by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
"And Korach the son of Yitzhar, the son of K'has, the son of Levi, and Dasan
and Aviram the sons of Eliav, and On the son of Peles, the sons of Reuven,
took [themselves to the side]; and they rose up against Moshe, along with
men of the Children of Israel, 250 princes of the congregation, honored by
the assembly, men of a good name." [16:1-2]
Korach rebelled. He was joined by 250 leaders, and by Dasan and Aviram, all
united against the leadership of Moshe and Aharon. They claimed that their
intent was good, but the Torah tells us that their argument was for their
own benefit, or simply for the sake of arguing - they are used by our Sages
as the classic example of an argument not made for the sake of Heaven.
The Yalkut Shimoni observes that Moshe tried repeatedly to reason with
Korach, and yet we find no response at all. The Yalkut explains that Korach
realized that if he were to respond, he would fail. "I know that Moshe is
extremely wise. He will enlighten me with his words, and I will be forced to
agree with him. Better I should ignore him entirely." When Moshe realized
that speaking with Korach was useless, he turned instead to Dasan and Aviram
- but they also did not bother to respond.
It is interesting that the Yalkut says that Dasan and Aviram did not
respond, because we find that they said, "we will not come up. Is it a small
thing that you have brought us up from a land flowing with milk and honey,
to put us to death in the desert, that you must also lift yourself up over
us?" [16:12-13] They did respond, didn't they?
No. Repeating the same argument, and failing to reason and address the other
opinion, is no response at all. Korach, Dasan, and Aviram all preferred to
make speeches than to actually address what Moshe was saying. This was an
argument which was not for the sake of Heaven.
In Sichos Mussar, Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz zt"l analyzes the difference
between Korach's rebellion, and the arguments of the students of Hillel and
Shammai, which are the classic example of an argument which is for the
sake of Heaven. The latter were willing to understand and address the
other opinions. They did not disagree for personal gain or simply to create
an argument, but because they honestly differed about which opinion was
correct and true. The Halacha was decided like the students of Hillel, and
our Sages say that this was because these students were so concerned for the
truth that not only did they teach the opinions of Shammai, they taught
those contrary opinions before teaching their own! This was total
dedication to truth.
The Chasam Sofer, in his Toras Moshe commentary on the Torah, says that
Korach, the 250 leaders, and Dasan and Aviram were actually not making the
same argument. Korach acknowledged the special holiness of the tribe of
Levi, but he argued against the leadership of Moshe. Rather, he claimed that
the leader should be the oldest son of Amram, namely Aharon, and the High
Priest should be the oldest son of Yitzhar - Korach himself. For this
reason, the Torah says concerning Korach and his closest allies, Dasan,
Aviram and On ben Peles, that "they arose against Moshe" [16:2], because
Korach had no argument against Aharon.
The 250 leaders, on the other hand, rejected the entire special nature of
the Levites. They were the first-born of their families, and the special
service had been the responsibility of the first-born until G-d selected the
tribe of Levi "in exchange." For this reason, when the 250 are mentioned,
the Torah says "they assembled together against Moshe and against Aharon"
In the final confrontation, Dasan and Aviram did not take pans of incense
like the 250 first-born. The Chasam Sofer concludes that they were not
interested in claiming the honors desired by the first-born, or by Korach
himself. They simply wanted to rebel, and claim that Moshe was a charlatan
(Heaven forbid). For themselves, they had no interest in the Temple service
I believe that the existence of great differences between Korach, the
first-born, and Dasan and Aviram, are also an indicator of an argument "not
for the sake of Heaven." What would have happened if Moshe had "lost the
argument" (Heaven forbid)? Korach would have assumed control, and
immediately there would have been a fight between Korach and the 250
first-born! They had no agreement with each other - they were "united" only
because they each disagreed with Moshe.
The text in the Sayings of the Fathers [5:17] reads, "which is an argument
for the sake of Heaven? This is the argument of Hillel and Shammai. And not
for the sake of Heaven? This is the argument of Korach and his entire
congregation." Note that there is no parallel between the two cases - the
latter should read "Korach and Moshe." The Medrash Shmuel explains that
while the motivations of both parties were the same in the first case, this
was not true in the latter. For this reason, Moshe and Aharon - whose
motivations were pure - could not be classified together with Korach.
Using the Chasam Sofer, I think we understand why the Mishnah says "Korach
and his entire congregation." They also argued with each other, and they
did share the same motives - selfish gain, not for the sake of Heaven!
There is a parallel between the two cases in the Mishnah - the latter is
the argument of Korach and the 250 first-born, not that of Korach and Moshe!
In any case, it is clear that Korach and the 250 first-born were not
concerned for truth, for if they were, they never could have presented a
"united front" against Moshe, given their own fundamental differences of
opinion. If even they could not agree, how could they argue with certainty
that Moshe was wrong? And as for Dasan and Aviram, they really didn't care -
they just saw an opportunity to rebel.
It was a simple "marriage of convenience," which we unfortunately see all
too often today. The Torah says that a disagreement is only valid when you
argue out of a sincere concern for truth, and you are willing to consider
all serious opinions - and all the more so must one first decide how things
should be, before arguing about changes. Anything else is a self-serving
argument, which brings nothing but destruction in its wake.
Text Copyright © 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Menken and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is the Director of Project Genesis.