Irving and Arline Katz
on the yahrzeit of mother
Sarah bat Yitzchak Hakohen Katz a"h
R' Yehuda Aryeh Leib of Ger z"l (the "Sefat Emet") writes that
Korach wrongly argued that G-d seeks a different type of service
than Moshe claimed. Korach said, "Are not all of the people
holy?" meaning, "Should not each person choose his own path in
the service of G-d, rather than having one Torah for all people?"
Korach claimed that Bnei Yisrael did not need a Kohen Gadol such
as Aharon, for every Jew was a "High Priest." [However, Korach
later contradicted his own words by seeking position of Kohen
Gadol for himself.]
Moshe told Korach that he was wrong. As Rashi writes: "We
have only one G-d, one Holy Ark, one Torah, one Temple, and one
Furthermore, writes the Sefat Emet, if Korach had understood
the nature of the kohen's position, he would not have wanted it.
One is not necessarily deserving of honor merely for being a
kohen, for it is an inherited position which does not depend in
any way on the qualifications of the holder. (This is what Moshe
meant when he said to Korach, "What is Aharon that you should
complain against him?") True honor is found in working oneself
up the ladder of improvement through one's own righteousness and
The parashah concludes with some of the gifts that Bnei Yisrael
must give to the kohanim and the levi'im. This is G-d's response
to Korach. It represents the idea that each Jew - kohen, levi
and yisrael, man, and woman - is part of a group which can
succeed only as a whole, but not if each member seeks to do the
work of the other.
Rashi introduces our parashah with the statement: "This
parashah is explained nicely in the midrash of Rabbi Tanchuma."
R' David HaLevi z"l (the "Taz"; died 1667) questions Rashi's
statement based on the gemara (Eruvin 64a) which states that one
is forbidden to say, "This teaching is pleasing; that teaching is
not pleasing." This means that just as one is forbidden to
criticize part of the Torah, one is forbidden to praise part of
the Torah. The reason is that such praise, by implication, calls
into question the beauty of the rest of the Torah!
The Taz answers: Regarding most of the Torah's verses, we find
that there is a "peshat" (a plain meaning) and a "drash" (the
deeper meaning found in the midrash). In the case of Parashat
Korach, writes R' David, the situation is different, for here the
explanation given by the Midrash Tanchuma is the peshat. The
Torah does not give us much information regarding the motives and
beginnings of Korach's rebellion. The midrash fills in these
"gaps" through the exegetical means typical of the midrash.
This is what Rashi was telling us when he praised the midrash
on our parashah.
R' Ovadiah Yosef shlita writes that from Rashi's comment to
Eruvin 64a, it would appear that one is permitted to say, "This
teaching is pleasing." It is merely prohibited to compare the
relative beauty of two parts of the Torah. However, R' Yosef
acknowledges, the Taz (quoted above) and Maharsha (in his Talmud
commentary) do not understand Rashi in this way.
R' Yosef offers a second answer to the Taz's question on Rashi:
The gemara's statement that one may not praise part of the Torah
was referring to praising a _halachah_; all halachot are equally
beautiful and equally important. However, when one hears a
particularly beautiful derashah or homiletical teaching, one is
permitted to say so.
If one is not permitted to criticize a Torah teaching, why are
there so many instances in Torah literature (including in the
gemara) where scholars denigrate each others' teachings? R'
Yosef explains that if one scholar truly believes that the
halachic opinion of another scholar is wrong, the first scholar
must speak out in strong terms to prevent the public from acting
in accordance with that mistaken view.
The gemara says, based on Mishlei 29:3, that a person who says,
"This teaching is pleasing, that teaching is not pleasing" will
"lose the treasure of Torah." R' Moshe Shlomo Zalman Halevi z"l
(19th century Poland) explains that a person who respects the
sages who came before him can build on their teachings. However,
one who does not respect his predecessors cannot rely on the
foundation which they built and must rely on his own
intelligence. As a result, he cannot progress very far in his
"For the whole congregation is holy..." (16:3)
At first glance, Korach is complimenting Bnei Yisrael. Hadn't
Moshe himself prayed (Bemidbar 11:29), "Would that all of
Hashem's people were prophets"? Why then is Korach criticized
for this statement?
Moshe spoke about those who act like "Hashem's people." Korach
grouped everybody together. This demonstrates that Korach had
lost his ability to distinguish between good and bad, holy and
profane, and that which is truly holy versus that which just
This is what led him to attack Moshe and Aharon, the holiest of
R' Nachman said: "I was once walking in the desert and an Arab
said, 'Come! I will show you where Korach's gang was swallowed
up.' I saw two cracks in the ground and smoke rose from between
them. He took a woolen cloth, dipped it in water, stuck it on
the end of a spear and threw it into the smoke. When he took it
out, the cloth was burnt. He said to me, 'Listen to what they
are saying.' I put my ear to the ground and heard, 'Moshe is
true and his Torah is true, and we are liars'."
(Gemara Bava Batra 74a)
R' Yaakov Lorberbaum of Lissa z"l (early 19th century; author
of Nesivot Hamishpat) explains as follows: Korach was not a fool.
His dispute with Moshe occurred because, like so many
philosophers, his profound, but wrong, thoughts led him astray.
Specifically, the two cracks in the earth represent the two
foundations of Judaism which Korach and other philosophers
denied: (1) The principle of prophecy; and (2) that Moshe was the
teacher of Torah par excellence. The smoke which came from
between the cracks represent the fact that Korach was blinded by
his own logic.
The white cloth represents a mind which is a clean slate, and
dipping it in water represents teaching it Torah. When this mind
was hurled with force into the smoke, it was burnt because if a
Torah scholar rushes into debate with a philosopher, the Torah
scholar may lose. Rather, the arguments of a Korach (or any
philosopher) must be thought through and refuted calmly and
patiently. If you take the time to put your ear to the ground
and listen very closely, then you can hear Korach saying, "Moshe
is true and his Torah is true, and we are liars."
3 Tamuz 2488
On this day 3,720 years ago, the sun and the moon stood still
for 36 (some say 48) hours pursuant to the command of Yehoshua
bin Nun (Seder Olam). Several reasons are given for Yehoshua's
taking this action: first, so that Bnei Yisrael would not have
to fight a war on Shabbat, and also, in order to publicize that
Hashem is the G-d over all of creation, contrary to the beliefs
of those who worship the celestial bodies.
R' Natan Zvi Finkel z"l (the "Alter of Slobodka"; died 1926)
writes: The Torah teaches that Bnei Yisrael have the power to
control the calendar. When the Sanhedrin still existed, the
beginning of each month was set based on the sighting of the new
moon by two witnesses. However, the Sanhedrin had the right to
ignore the witnesses' testimony, and it also had the right to
accept the testimony of the witnesses, even if it knew based on
astronomical calculations that the witnesses had not seen the
moon. (The Sanhedrin might do this to prevent certain holidays
from falling on certain days of the week.) The day that the
Sanhedrin said was rosh chodesh _was_ rosh chodesh; the rewards
and punishments associated with keeping or violating the holidays
were allotted for that day which the Sanhedrin said was holy, not
for the "correct" day.
Just as we can control the calendar, so we can control the
celestial bodies themselves, as the miracle wrought by Yehoshua
demonstrates. Furthermore, the celestial bodies can be made to
serve each person individually. This happened at the time of the
plague of darkness in Egypt, when Bnei Yisrael had light wherever
they went, even in the homes of the Egyptians. Where did these
powers come from? From the fact that such miracles helped to
fulfill promises contained in the Torah (e.g. to enable Bnei
Yisrael to locate Egyptian gold). If such power comes from one
detail of Torah, imagine the greatness of a person who never lets
go of the Torah!