Where The Humble Stand
By Shlomo Katz
25 Sivan 5765
July 2, 2005
The Vogel and Braver families
on the yahrzeit of Rabbi Joseph Braver
(R' Yosef Leib ben Harav Yehuda a"h)
The Sabrin family in memory of father
Shlomo ben Chaim a"h (Sol Sabrin)
Ma'aser Sheni 5:9-10
Daf Yomi (Bavli): Shabbat 61
Daf Yomi (Yerushalmi): Sanhedrin 35
Korach's rebellion, the focus of this week's parashah, is
different in several respects from the other mutinies that occurred in
the desert. Firstly, it was the only one that was directed at Moshe
personally rather than at some aspect of Bnei Yisrael's desert
experience (e.g., the food). Secondly, Korach's rebellion elicited a
response from Moshe Rabbeinu like no other mutiny described in the
Torah. In every case in which Bnei Yisrael sinned, Moshe pleaded with
Hashem in their defense. Not so in Korach's case; to the contrary,
Moshe called out to Bnei Yisrael: "Turn away now from near the tents
of these wicked men and do not touch anything of theirs, lest you
perish because of all of their sins." Then, Moshe called upon G-d to
bring about the deaths of Korach and his leading cohorts through an
At first glance, Moshe's response is shocking. After all, the
Torah teaches that Moshe was the humblest of all men. Why, in the one
case in which he was attacked personally, did Moshe react so
R' Ben Zion Rabinowitz shlita (the "Biala Rebbe") explains that
Moshe had the halachic status of a king. According to halachah, a
king may never forgo or forgive the honor due him. Moshe was humble,
but he, too, was bound by halachah. If he showed any mercy to Korach,
he would, in effect, be abdicating his throne.
There is a practical lesson in this for every Jew, adds R'
Rabinowitz. Every Jew is a king in his own way. And, kabbalists
teach that every Jewish soul has a spark of Moshe Rabbeinu within it.
Thus, while every Jew is enjoined to be humble, that same Jew must
stand up for his dignity like a king when the yetzer hara attacks.
(Mevaser Tov, Yeshuat Avraham p. 344)
"Korach son of Yitzhar son of Kehat son of Levi . . ."
Rashi writes: "It does not, however, mention Levi's being `the
son of Yaakov,' because Yaakov prayed that his name not be mentioned
in connection with Korach's quarrels, as it is written (Bereishit
49:6), `With their assembly, may my glory not be united'."
It is told that two litigants once came before R' Eliyahu
Kletzkin z"l, the 19th century rabbi of Lublin, for a din Torah. One
of the litigants began his presentation by relating his yichus /
pedigree to the rabbi.
The rabbi replied: Rashi writes that Yaakov prayed for himself so
that he would not be mentioned together with Korach. Why? Shouldn't
Yaakov have prayed that Korach's yichus would save him from
The answer, said R' Kletzkin, is that when a person has yichus
and he nevertheless behaves improperly, his punishment is even
(Quoted in Ve'karata La'Shabbat Oneg)
"Korach son of Yitzhar son of Kehat son of Levi separated
himself, with Datan and Aviram, sons of Eliav, and On son of
Pelet, the offspring of Reuben." (16:1)
Pirkei Avot (5:17) teaches: "What dispute was for the sake of
Heaven? The dispute of Hillel and Shammai. What dispute was not for
the sake of Heaven? The dispute of Korach and his congregation. A
dispute that is for the sake of Heaven will last. A dispute that is
not for the sake of Heaven will not last."
Several points about this Mishnah require explanation. First,
why does the Mishnah refer to the dispute of "Korach and his
congregation" rather than to the dispute of "Korach and Moshe"?
Second, the Mishnah implies that it is good if a dispute lasts, for
its says that a dispute that is for the sake of Heaven will last,
while a dispute that is not for the sake of Heaven will not last.
What does this mean?
R' Eliyahu z"l (1720-1797; the Vilna Gaon) is quoted as answering
these questions as follows: When a group gathers together to instigate
a fight that is not for the sake of Heaven, it is inevitable that they
will fight amongst themselves. Therefore, Korach's dispute with Moshe
is called the dispute of "Korach and his congregation," i.e., Korach
and his congregation fought amongst themselves.
Also, when someone instigates a fight that is not for the sake of
Heaven, it is inevitable that the original basis for the fight will be
forgotten. This is what the Mishnah means when it says that a dispute
that is not for the sake of Heaven will not last. Rather, it will
quickly degenerate into a different dispute. On the other hand, a
dispute that is for the sake of Heaven will last, i.e., it will stay
focused on the original point of contention.
(Quoted in Ha'maor Ha'gadol)
R' Yoel Teitelbaum z"l (the Satmar Rav; died 1979) answers the
above question as follows: If one holds a position for the sake of
Heaven, compromise is not possible. Thus, if a dispute does not
endure, it is a sign that it was never engaged in for the sake of
"Hashem said to Aharon, `In their Land you shall have no
heritage, and a share shall you not have among them; I am
your share and your heritage among Bnei Yisrael." (18:20)
R' Moshe Sofer z"l (the Chatam Sofer; Hungary; died 1840)
comments: It is well known that it is difficult to keep one's
thoughts attached to Hashem at the same time that one is actively
involved with people. For one who wants to cleave to Hashem,
hitbodedut / solitude is the prescription.
Aharon Hakohen, however, was able to accomplish both
simultaneously. He was always involved with people--always trying to
resolve conflicts and strengthen marriages (see below). Even so, he
never left his lofty and holy position. This is what the verse means
when it says, "I [Hashem] am your share and your heritage [even] among
The Talmudic-era work Avot De'Rabbi Natan (chapter 12) describes
Aharon's activities among the Jewish people as follows:
He was a lover of peace. How so? One should desire that
there be peace between every two Jews just as Aharon loved
peace between every two Jews. Thus it is written (Malachi
2:6), "The teaching of truth was in his mouth and no
injustice was found on his lips; he walked with Me in peace
and fairness, and he turned many away from sin."
Rabbi Meir says: What is meant by "he turned many away from
sin"? When he would walk on the road and he would meet a
wicked man, Aharon would greet him. The next day, when the
sinner would go to sin, he would say, "If I commit this sin,
how will I hold my head up when I see Aharon? I will be so
[How did Aharon pursue peace?] If he saw two people who were
involved in a dispute, he would sit down next to one and say,
"My son, have you seen how your friend's is beating his chest
and ripping his clothes and saying, `How will I face my
friend? I am so embarrassed that I have sinned against him!"
Aharon would sit with the first person until all jealousy had
been removed from his heart. Then Aharon would go to the
second person and say the same thing about the first person.
Then, when they would see each other, they would hug each
other. Thus it is written after Aharon's death (Bemidbar
20:29), "All the house of Israel cried for Aharon for thirty
Why must our Sages teach us to love peace? Could one think that
he should not love peace? R' Rachamim Yitzchak Falagi z"l (19th
century Turkey) explains: One might think that he is obligated to
engage in peace-making only when he is not busy with Torah study or
other important activities. To counteract this mistaken notion, Avot
De'Rabbi Natan tells us to love peace, and it quotes the verse: "The
teaching of truth [i.e., the Torah] was in his mouth and
[nevertheless] he walked with Me in peace . . ."
(Quoted in Meorei Ohr)
[The Talmudic sage] 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
Netivot 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
blinding smoke which came from between the cracks represents 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 cloth--
i.e., the mind--was hurled with force into the smoke, it was burnt.
This happens 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."
Copyright © 2005 by Shlomo Katz
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