(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)
In this week’s Parashah it states, “Korach son of Yitzhar (a grandson of Kehat and a great-grandson of Levi) began a rebellion along with Datan and Aviram (sons of Eliav) and On ben Pelet, descendants of Reuven. They had a confrontation with Moshe along with 250 Israelites who were men of rank in the community, representatives at the assembly, and famous. They demonstrated against Moshe and Aaron, and declared to them, ‘You have gone too far! All the people of the community are holy, and Hashem is with them. Why are you setting yourselves above Hashem’s congregation?’ When Moshe heard this, he threw himself on his face. Then he spoke to Korach and his whole party. ‘[Tomorrow] morning,’ he said, ‘Hashem [will show that He] knows who is His and who is holy, and He will bring them close to Him. He shall choose those who shall [be allowed to] present [offerings] to Him’” (Bamidbar 16:1-5).
Why did Moshe delay the response to Korach until the morning? Our chachamim explain that Moshe wanted to delay them until the morrow in case they repented. However, not only the words didn’t help but on the contrary by tomorrow Korach had already instigated the entire congregation against Moshe and Aaron! He succeed in influencing almost everyone!
We must consider! How did Korach succeed to infect Am Yisrael?
Korach himself was a Levi. He had already been chosen by Hashem and was crowned as a Levi, which was superior in status to the rest of Am Yisrael. Despite this, Korach was in pain, why wasn’t he a Cohen! Why didn’t he merit the priesthood. Why didn’t he also merit kingship?!
Korach was fantastically wealthy and exceedingly intelligent, additionally his standing in Am Yisrael was very respectful. But all this was insufficient! Despite this how did he manage to influence such a substantial section of the people? We must understand this to protect ourselves in the future. Should another “Korach” arise and attempt to convince us to heed his positions, we may protect ourselves. As they indicated about the passuk “and Korach’s sons didn’t die” (Bamidbar (26:11), meaning that Korach’s ideology didn’t die. There are always argumentative people who attempt to cast aspersions on our pure beliefs and on the way of our Holy Torah. Korach was a first-class propagandist knowing how to utilise simple messages, using stories that have a pinch of truth. This is how he succeeded in causing huge harm to Am Yisrael!
What did Korach say? Our chachamim said in Midrash Tehillim on the passuk, “Praiseworthy is the man who has not walked in the counsel of the wicked, and hasn’t stood in the path of the sinful, and hasn’t sat in the session of mockers” (Tehillim 1:1). What does “session of mockers” mean? This was Korach who mocked Moshe and Aaron. What did he do? He gathered the kehillah as it states, “Then, when Korach had rallied his whole party to the Communion Tent entrance” (Bamidbar 16:19). How did he achieve this? With mockery!
He said to them: There was a widow in my neighbourhood and she had two orphaned children. She lacked the wherewithal to feed them with the exception of one field. What did she do? She harnessed an ox and donkey to the plough. Moshe said to her, “Do not plough with an ox and donkey together” (Devarim 22:10). The poor widow left the ox and donkey and she harnessed the two orphans to the plough, and with them ploughed the field.
When she came to sow the field she brought a variety of seeds. Moshe came and said to her, “Do not plant your field with different species of seed!” (Vayikra 19:19). Distressed, the widow just sowed wheat. When she came to harvest the field, Moshe said to her, “Leave the gleanings, forgotten sheaves and corner of the field to the poor. The widow reaped the rest. When she came to thresh and store the produce, Moshe said to her, give Teruma, Terumat Ma’aser, Ma’aser Rishon and Ma’aser Sheni! (A range of tithes for the Cohanim and Levi’im). The widow agreed and gave them all as required by halachah.
The widow saw that she couldn’t sustain herself from the field. So she sold the field and purchased two sheep so that she could eat from the milk they produce and wear clothes from their wool.
Moshe came and told her, “You must give the first shearing [to a Cohen]!” [see Devarim 18:14]. After a while the sheep gave birth. He came and told her, “You must give the firstborns to the Cohanim!” [see Shemot 13:12]. The widow retorted, “I cannot bear this man!” So she slaughtered the sheep.
After she slaughtered them, Moshe came and said, “You must give the Cohanim the foreleg, jaw and maw!” [see Devarim 18:3]. The woman was angry and said, “Since I slaughtered the sheep, I haven’t escaped Moshe’s grasp! So everything is designated to the Mishkan”. He said to her, “Now give anything to the Cohanim, for the Torah states that which is forbidden shall be given to the Cohen” [see Vayikra 27:28]. They took from her the sheep, leaving her with nothing and in tears, her and her two orphans.
Then Korach dramatically raised his voice, “Is it right to behave so to a poor destitute person?”
All of Am Yisrael heard this and were in shock. It is very true, Moshe caused this poor woman to become more impoverished! This is certainly not right! How can we believe that Hashem commanded such severe things! Hasn’t the Torah instructed “Its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its pathways are peace” (Mishlei 3:17), and “Torah-study is beautiful when combined with pleasant behaviour” (Avot 2:2). How can this be?
This is the pattern of propogandists who attempt to influence with very sharp messages. However, with just a slight step back to consider the situation, they could have retorted to Korach:
Korach Korach! You are, “as rich as Korach”! If you have compassion on the widow, please give her a little tzedakah and you will be able to release her from her dismal state! In fact, all of Am Yisrael in the wilderness were exceptionally wealthy. They had huge quantities of gold and silver jewellery, which they received from the Egyptians. If so, what are these stories? Furthermore, there were no fields in the wilderness and no widow who needed to plough or sow! It was all nonsense, false stories, wild imaginations! But no! The congregation enjoyed following Korach! They strayed after him!
When we think for a moment we are able to see that to complain, to arouse false feelings of mercy, to criticise, is very easy. But if Am Yisrael had just looked a little inwards, they would immediately have arrived at the correct conclusion, that if Korach’s story were true, then they would have been easily able to put their hand in their pockets and help the poor person. But no! To talk and talk everyone can do, to criticise, to cast aspersions on the integrity of the most righteous people of the world is very easy. A person desires to gossip and character assassinate others. But to do something themselves, to think how I may assist and perhaps I am making a mistake in the way I am thinking, this is too hard. From these frightening mistakes, the complainers brought tremendous calamity on themselves!
Therefore we say each day in our prayers: “…and place in our hearts the ability to understand and comprehend”. However even that is insufficient, we must also, “…listen, study and teach, observe and do”. And in the end the purpose of everything is also to, “’fulfil’ all the words of Your Torah with love!”
A wise man will listen and further develop his thoughts!