By Rabbi Dr. Meir Tamari
"And Korach took", yet the text does not elaborate what it is that he
took. Chal said that he 'took' made a bad purchase (Sanhedrin 101), the
Midrash, that he took himself to one opposing] side (Tanchuma, Bamidbar
15), and Ibn Ezrah comments that he took people with him. Yet it seems to
me that all 3 miss the essence of the matter. What is taught here is that
he took three separate and unconnected components of malcontents and
welded them together into one protest group. Korach protested that since
Moshe had taken Kingship, it was not correct for the descendants of Amram
to also take the priesthood for Aharon's family, but that it should have
devolved on Korach being the first born of Yitzhar, the second son of
Levi. The leaders of Reuven disputed losing the rights to Yehudah and Levi
of kingship and priesthood to which they were entitled as the First Born
of Yaakov. The First Born of Israel objected to the giving of the priest
hood to Levi. It is true as Ibn Ezrah comments, that the actions that led
to this rebellion actually took place in Midbar Sinai when the Leviim were
substituted for the First Born. However, we do not have to use his
argument that there is not mukdam u meuchar in the Torah to explain why
incident with Korah and his congregation only appears now.
Korach seized the opportunity created by the edict that that generation
would not inherit the Land, to create a coalition of rebellion of the
First Born and the Tribe of Reuven to bolster his own agenda regarding the
High Priesthood. By doing this he was able to appear as the defender of
the disinherited, while serving his own ends as is often done by leaders
and kings. This rebellion of Korach's was actually the last chapter in a
chain of Lashon Harah that started with the Mitonanim, followed by Kivrot
Hatavah, Miriam and Aharon criticizing Moshe, in Parshat Beha'alotcha and
the Spies in Parshat Shelach. All of them were the same rejection of
Moshe's speaking in the name of G-d and the same claim that his Torah was
not Divine but only a creation of his own.
We have to understand the reply of Datan and Aviram to Moshe's summons
(16:13-14), as follows: " Is it too little that you have brought us up out
of a land flowing with milk and honey [Egypt] to let us die in the
wilderness that you also set yourself up as a dictator [and offer us gifts
and political offices as a bribe, that is worthless in view of our
fate].Furthermore, you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk
and honey where you give us a heritage of field and vineyard[ a bribe of
property and also of social status that is knowingly false since we will
never enter the Land as you yourself prophesied because of the Spies]].
Will you blind these people [as to promises of generosity that you are
powerless to fulfill]"? This is the only way we can explain Moshe's denial
of any abuse of power on his part as an answer to these charges. It is
true that the people were in the habit of giving gifts to Moshe as is
customary to give to honor leaders, as we read with regard to Shmuel
(Shmuel Alef, 9:6-10), [it is difficult to find a similar source for this
custom with regard to Moshe, but there is a source that Moshe never asked
the people to give him assistance or personal favors, a misuse of power
and status. "Not one ass have I taken from them and not of them have I
hurt" (Devarim16:15). [" Even by hire" (Nedarim, 38a); What difference
would it make if he paid for the use? It would still be an abuse of power,
since no would be able to refuse the great man even if it was inconvenient
or unprofitable. It is important to remember that this disclaimer is made
by Shmuel as well (Shmuel Alef, 12:3).
It is difficult to understand why the rebels agreed to the test of the
incense to decide the issue of the priesthood as suggested by Moshe. The
incense is the most spiritual of all the korbanot so that it was arrogance
on their part to imagine that they were worthy of offering it.
Furthermore, they had witnessed the death of Nadav and Avihu when they
offered incense; an avodah for which the punishment was death when done by
a stranger, so it was foolhardy for them to agree to that test. However,
when they agreed to the test "And every man take his censer…..and you and
Aharon" (16:17), they thought that they would all offer the incense
together, so that when it was accepted each one could claim that it was in
his virtue and therefore he should be the priest. However, in order to
make the decision quite clear cut, in the following verse we read " every
man took his censer and put fire on them and laid incense on them and
stood at the entrance to Ohel Moed and [then] Moshe and Aharon
[separately.] We find the same issue repeated on Har HaCarmel at the test
proposed by Eliyah (Melachim Alef, 18). The priests of the Baal thought
that the sacrifices would be offered as a group that would include
Eliyahu. Then, when fire came down from Heaven they would claim that it
was in their merit, and because the group included Eliyahu, the issue
would not be settled as to who is the god, Hashem or the Baal. However,
Eliahu separated the priests of Baal into two groups, the one of all the
priests and the other representing Hashem, of Eliyahu alone. Then the
results of the test would be clear cut and decisive.
The punishment of the bringers of the ketoret was death by fire, fitting
for those who offered a strange fire, fire by strangers and that included
Korach. However, in the case of Dotam ve Aviram the punishment was being
swallowed by the earth , including the property of Korach. They were petty
people of little spiritual value and degraded morality who dared to speak
out against the Father of the Prophets, and it was 'midah caneged midah'
that they were punished by the mouth of the Earth which is the lowest of
the elements and of the creation. "But if G-d will create a new creation"
(16:30) was necessary since the greatest and most awesome event described
in the Torah that they were querying, was the Creation at Bereishit; only
a similar albeit much smaller creation could demonstrate the truth of the
Torah that began with Bereishit.
[It is interesting to compare Abarbanel's prosaic and political analysis
of Korach's rebellion with the treatment of it, by the Hassidic school of
Pshyscha, who saw in the rebellion an expression of misguided religiosity,
just as they viewed all the backslidings of that generation. Simcha Bunem
spoke about "My Zeide Korach", while the Admor of Kotsk taught that Korach
was a Rebbe who wore a ' spodick' and said Torah. "Korach was the equal of
Moshe and he wanted to emulate Moshe by correcting the sin of Cain. As his
name denotes, Cain, from kinyan, was one who created and was all activity.
That is admirable and in contrast to Hevel who did not see any value or
purpose in anything, even things of the spirit; "Hevel also brought a
sacrifice- havi gam hu", after Cain initiated the avodah. But the
characteristic of Cain is dangerous in that it can lead to arrogance and
self satisfaction, so while Moshe was the most humble of men and could
correct Cain's sin, Korah became proud and arrogant and that was his
downfall" (Shem Mi Shmuel)].
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Meir Tamari and Torah.org.
r. Tamari is a renowned economist, Jewish scholar, and founder of the Center For Business Ethics (www.besr.org) in Jerusalem.