Priestly Blessing. Reading from the Torah is also performed in the park, and the chickens join in by crowing in the middle of the prayer, for they too are trying to preserve their regular prayer routine. The talmid chacham carries his holy duty wherever he finds himself.

We are talking about a sight that if not beheld with one's own eyes, is impossible to believe.

We also came across one talmid chacham, if only we could publicize his name, who prays in one of the corners in Ramat Elchanan, together with a certain group from that neighborhood. During the prayers, he noticed that the place was a mess and not a fitting place to pray.

When we incidentally passed by that area late at night, we saw him going over to that corner where the group prayed, and…he began sweeping the pavement and the paths that lead to this area. He did not leave the place until the area where they prayed was completely clean. Spotless. This shows that I care about praying. And even when Hashem has decreed that we leave our Batei Knesset, I do my best to create for myself some form of 'permanence', to the extent that it is possible to call it so. I do not surrender to the Yetzer Hara, who tries to influence me and 'prove' that there is no point in investing in this kind of prayer, for anyway it is being held in a temporary place…

For, the truth is, that if Hashem Yitbarach brought us to this point and instructed us to pray outside the Batei Knesset, at this stage this becomes our place of prayer, and one must invest one's full resources in turning it into a 'permanent place'.

As we know, a permanent place has its specific laws and ways. But what happens? The structure of the current place does not lend to the feeling of permanence. However, to create permanence in spirituality, there is no need for visual aids. All we need is the knowledge that this has become a place where we have decided to fix our prayers. And if we internalize this, we may take it for granted that we will 'fix it' in our hearts too.

Those who came the next day to pray in that minyan were duly impressed by the spotlessly clean sight that prevailed in every corner. They had no idea who had taken care of this.

But Hashem knows and He will repay him from above."


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