Parashas Korach 5780 – The Common Sense of Unity

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After last week miserable episode of the Meraglim, which ended sadly as they initiated a
dispute amongst the Bnei Yisrael, our Parasha starts by depicting another attempt of
discord by Korach for his personal benefits:
“Korach, son of Yitzhar son of Keihas son of Levi, betook himself, along with Dathan and
Aviram sons of Eliav, and On son of Peleth—descendants of Reuven: to rise up against
Moshe, together with two hundred and fifty Israelites, chieftains of the community, chosen
in the assembly, men of repute.” (Numbers 16:1-2)
Chazal notify that Korach was a member of the Sanhedrin destined to become the next
Kohen Gadol, and in coalition with the Sanhedrin confronted Moshe and Aaron. The
Talmud [Sanhedrin 17a] depicts the greatness of the Sanhedrin: “Rabbi Yohanan says:
They placed on the Sanhedrin only men of high stature and wisdom, and of pleasant
appearance, and of suitable age [so that they will be respected]. They had to be masters
of sorcery and know all seventy languages to prevent having to hear testimonies
from the mouth of a translator [in a case the witnesses spoke a different language].”
Above all, they were all Prophets as stated in the Verse “Eldad and Medad are prophesying
in the camp” (Numbers 11:27), while they were about to become members of the
People of such great stature did not know the countless examples in the Torah where the
initiator of a discord not only did not gain anything but even lost their stature. For
example, the moon when it complained about the sun and the Meraglim. So, what
provided Korach the brazenness to attempt another conflict?

Rashi quoting the Midrash informs that he based his claim on the Tzizis, mentioned in the
last portion of last week Parasha. The Torah requires to have one-blue and three-white
strands in every of the four corners. Korach innovated a logic that if the entire Tzizis is
blue there will obviously be no need to affix a blue thread. His logic was; since the purpose
for the blue color was to remind the person of Heaven, this obligation would be fulfilled
by having the entire Tzizis blue. However, when Hashem orders a Mitzva, it cannot be
swapped or changed based on our lowly logic? Can one decide to make Shabbos on
Thursday as he plans a two-days weekend with his family? Hashem’s laws are immutable!
So, what led Korach to believe his claim was justified?
The Talmud [Sanhedrin 109b] elaborates on the contrast between two types of wives —
the wife of Korach and the wife of On ben Peleth. It notes that although On is listed
prominently in the opening Pasuk of the Parasha among the co-conspirators of Korach’s
rebellion, he did not die. Korach died. Dasan and Aviram died. Chazal teach us that On
ben Peleth was saved by wife.
The Talmud explains the reason; Korach’s wife goaded him on and encouraged him to
stand up against Moshe and his family’s nepotism. Thus, On ben Peleth wife counseled
her husband to avoid the dispute. She reasoned him “what are you going to get out of this
dispute? Whichever way things play out, you will still emerge as just a ‘bit player’. Either
Moshe will emerge as the unchallenged leader or Korach will emerge as the new leader. In
either case you will be nothing more than a ‘second fiddle’! You stand to gain nothing by
getting involved in this fight!”
The Talmud quotes the Verse: “The wisdom of a wife can save her household” (Mishlei
14:1). The Gemara explains that it refers to the wife of On. She exhibited tremendous
wisdom by convincing her husband that there was nothing to gain by participating in
Korach’s rebellion. Her being praised is questionable, as It was a rather elementary
conclusion that her husband would not become the leader either way. Where was the
great brilliance? She did nothing more than point out the obvious to her husband.
Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz explains that when people get involved in disputes, they lose their
common sense as the fire of ‘machlokes’ is all-powerful. There is an over-riding tendency
and evil inclination to throw away one’s common sense and jump into the blinding
dynamics of ‘machlokes’. It requires brilliance to overcome that tendency and instead use

such a simple and down to earth approach. Maintaining common sense in moments of
tension requires great wisdom. This is the lesson of the Gemara. Merely telling her
husband a simple truth demonstrated great sagacity as most people are enticed to get
involved. One of the confessions we recite on Yom Kippur is for having “gotten involved
in disputes that did not involve us”.
As a post-script to Korach’s rebellion, the Pasuk says, “And there shall no more be like
Korach and his congregation” (Numbers 17:5). According to some enumerators of the
commandments this Pasuk is not merely a prophecy. It is indeed a negative
commandment, one of the 613 Mitzvos of the Torah. Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz says that
regardless of whether it is to be counted in the total of the 613 or not, this Pasuk certainly
is a negative exhortation to mimic the behavior of Korach.
Korach had everything any individual could dream of. His wealth was unmatched and was
destined to become the next Kohen Gadol. His descendant is the famous Prophet Shmuel
Hanavi, who was considered as valuable as Moshe and Aaron together. So, why was he
unsatisfied with his lot?
Rashi states that Korach’s revolt originally stemmed from his jealousy over the
appointment of Elitzaphon ben Uziel as a Nasi [Prince]. His wife convinced him that this
honor was supposed to be his. Korach became afflicted with the fire of jealousy, envy, and
greed. Hence, his fate is quoted in the Mishna [Avos 4:21] “Rabbi Elazar Ha-kappar said:
envy, lust and [the desire for] honor place a man out of the world.”
Mishlei says; “The rot of bones is jealousy” (14:30). The Talmud [Shabbos 152a] comments
that whoever possesses the attribute of jealousy, not only will his body rot after death,
but unnaturally even his bones will rot and so will not deserve to resurrect. Conversely, if
one does not possess the attribute of jealousy, their bones will not rot. Why will a jealous
person totally decompose? It is, because being jealous amounts to deny oneself identity
in favor of someone else’s identity. This is considered rebelling against Hashem as if one
knows better what each should receive, and hence seals his own eternal fate. When one
is satisfied and thankful for what Hashem gave him, there is no room for jealousy. This is
the message of the Tzizis, harmony and unity among the four corners and the colors.
Altogether, our only purpose is to serve Hashem properly, which can only be performed
through unity.

Korach attempted to provide a different meaning to the Tzizis but failed. The proof being
,envy, jealousy” [ק נ א ה, ת א ו ה, כ בֹוד” [600 [as value numerical identical the has” צ יצ ית” ;that
honor]. The message is crystal clear; everything is orchestrated by Hashem, and one will
only get whatever Hashem allotted him. Envy, lust, and desire for honor are only mirages
that NEVER materialize!

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