When one reads the account of the rebellion of Korach he is struck by his seemingly foolish attempt to challenge Moshe. Yet it is clear that at the time Korach succeeded in persuading huge numbers of people about the validity of his arguments against Moshe and Aaron. Although the rebellion began with a relatively small number of people, by its climax, the Torah tells us that he gathered together “all of the assembly” against Moshe and Aaron. How was he able to initiate such a powerful uprising against the men who had guided the Jewish people through countless miracles in the desert?
In order to answer this question, it is instructive to examine another problem in the Torah Portion. One of the main arguments of Korach and his assembly was his opposition to the appointment of Aaron to the position of Kohen Gadol (High Priest). They argued that Moshe had personally made this appointment as an act of favoritism towards his brother. After the rebels were punished, God ordered Moshe to prove that Aaron had been divinely appointed to his position through the test of the staffs whereby Aaron’s staff miraculously blossomed proving conclusively that he deserved to be Kohen Gadol. After this test, all the discontent disintegrated.
Rav Leib Chasman asks, why did God order the test of the staffs only AFTER the awesome punishments that He meted out. Had the miracle of the staff blossoming taken place right at the beginning, it could have convinced the people of the invalidity of the arguments against Moshe and Aaron, thus rendering the punishments unnecessary. He answers by teaching an important principle in human nature. Korach knew that he could not defeat Moshe in a battle of logic, he knew that Moshe’s case was far too strong, and that Moshe was far too wise for Korach to rationally defeat him. Thus he resorted to the devastating weapon of (mockery) leitzanut through which he could belittle Moshe and Aaron without having to logically justify his arguments. We see this in the words of Rashi when he explains how Korach was able to persuade so many people to side with him; The Torah says that he gathered the people against Moshe and Aron. The obvious question is how was he able to achieve such a monumental task; Rashi explains that he was able to do so through, “divrei leitzanut (words of mockery).”
Rav Chasman continues that mockery ignores the power of the intellect and arouses the animalistic part of man where logic is meaningless. This explains the concept in the verse in Proverbs that exhorts us not to rebuke the leitz (mocker); the leitz is not interested in any form of logical argument, rather he wants to continue with his own lifestyle and will belittle any attempts to change him. Another verse in Proverbs tells us that the only way to humble the leitz is through difficulties; “Prepare punishments for the leitz.” Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto in Path of the Just explains that ideally a person is supposed to grow and learn from his mistakes through learning Torah and chesbon hanefesh (self-contemplation), however the leitz is immune to such methods and therefore the only thing that can affect him is some kind of difficulty.
This, writes Rav Chasman, explains why God only sent the miracle of the staffs after the punishments that struck Korach and his main supporters. The power of mockery to ignore logic is so great that it can even dismiss open miracles if they conflict with the mocker’s self-interest. Had the miracle taken place before anyone had been punished, the rebels would have found a way to dismiss it and ignore its ramifications through a mocking comment. It was only after the devastating punishments that the power of mockery was broken and the survivors could internalize the lesson of the blossoming staff.
This explains how Korach was able to persuade so many people to follow such a foolish course of action and challenge Moshe. By nullifying their intellect through words of mockery they became blinded to the dangers of following Korach.
The Path of the Just writes very strongly about the damaging nature of mockery. He argues that it is one of the main factors that prevents a person from developing the trait of zehirut (alertness against sin). Mockery prevents him from seriously analyzing himself by belittling that which is important and turning everything into a joke. He will not follow the rebuke of anyone, rather he will use mockery as a tool to escape serious self contemplation. Indeed it seems that mockery stems from a desire to escape the serious issues that a person must face if they want to serve God in the best way. It is far easier to laugh off any possibility of growth rather than to face the challenge of dealing with one’s problems.
Korach used leitzanut to trick others but the yetzer hara (negative inclination) also utilizes it in order to make us trick ourselves into avoiding growth. We learn from Rav Chasman that the only way that the power of leitzanut can be weakened is through punishments. Rather than having to suffer unnecessarily, it is surely far more advisable for a person to go through the far lesser ‘pain’ of mussar. This can be done in a number of ways; learning works about self-growth such as Path of the Just who discuss mockery in great detail; accepting rebuke from one’s Rabbis and friends; or by making a simple cheshbon hanefesh and honestly examining himself. Surely such strategies are more desirable than the alternative of going through real suffering.
By Rabbi Yehonasan Gefen
It says in the beginning of this week parasha Korach son of Izhar son of Kehat son of Levi took…
Korach possessed many outstanding qualities. He hailed from a distinguished family, and was a wise man. How could he fall so low as to accuse Moshe of selfishly taking power and prestige for himself? The Torah testifies about Moshe, “Now the man Moshe was exceedingly humble, more than any person on the face of the earth.” How could Korach possibly accuse him of seeking honor!?
There are two types of people. There are givers – people who are constantly looking for opportunities to assist others, and there are takers – people who are continuously looking to further add to their possessions, to satisfy their own needs and obtain more honor. The takers are never satisfied; they always desire more. At the very beginning of Korach’s story the Torah reveals the root of his downfall: “Korach took.” — Korach was a taker; he wanted more honor for himself. Even though he was already privileged to be in the tribe of Levi, that wasn’t enough for him. He needed more. He wanted a prominent communal position and was jealous of the honor that Moshe and Aharon were getting. His jealousy knew no bounds and Korach did whatever he could to obtain that honor, even though it meant starting a rebellion.
When someone is self-centered and has a particular desire, his intellect may get corrupted, preventing him from thinking rationally. Blinded by this desire, he will do anything. In order to avoid such a downfall he should work on assisting others and become a giver.
By Eli Scheller
An old Jewish man goes to see one of New York’s top medical specialists.
“How much do I owe you doctor?” he asks.
“My fee is $5000.”
“$5000!” the man exclaims. “That’s impossible.”
“Fine, in your case,” the doctor replies, “I suppose I could make it 3000.”
“Well can you afford 1000?”
“A thousand dollars? Who has that kind of money?”
Frustrated, the doctor says, “Just give me $800 and we’ll be done with it.”
“I can give you 200,” says the man. “Take it or leave it.”
“I don’t understand you,” says the doctor. “Why did you come to one of the most expensive doctors in New York City if you didn’t have any money?”
“Listen doctor,” says the patient. “When it comes to my health, nothing is too expensive.”
By RABBI AVIGDOR MILLER ZT’L
How can we understand Dotonv’Aaviram, who were always so it seems at odds with Moshe Rabeinu?
You must understand that Dotonv’Aviram stood at Har Sinai and they shouted na’asehv’nishma (we will do and we will listen)with all their heart like everybody else did, and don’t be deceived in that. Dotonv’Avirom had they been here today they would have been not among the highest of our Rabbinical authorities, they would have been glorious Rosh Hayeshiva;, they were great men. They were put through a terrible test: You know a great man can live in his own Yeshiva and he can flourish, he can be very righteous, because he’s not put to the test of being inferior to somebody else.
Imagine you built up a big Yeshiva and you’re saying glorious shiurim(Torah Class), then a Jew moved into your neighborhood and he started praying in your Yeshiva and you discover that he can say better shiurim than you can. No Rabbi should be faced with such an ordeal. It would be wise to take him in a corner and say, you know you’re so good that you should pray someplace else. But suppose you can’t do it, Dosonv’Aviram couldn’t tell Moshe Rabeinu to go.
Moshe Rabeinu was away forty years in Midyan, during that time who was the father of the nation? Dotonv’Aviram and others were leading the nation! They were the zikneiYisroel! All of a sudden an upstart comes back from nowhere, from Midyan, he was lost for forty years, he was eighty years old, they were also old and he’s telling them what to do.
Of course he’s telling them b’shem Hashem, and they believed him, but it hurt them to no end. Had we been in their shoes I’m afraid what would have happened to us. I’m afraid we wouldn’t have remained above ground. Therefore it was a terrible nisayon.
First aliya: Korach, Moshe’ first cousin, stages a rebellion against Moshe and Aaron. Together with a few ringleaders, he gathers 250 men of renown and accuses Moshe and Aaron of power hoarding. “The entire congregation is holy, and the L-rd is in their midst. So why do you raise yourselves above the L-rd’s assembly?” They took specific issue with the appointment of Aaron as High Priest. Moshe proposes that on the following day they all participate in a test which would determine who indeed was worthy of the mantle of High Priest. Everyone would bring an incense offering to the Tabernacle, and G‑d would make known His choice for High Priest. Moshe then tries to placate the rebellious group, unsuccessfully attempting to dissuade them from participating in this suicidal test.
Second Aliyah: Moshe pleads with G‑d not to accept the incense offering of the rebellious group. Korach spends the night inciting the Jews against Moshe, and gathers them all to the entrance of the Tabernacle to witness the grand sight. G‑d’s glory appears.
Third Aliyah: G‑d is angered by the Jews’ association with Korach, and wishes to destroy them. Moshe and Aaron pray on the Jews’ behalf and the decree is prevented. The earth opens up and swallows Korach and his family, and a heavenly fire consumes the rest of the 250 rebels. Moshe instructs Aaron’s son Elazar to retrieve the frying pans which were used for the incense offering, to flatten them and plate the altar with them–a visible deterrent for any individual who ever wishes to challenge Aaron’s priesthood. The next day, the community complains that Moshe and Aaron are to be blamed for the deaths of “G‑d’s people.”
Fourth Aliyah: G‑d instructs Moshe and Aaron: “Separate yourselves from the community, and I will destroy them in an instant.” And indeed, a plague struck the nation, and many thousands were dying. Moshe tells Aaron to quickly take a firepan with incense and go into the midst of the congregation and atone for their sin. Aaron does so. He stands “between the living and the dead,” and the plague is halted.
Fifth Aliyah: This section describes the “test of the staffs.” G‑d tells Moshe to take a staff from each of the twelve tribes, with the name of each tribe’s prince written upon their staff. Another staff was taken to represent the tribe of Levi, and Aaron’s name was written on that staff. These staffs were placed overnight in the Holy of Holies chamber of the Tabernacle. Next morning they were removed, and miraculously Aaron’s staff had budded with almond blossoms and almonds. This was further proof that Aaron was G‑d’s choice for High Priest.
Sixth Aliyah: G‑d commands Moshe to return “Aaron’s staff” to the Holy of Holies, where it is to remain for perpetuity. The Jews express to Moshe their fear of mistakenly entering a restricted area of the Tabernacle, and dying as a result. In response, G‑d commands the priests and the Levites to carefully guard the Tabernacle, to prevent unauthorized entry by non-priests. The Torah then lists the various gifts to which the priests were entitled. These include the privilege of eating certain sacrifices, as well as select portions of other sacrifices; receiving the five shekels for the redemption of Israelite firstborn sons; a portion of all grain, oil, and wine crops; the “first fruit”; and more. Aaron is informed that his descendents will not receive a portion in the land of Israel–instead, G‑d is their inheritance and portion.
Seventh Aliyah: The Levites, too, will not receive a share of the land of Israel. Instead they are entitled to a tenth of all the Israelites’ crops–this in return for the Tabernacle and Temple services which they render. Upon receiving this tithe, the Levites must, in turn, separate a tenth of this tithe and give it to the priests.