In this week's parashah, we read of Korach's uprising against
Moshe and Aharon. In Pirkei Avot (chapter 5) we learn: "Any machloket
/ dispute that is for the sake of Heaven will stand. Any machloket
that is not for the sake of Heaven will not stand. What is a
machloket that is for the sake of Heaven? The halachic disagreements
in the Talmud between Hillel and Shammai. What is a machloket that is
not for the sake of Heaven? The dispute of Korach and his cohorts."
R' Shlomo Zalman Auerbach z"l observes: This Mishnah seems to
imply that the disputes between Hillel and Shammai are fundamentally
comparable to the machloket of Korach and his cohorts, except that the
former were for the sake of Heaven and the latter was not. Is that
R' Auerbach explains: All machloket is inherently bad (hence the
similarity between the disputes of Hillel and Shammai and the dispute
of Korach and his band). Thus, our Sages have taught (in the very
last teaching in all of Mishnah): "Hashem found no better vessel for
holding blessing than peace." Indeed, Bnei Yisrael merited to receive
the Torah only because they were: "As one man, with one heart." (See
Shemot 19:2 and Rashi.)
However, if a machloket is for the sake of Heaven, then it has
the potential to ultimately increase unity. Specifically through this
machloket, each participant's attachment to the Torah is revealed and
is strengthened. And, that attachment forges a common bond between
the disputants, thus leaving them as closer friends. (Quoted in Avot
"Korach, son of Yitzhar son of Kehat son of Levi,
took . . ."
Rashi writes that Korach took his cohorts and attired them in
robes of pure techelet wool (i.e., the color found in tzitzit
according to Torah law). They then came and stood before Moshe and
said to him, "Is a garment that is entirely of techelet subject to the
law of tzitzit, or is it exempt?" Moshe replied to them, "It is
subject to that law." Upon hearing this, Korach and his cohorts began
to jeer at him, "Is this possible? On a robe of any different colored
material, one thread of techelet attached to it exempts it. Should
not this robe made entirely of techelet exempt itself from the law of
R' David Hanania Pinto shlita (a contemporary French rabbi)
observes that Korach's troubles started when he attempted to delve
into the logic of the mitzvot. Indeed, his name "Korach" has the same
Hebrew letters as the word "choker" / "philosopher." Korach could not
accept the fact that some mitzvot are decrees. Thus, the first word
of the parashah-"Va'yikach"-has the same Hebrew letters as the
expression "Vay chok" / "Woe to us from a decree."
What was Korach's end? He caused "machloket" / "dissension"
which has the same Hebrew letters as "lakach mavvet" / "He took
The midrash asks: Why did Korach use this stratagem to challenge
Moshe? Why didn't he just go debate Moshe? The midrash answers that
Korach knew he could never win a debate against Moshe. Therefore, he
decided to ridicule Moshe instead.
R' Gershon Henach Leiner z"l (the 19th century Radzhiner Rebbe
who attempted to renew the practice of putting techelet on tzitzit and
was successful in some communities) writes: In addition to the many
errors that are commonly attributed to Korach by our Sages and by the
classical commentaries, he made another mistake. He had what he
believed was a legitimate opinion on a Torah matter, and he suppressed
it. This is not the Torah way. Rather, a person who is competent in
matters of halachah is obligated to make his views known. Then, if he
is defeated in debate, he should rejoice that the truth has been
(Ein Ha'techelet p.8)
"The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their
households, and all the people who were with Korach, and the
entire wealth." (16:32)
The Gemara relates that the sage Rabbah Bar Bar-Chanah once was
traveling in the desert when an Arab offered to show him the hole into
which Korach had been swallowed. Rabbah saw a fissure from which
smoke was rising. He took a ball of wool, soaked it in water, stuck
in on the end of a romach / spear, and then lowered it into the hole.
When he removed it, he saw that the wool had been singed by fire. The
Arab told him, "Put your ear to the ground and hear what they are
saying." Rabbah did so and he heard, "Moshe is true, his Torah is
true, and we are liars."
What was Rabbah teaching by this story? R' Yitzchak Shmelkes z"l
(19th century rabbi of Lvov, Galicia) explains that Rabbah wanted to
indicate the seriousness of fomenting in machloket / strife. First,
he took wool, which represents tzitzit in particular and mitzvot in
general. (Tzitzit, through their blue color, also remind us of the
heavens, and therefore of G-d's "Throne.") Next, he dipped the wool
in water, which is frequently used by our Sages as a metaphor for
Torah. Then, he stuck the water-logged wool on the end of a romach /
spear, alluding to the 248 limbs and organs of the human body. (The
gematria of "romach" is 248.) By this, he represented a person whose
entire being, all 248 limbs and organs, are steeped in Torah and
Finally, he lowered the spear into Korach's hole and, when he
removed it, it was singed by fire. This demonstrates that even if a
person is entirely devoted to Torah and mitzvot, once he becomes
involved in machloket, it is impossible to emerge unscathed.
(Bet Yitzchak Al Ha'Torah)
Letters from Our Sages
This week we present a letter from She'eilot U'teshuvot
Maharik (No. 9) by R' Yosef Colon (France and Italy; approx.
1410-1480), an important halachic authority who is quoted
frequently in later works.
What follows is a brief excerpt from a lengthy responsum about a
shul that had the following custom: On the Shabbat on which Parashat
Bereishit was read, the first aliyah (usually reserved for a kohen)
was given to a member of the congregation who donated oil for the
entire year. The custom was that if a kohen was present, either he
bought that mitzvah or left the room so that someone else could be
called to the Torah.
One year, there was a kohen who did not buy the mitzvah and also
would not leave the room. The members of the congregation agreed to
prevent this kohen from entering their shul and they enlisted the help
of the municipal government. Maharik wrote:
A Torah scholar to whom secrets are revealed, the foundation of
the building, one who asks relevant questions, my soul's friend, the
wise man, R' Shmuel: . . .
It appears, in my humble opinion, that even if that kohen is as
great as [the sages of the Mishnah] Shimon ben Azzai and his friends,
he went too far, for we should not change the customs which our
forefathers before us, pious men and men of deeds, practiced.
Regarding matters such as this, Chazal said, "Leave the Jews alone -
if they are not prophets, they are the sons of prophets." Certainly
this is true regarding this custom which honors and elevates the
Torah. It is obvious that [the honor of the Torah] is elevated when
people jump at the chance to read its beginning in exchange for money
- there is no love of Torah greater than this. Also, in this way, oil
to light [the shul] is more readily available.
In all of the holy communities of France and Germany, a similar
custom is observed on Simchat Torah. These and these intend [their
deeds to be] for the sake of Heaven, except that these do it when they
finish the Torah and these do it when they begin the Torah . . .
Regarding the most insignificant custom, we learn in Bava Metzia
[86b]: "R' Chanina ben Chachilai said, `One should never deviate from
the local custom, for Moshe went up to the Heavens [to receive the
Torah, and he did not eat; the angels came to visit Avraham, and they
did eat]'." Also, we learn in Bereishit Rabbah on Parashat Vayera:
"When you enter a city, follow its customs." Certainly then, in the
case of an important custom such as this, which honors and elevates
the Torah; it may not be changed and must be followed.
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ('lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah'), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
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