By Rabbi Heshy Grossman
"And Moshe said: with this you will know that Hashem has sent me to perform
these deeds, not my own heart. If these [individuals] will die a death like
all others, and the end of all men will be their end; Hashem has not sent
me. And if G-d creates a new creation, and the earth opens its mouth,
swallowing them and all that they have, and they descend alive to Gehinnom,
then you wil know that these people have angered Hashem." (Bamidbar 16, 29-30)
What does the sin of Korach and his men warrant total extermination? Why
was it necessary that they be punished with a new form of death rather than
Let us describe the connection betweeen this incident and the act of
creation, and explain why Moshe calls upon G-d to re-enact the Ma'aseh
Unlike the other days of creation, the Torah does not conclude its
description of the second day with the words 'Ki Tov'. On this day, G-d
completes His work without seeing the good. Chazal explain that Gehinnom
and Machlokes (dispute) were both created on Yom Sheni, as indicated by the
splitting of the heavenly and earthly waters. This day remains unfinished,
its Tov not evident until Yom Shlishi.
Each of the daily songs, the Psalms recited at the close of morning
prayers, reflect the particular aspect of creation revealed on that day.
Hence, on Yom Rishon, we proclaim that 'the world is God's and everything
On Yom Sheni we repeat the song of the B'nai Korach, the beauty of
Jerusalem and the palace of the King.
Who were the B'nai Korach and why do they sing on Yom Sheni?
"And the sons of Korach did not die - They were in the original plan. At
the time of the Machlokes, they had thoughts of Tshuva, therefore an
elevated place in Gehinnom was established for them, and there they
dwelled." (Rashi, Bamidbar, 26,11)
The rebellion of Korach is the epitome of dispute. His sons, in parting
from their fathers' cause, repair the damage of the original Machlokes, the
splitting of the waters on Yom Sheni. Therefore, on that day, it is they
who sing the praise of G-d.
The division of Yom Sheni marks the separation of the heavenly and earthly
spheres. From that point on, the possibility exists that the earth will
stray from its Divine task. Korach disputes more than the authority of
Moshe Rabbeinu; he sees this world as an independent entity, removed from
the intimations of Divine Providence that the Torah represents.
Why is the opening of the earth referred to as Pi HaAretz? Does the earth
have a mouth? Does it have something to say?
"Said Rabbah bar Bar Chonah: A merchant said to me, 'Come and I will show
you where Korach was swallowed.'
I went, and I saw two cracks in the earth, with smoke escaping. He took a
bundle of wool, soaked it in water, and placed it on the end of a spear. He
stuck it in the hole, and when he removed it, the wool was scorched.
He said to me: ' Go listen, what do you hear?'
I heard them saying: 'Moshe and his Torah are Emes, and we are liars.'
He said: 'Every thirty days Gehinnom returns here, like meat being stirred
in a pot, and that is what they say.' (Bava Basra 74a)
This is the message of the earth, its speech for all time. Korach is the
vehicle by which this lesson is expresssed. Though in his lifetime he had
rebelled against the authority of Moshe and the truth of Torah, his
punishment brings this mistake to light, proving that Moshe and the Torah
can never be denied.
Let us explain.
Life originates with two different perspectives - "In the beginning, G-d
created heaven and earth. While the heavens are an expression of the
spirituality that permeates every corner of existence, the earth conceals
the presence of G-d, waiting for man to uncover the Divine presence at its
The earth operates with a natural order of cause and effect, and it is this
system of happenstance that dulls man's senses, slowly he forgets the G-d
Miracles are an exception to this humdrum existence, and it is for that
reason they command such attention.
It is commonly understood that miracles are a sudden halt of the rules of
nature, demonstrating G-d's total control over worldly affairs.
This is quite troublesome.
Since G-d is defined as unchanging, miracles cannot reflect a shift or
modification, but must be built into the essence of life as an integral
part of the Divine process.
This idea is alluded to by our Sages.
"Said Rebbi Yochanan: HaKadosh Baruch Hu made a condition with the sea to
split before the B'nai Yisrael....not only with the sea did Hashem make a
condition, but with everything created during the six days of creation...."
(Midrash Rabbah 5, 4)
The Maharal explains that miracles are not an exception that proves Divine
rule. Rather, they have an order of their own, reflecting a dimension
higher than the natural world. This elevated state is not separate from
Olam HaZeh, but concealed within, hinting at the underlying Divine process
directing the world to a different destination.
This is the condition that G-d makes with the world. Not a change of plans
or direction, but a fundamental element of the daily fabric, critical to
the unfolding Divine plan that this earth is likewise destined to reveal.
The earth, as well, has something to say.
It is for this reason that the Pi HaAretz is one of the ten items created
at twilight of the first Erev Shabbos. Twilight - Bein HaShmashos, is
neither day nor night. Similarly, the miraculous items created at the very
end of the six days.
Part of this world, yet separate, the mouth of the earth swallows whole
those who deny G-d's word.
Torah is not a matter of choice, but a necessary and indispensable
component of creation. While life can continue without much of existence,
the Torah is a physical expression of the Divine command, and the basis of
our world. Without Torah, the world ceases to exist.
Korach's mistake is highlighted by his denial of Moshe's authority, the
unwillingness to subjugate his individual identity before the Divine will.
His insistence on personal autonomy places him at odds with the Torah,
disassociated from the substance of existence.
One who resists an immovable object is doomed to failure.
Korach's battle with Moshe sentences him to an eternity of nothingness. The
Torah is truth, it takes no prisoners. Its enemies are swallowed alive,
their lives consumed by the hollowness of their existence. The Torah
defines true substance, and its deniers remove themselves from that reality.
The very battle of Korach serves, ironically, as testimony to the truth he
failed to recognize.
Sin is its own punishment. Heavenly retribution is the distance and
impurity engendered by the evildoer's own behavior. The regret and despair
he suffers is his personal Gehinnom, and it is then he finally admits to
the truth: Moshe and his Torah are true!'
This is the message of the earth.
Though it conceals the Divine will, those who follow in its path are
ultimately shown the flip side of truth, a snapshot in negative. A life of
evil is transformed as eternal damnation, shadowing the timeless image of
the man who truly stands in G-d's shadow, the Tzelem Elokim.
JerusalemViews, Copyright (c) 1999 by Rabbi Heshy Grossman and Project