Weekly Reading Insights:  Korach


Overview of the Weekly Reading

Torah: Numbers 16:1-18:32
Haftorah: Samuel I 11:14-12:22 (Korach's illustrious decendant)

Overview: Korach (Numbers 16:1-18:32) opens with the dramatic account of the rebellion of Korach, Datan, and Aviram and their 250 followers against the leadership of Moses and priesthood of Aaron. Moses challenges them to make an offering of incense. Aaron, too, would do so, and whosever offering was accepted would clearly be G-d's choice for the priesthood. The earth swallows Korach, Datan, and Aviram, their families and possessions, and a fire descends from heaven consuming the other men who burned incense, all except Aaron. The following day the Jews complain about the deaths of so many men, whereupon G-d sends a plague, resulting in 14,700 more deaths. Moses tells Aaron to stop the plague by offering incense and then running into the middle of the assembled masses. Then, to again strengthen Aaron's position as High-Priest, each tribal leader was told to write his name on a staff. These staffs were placed in the Sanctuary. The next day, Aaron's staff was found with almond blossoms and nuts growing on it. It was left as a memorial next to the Holy Ark. Then comes a description of the priestly and Levite duties in the Sanctuary, including preventing Israelites from approaching places forbidden to them within the Sanctuary area. G-d then tells which produce and animals are included in the priests' and Levites' portions which Israelites must bring them. Also the Levites are commanded regarding the portions that they must bring to the priests.


"And Korach took." (16:1)
How is it possible that a portion of the Torah is named after a sinner as great as Korach? The Torah wants to emphasize that we can learn something constructive even from Korach's bitter controversy. Just as Korach wanted to be a High Priest, every Jew should similarly desire to draw near to G-d.
(Likutei Sichot)

A dispute erupted in a town close to Premishlan about one of the butchers. He was suspected of not checking the lungs of the slaughtered animals carefully enough in order to establish beyond doubt the kashrut of the animal. The two factions presented their different opinions to Rabbi Meir of Premishlan. He told them: "Most authorities agree that the checking of the lungs is a law instituted by the Sages. On the other hand, there is no doubt that a quarelsome dispute is prohibited by the Torah. So what is worse?"
Then he added: "Of course you will claim that your quarel is for the sake of heaven. But the sages taught (Avot 5:17), "What a dispute for the sake of heaven? The dispute between Hillel and Shamai." Only tzadikim at the level of Hillel and Shamai are allowed to disagree with each other and it is considered for the sake of heaven! Everyone else, their dispute is like that of Korach and his followers."
(Miganzeh HaChassidut -translated from Sichat HaShavuah 79)

Korach wanted to take greatness and authority. That is why his campaign was not justified: a person cannot claim greatness for himself; it is given to him from heaven.
(Rabbi Simcha Bunim of Pshischah -translated from Sichat HaShavuah 287)

"Korach, the son of Yitzhar, the son of Kehat, the son of Levi." (16:1)
Being proud of an illustrious ancestry is well and good if it causes a person to be humbled in comparison, and spurs him on to emulate his forbears' example. Korach, however, was merely arrogant and full of pride, as are many people of noble lineage.
(Rabbi Naftali of Ropshitz - from L'Chaim #524)

"Every member of the community is holy, and G-d is within them." [16:3]
In many cases, a Jew who does not yet observe Torah and mitzvot fully will say, "I have a Jewish heart; inside I am a good Jew." This was also the case Korach tried to present: "Even though we are doing wrong, we are still good Jews and G-d is in us."
(Devrei Eliezer - translated from Sichat HaShavuah #493)

"Why do you lift yourselves up?" (16:3)
One of the most interesting things about those who argue and foster dissent and controversy with the righteous is that they attack and accuse them of the exact opposite of the truth. Korach could only accuse Moses, whom the Torah describes as "the most humble man on the face of the earth," of holding himself higher than the rest of the Jews!
(The Kotzker Rebbe)

"How dare you set yourself up to lord over us!" [16:13]
Moshe conducted his leadership in a lordly manner, so that his words would be obeyed. But inside, as the Torah itself attested, he was exceedingly humble. Many other people bow and prostrate, so that we think them humble, while in their hearts they are very arrogant.
(Rebbe Moshe of Kubrin - translated from Sichat HaShavuah #442)

"Moses got up and went to Datan and Aviram." (16:25)
In the previous verse G-d said to Moses, "Get away from the dwellings of Korach, Datan and Aviram." Even so, Moses still sought a way to save them from their fate of being swallowed up by the earth. If Moses could feel this way toward such evil people, how much more so must the average Jew do all that is in his power to save someone who is in the category of "a baby that was kidnapped by non-Jews," to bring him closer to our Father in Heaven.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe)

"That the earth open its mouth and swallow them up...and they go down alive into the pit" (Num. 16:30)
A person can only avail himself of repentance while he yet lives. Korach and his followers, swallowed up by the earth alive because of their sins, were granted the opportunity to repent and atone for their transgressions.
(Lubavitcher Rebbe)

“The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up.” (16:32)
Rabbi Zev Wolf of Strikov was once asked: Why were Korach and his followers punished by being swallowed up by the earth? He answered: Korach and his congregation fought against Moses, who was more humble than anyone "on the face of the earth." Moses considered himself as the dust on the ground. If so, there was no other place for Korach and his followers to descend other than under the ground!
(Maayanot Hanetzach -from L’chaim #876)

They sinned with their mouths, slandering and quarreling. Therefore, they were punished by a mouth.
(Rebbe Aharon of Belz - translated from Sichat HaShavuah #388)

"The censers of these sinners against their own lives." (17:3)
Even worse than those who encourage conflict are people who drag matters of the spirit into controversy. They falsely clothe their arguments in spiritual terms while claiming to be on the side of holiness and sanctity.
(Ayala Shlucha - from L'Chaim #573)

"A reminder to the Children of Israel…that no one should "be like Korach and his company." (17:5)
This verse serves as the source for the law to avoid involvement in divisive arguments and contentious disagreements. It is indeed ironic that the same Korach who called for abolishing the distinctions between different groups of Jews became the paradigm of division. Abolishing boundaries does not always produce unity; in fact, it can produce exactly the opposite. It is possible to unite fire and water (by heating the water with the fire) only if they are separated by a pot. So, too, it is often the imposition of boundaries that allows for the truest expression of unity and harmony amongst people.
[Lubavitcher Rebbe -- Kehot Chumash - compiled by Ascent co-founder Rabbi Moshe Wisnefsky]

"The staff of Aaron blossomed and gave forth almonds." (17:23)
The Rabbis explain that the entire cycle of the almond, from when it first buds to the finished fruit, is 21 days. For this reason, the translation of the Hebrew word for almond, "shaked," is "rush." This is similar to the blessings brought about by Aaron the high priest, which came quickly. The name "Aaron" also hints to the immediate visibility of the blessing since it is formed from the same letters as the word "nira," "seen."
(Likutei Torah - from L'chaim #876)

"Everything that is separated from the holy things...have I given to you and your sons...it is an eternal covenant of salt." (18:19)
There is a connection between salt and priestly donations. A person may be reluctant to give charity, because it may cause his wealth to shrink. The Torah shows us that charity is like salt. It may cause meat to shrink a little, but the preservative effect far outweighs the loss. When a person gives charity, his wealth may seem to shrink a little, but his earnings are actually being preserved.
(Shaar Bat Rabim - From L'Chaim #475)


"That you may remember, and do all My commandments, and be holy to your G-d." (15:40)
Said Rabbi Chanina ben Antignos: Whoever observes the commandment of tzitzit will merit to live in the times about which the Prophet Zechariah said, "In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men from the nations of every language shall take hold of the robe of a Jew, saying, We will go with you; for we have heard that
G-d is with you."
(Yalkut Shimoni - From L'Chaim #1075)

"And Korach took." (16:1)
How can it be that an entire Torah portion derives its name from a wicked man who never repented of his misdeeds? Korach's intense passion to serve as high priest stemmed from his desire to draw as close to G-d as is humanly possible, an aspiration which in itself is pure. Furthermore, it is said that in the Messianic Era, the Levites (of which Korach was one) will ascend to the level of kohanim. Korach's error was that he wished to hasten the Redemption and enjoy its pleasures before it actually occurred, ignoring G-d's overall plan for mankind. His underlying motivation was, however, worthy of emulation.
(Lubavitcher Rebbe)

"They shall keep the charge of the Tent of Meeting." (18:4)
From this verse we learn of the mitzva of guarding the Tabernacle, and subsequently, the Holy Temple. This commandment was purely ceremonial, to arouse honor and respect for the holy site. Even after the destruction, the sanctity of the site where the Holy Temple stood remains in full force. Why then do we not continue to guard it even during the exile? Until Mashiach comes, speedily in our day, the Jewish people is in constant danger from the nations of the world. This applies not only when non-Jews have sovereignty over the land of Israel, but also when the land is in Jewish hands - and even when peace treaties have been signed with our enemies. As "saving even one life takes precedence over the entire Torah," for reasons of safety we are unable to perform the mitzva of guarding the site of the Holy Temple today.
(The Lubavitcher Rebbe - from L'chaim #926)

"You shall give there of the heave-offering of the L-rd to Aaron the Priest." (Num. 18:28)
If, as we read in the Torah, Aaron the Priest passed away in the desert before entering the Land of Israel, how would the Jews be able to fulfill this commandment? Rather, this is an allusion to a time after the Resurrection of the Dead, when Aaron will again be alive and able to receive his due.

Chassidism explains Korach’s rebellion in context of the future redemption. In the prophecies of Ezekiel dealing with the Messianic era there is a puzzling expression: “Hakohanim-Haleviyim-the Priests-Levites” (Ezekiel 43:19 and 44:15), mixing, as it were, these two separate concepts into a single one. Rabbi Isaac Luria explains this expression by stating that in the Messianic era the Levites will be elevated to the higher status of kohanim (priests).
Korach wanted to benefit from this already, in his own time, and he sought, prematurely, to achieve that status.
[From www.chabad.org]


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