"ויקח קרח"
Korach separated [lit., took] himself.” (16:1)

QUESTION: Korach assembled 250 prestigious men, and clad them with tallitot — garments made entirely of blue wool. They stood before Moshe saying, “a four cornered garment requires tzitzit — fringes — and one string must be of techeilet — blue wool; does a garment made entirely of blue wool require a blue string or is it exempt?” (See Rashi)

Korach’s dispute with Moshe was over leadership. How is his question relevant?

ANSWER: Korach was upset that Moshe and Aharon held leadership positions and that his cousin Elitzafan was appointed as leader of the Kohathite family. He argued that leadership is needed only when there are different levels of people in the community. Since the entire community was holy, it was unjustified that one should become holier than the holy.

He substantiated his argument with an example from the mitzvah of tzitzit. A four-cornered garment requires fringes (tzitzit) and among them is a blue string. However, when the entire tallit is made of blue wool, logically a string of blue wool is unnecessary. Likewise, when the entire community is holy, there is no need for anyone to have special status.

Moshe responded that according to halachah even a tallit entirely of blue wool requires a string of techeilet in the tzitzit, and regardless of the caliber of the community, leadership is always necessary.

(רבינו בחיי)

"ויקח קרח"
“Korach separated [lit., took] himself.” (16:1)

QUESTION: According to Midrash Rabbah (18:3) Korach confronted Moshe with the following question: “Is it necessary to place a mezuzah on the doorpost of a room filled with Sifrei Torah?” Moshe replied affirmatively, and Korach argued, “the whole Torah which contains 275 parshiot cannot exempt the house, yet a mezuzah which contains only two parshiot exempts it?!”

Logically, Korach’s reasoning made sense: Why should a room filled with Sifrei Torah require a mezuzah on the outside?

ANSWER: The slogan of the early Reform movement in Germany was “Yehudi beveitecha ve’adam betzeitecha” — “Be a true Jew at home, but on the outside be a person like everyone else.” Similarly, Korach said of the Jewish people “Kol ha’eida kulam kedoshim” — “The entire community is holy” — “uvetocham Hashem — “and G‑d is among them” (16:3). He meant that the Jews were all holy since they all had G‑d “betocham” — in their hearts. He asserted, thus, that it is sufficient to be a good Jew on the “inside” without openly showing it on the outside.

Moshe vehemently disagreed and insisted that even if a home or individual is saturated with Torah, it is imperative to also manifest one’s Torah convictions in public, to let the world know that the home is a Jewish one with a mezuzah. From the turn of events, it was apparent that Hashem agreed with Moshe.

(עיטורי תורה)

"ויקח קרח"
“Korach separated [lit., took] himself.” (16:1)

QUESTION: What was the nature of the ideological dispute between Korach and Moshe, and what implication does it have for our times?

ANSWER: During their confrontation, Korach challenged Moshe about the requirement for a mezuzah on a house filled with Sifrei Torah. He also asked if a tallit made entirely of techeilet required a string of techeilet in the tzitzit. Moshe responded to both questions affirmatively.

Logically, Korach appeared correct. Moshe, however, told him, “Torah and mitzvot cannot be approached with our cold logic. A Jew must have kabbalat ol — complete submission to the will of Hashem — doing whatever He commands even when human logic may dictate otherwise.”

The name “Korach” conveys to us the nature of his personality. It has the same letters as the Hebrew word “kerach” — “ice.” For an advocate of using a cold and frigid approach to spiritual matters and serving Hashem only with logic and understanding, the name “Korach” — “kerach” — is appropriate.

* * *

The two radically different approaches to Torah are illustrated by a story of the Ba’al Shem Tov. He once told his students that anything a Jew sees or hears is not a function of mere chance, but caused by hashgachah peratit — Divine Providence — and intended as a message for the individual.

Afterwards, the disciples went out into the street and noticed a group of villagers singing and dancing. It was a holiday celebrated by chiseling out a cross from the frozen water of the river and dancing with it through the streets. Deeply disturbed, the disciples hastened back to the Ba’al Shem Tov and asked, “What lesson is being conveyed to us through this mysterious scene?”

The Ba’al Shem Tov replied, “Water has very unusual qualities. It enables a person who immerses in it to regain his purity. However, this can be accomplished only when the water is in the flowing state. When it freezes, then G‑d forbid, it can become an object of avodah zarah — idolatry. Likewise, Torah is compared to flowing water (see Ta’anit 7a). Through it one can reach the highest levels, but approaching it with coldness can make it ‘freeze’ and produce a radical spiritual decline in a person.”

Korach’s “chilly” approach deprived him of the warmth of Torah and ultimately led to his downfall.

"ויקח קרח...ודתן ואבירם...ואנשים מבני ישראל חמשים ומאתים... ויקהלו על משה ועל אהרן"
“Korach separated himself... with Datan and Aviram... with two hundred and fifty men from the Children of Israel... they gathered together against Moshe and Aharon.” (16:1-3)

QUESTION: Pirkei Avot (5:17) states that a controversy which is not for the sake of heaven will not have an everlasting result and cites the controversy of Korach and his followers.

How is it evident that Korach’s controversy was not for the sake of heaven?

ANSWER: The Mishnah, in describing a machloket shelo lesheim shamayim” — “a controversy not for the sake of Heaven” — does not say machloket Korach ve’adato im Moshe” — “the controversy of Korach and his followers with Moshe” — but “machloket Korach vechol adato” — “the controversy of Korach and all his followers” (with no mention of Moshe).

This indicates that, in addition to the rebellion against Moshe, there was also quarreling and disagreement among Korach and his seeming allies. The phrase “Vayikach Korach” — “and Korach took” — is in the singular, as opposed to “Vayikechu” — “and they took” — because each of Korach’s allies had his own ambitions and desire for personal gain and they did not see ‘eye to eye’ among themselves. The only common denominator between them was that they were all against Moshe, but each one was seeking his own agenda. When unity is lacking among the people on one side of a dispute, our Sages in their wisdom teach us that such a controversy is not for the sake of Heaven.

(לקוטי בתר לקוטי בשם התורה והמצוה, ועי' פון אונזער אלטען אוצר)

* * *

Alternatively, Korach was upset that his cousin Elitzafan was appointed in charge of the Kohathite family (3:30). According to his calculations, since his father was older than Elitzafan’s, the post belonged to him.

He challenged Moshe about this and also questioned if a house filled with Sifrei Torah requires a mezuzah and whether a garment entirely of techeilet wool requires a single string of techeilet in its tzitzit.

These questions were totally irrelevant to the issue at hand. They were derisive questions through which he intended to ridicule and embarrass Moshe in the eyes of the community.

When two parties enter into a debate and adhere to the issues, it is a dispute for the sake of Heaven. When Shammai and Hillel, for instance, had a dispute over a halachic issue, they would only argue the issue at hand and not bring in irrelevant matters in the course of their debate.

However, when one digresses and introduces unrelated matters it is a sign of weakness and a smoke-screen meant to distract attention in lieu of admitting default. When this occurs it becomes apparent that the dispute is shelo lesheim shamayim — not for the sake of Heaven.

(שמעתי מדודי הרב ברוך הכהן ז"ל כהן מח"ס קול תודה)

"ויקח קרח"
“Korach separated [lit., took] himself.” (16:1)

QUESTION: Why does the Korach episode in the Torah start with the word “vayikach” — “and he took”?

ANSWER: There once appeared to Rabbi Nachum of Chernobyl an impressive looking person who offered to teach him esoteric Torah knowledge. He replied, “Before I can agree to accept your offer, I must consult with my Rebbe, the Maggid of Mezritz.” The Maggid listened attentively and then said, “It was very wise of you not to immediately agree, because the person who approached you was from the realm of evil. Incidentally, tell me, where did you get the intuition to turn down such a seemingly valuable offer?”

Rabbi Nachum told him that when he was a very young boy, his mother passed away. His father remarried and his step-mother treated him very harshly. “Once, when I came home from cheider to eat lunch, my step-mother was not home. On the stove were fried eggs. Knowing the size of the portion my step-mother would usually give me, I took a somewhat smaller portion for myself. She came home while I was eating and slapped me. I asked her, ‘What have I done wrong? You were not home and I took less than what you would normally have given me.’

“Her reply was ‘Alein nemt men nit’ — ‘You do not take by yourself.’ This episode taught me a lesson which remained with me throughout my entire life. Regardless of all my calculations, ‘Alein nemt men nit.’

With the word “vayikach” — “and he took” — the Torah is emphasizing Korach’s fatal error. Though he was a wise person, and according to all calculations he felt that he was right, he unwisely wanted to take something on his own, and “alein nemt men nit.”

"ויקח קרח...ודתן ואבירם בני אליאב ואון בן פלת בני ראובן"
“Korach separated himself...with Datan and Aviram, sons of Eliav, and On son of Pelet, the offspring of Reuven.” (16:1)

QUESTION: In his quarrel with Moshe, Korach was joined by Datan, Aviram, and On son of Pelet. When the Torah describes their punishment, however, On son of Pelet is no longer mentioned (see 16:24). What happened to him?

ANSWER: On son of Pelet was among the people Korach managed to persuade to join him in his rebellion against Moshe. When his wife heard of his intentions, however, she said to him, “Why are you getting involved in this quarrel? Don’t you realize that regardless of who the leader is, you will remain the same ordinary person? Moshe is a holy man, and it is foolish of you to join an attempt to overthrow him.”

On son of Pelet listened attentively to his wife and responded, “You are right, but I have already promised them that I will join the rebellion. How can I let him down now?”

His wife replied, “I understand your dilemma; leave it up to me and I will get you out of it.” She gave him wine to drink and caused him to be drunk, and then put him to bed inside their tent. She then sat at the entrance to their tent with her hair uncovered, a behavior considered immodest for a Jewish married woman.

When Korach and his followers came to the tent to summon him and noticed an immodest lady at the entrance, they decided to leave without him. Thanks to his wife’s intervention his life was saved.

Regarding wise women, King Shlomo says: “Chachmot nashim bantah beitah” — “the wise among women, each builds her house” (Proverbs 14:1). This is a reference to the wife of On son of Pelet, who by preventing him from accompanying Korach to the fatal confrontation with Moshe, “Built her house” — that is, kept her family in tact.

(מס' סנהדרין דף ק"י ע"א)

"ואון בן פלת בני ראובן"
“And On son of Pelet, the offspring of Reuven.” (16:1)

QUESTION: According to the Gemara (Sanhedrin 110a) he was saved by his wife’s sitting at the entrance to their tent with her hair uncovered. Why, to act immodestly, did she specifically uncover her hair and not another part of her body?

ANSWER: When the Jewish people arrived at Sinai to receive the Torah, Hashem said to them, “You shall be to Me a kingdom of Kohanim, and a holy nation” (Shemot 19:6). At that interval, they reached a level where all the effects of Adam’s transgression on the world were nullified, and Hashem was ready to elevate them to a spiritual height where each would be a Kohen Gadol. Had they not sinned afterwards with the golden calf, this would have remained in effect forever (see Yavamot 103a, Maharsha; Shemot 19:6, Ba’al Haturim).

The Gemara (Eiruvin 100b) says, “Since a woman (Chavah) caused Adam to sin, thus bringing death upon humanity, [married] women cover themselves like mourners” (“and are ashamed to go out with their hair uncovered” — Rashi).

Korach argued that the entire people were holy: “We all heard Hashem’s message at Sinai.” Consequently, he demanded that they all be considered Kohanim Gedolim and not just Aharon (see 16:6, Rashi). Obviously, he maintained that the sin of Adam was forgiven or at least that the red heifer would rectify that sin, as Rashi (19:22) explains, “Let the mother come and clean up the dirt of her child.” Hence, there was no longer any reason for women to be in mourning and cover their hair.

Therefore, to prove the hypocrisy of Korach, the wife of On son of Pelet specifically uncovered her hair. If Korach would avoid approaching her, it would prove that he considered it immodest since after worshipping the golden calf, the Jewish people reverted to their old status and were not in fact all a kingdom of Kohanim. In other words, Moshe was right.

(בית יעקב ר' יעקב הכהן ז"ל טראב – מסלתון ראב"ד ביירות, ועי' אגרות קודש חי"א, עמוד ר')

"ואון בן פלת בני ראובן"
“And On son of Pelet, the offspring of Reuven.” (16:1)

QUESTION: The Gemara (Sanhedrin 109b) explains that the name On ben Pelet implies: “On” — “sat in mourning” (related to the word “aninut” — “mourning”) — “ben Pelet” (“son of Pelet”) — “miracles (related to the word “pela’ot — “miracles”) — were performed for him” — to be saved from Korach’s fate.

Thanks to his wife’s intervention, he did not join Korach’s contingent. Thus, he actually did nothing wrong, so why did he sit in mourning?

ANSWER: When one plans a transgression, he is not held liable unless he actually performs it. This does not apply however, to intending idolatry (see Kiddushin 40a).

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 110a) equates one who challenges, quarrels with, or thinks ill about his Torah teacher to one who challenges the Divine Presence. Thus, such acts are tantamount to idolatry and are punishable even if not expressed in action. Therefore, On deeply regretted his thought of opposing his teacher Moshe, and mourned, i.e. repented, his participation in the planning stage of Korach’s insurrection.

(פרדס יוסף החדש)

"ויקהלו על משה ועל אהרן ויאמרו אלהם רב לכם כי כל העדה כלם קדשים."
“They gathered together against Moshe and against Aharon and said to them; ‘It is too much for you! For the entire assembly — all of them — are holy.” (16:3)

QUESTION: According to the Midrash, Korach decided to declare a rebellion against Moshe after learning of the parah adumah red heifer. What about the red heifer encouraged him?

ANSWER: When the Jews sinned with the golden calf, Moshe argued to Hashem “In reality they did not violate the Torah. Though You declared, ‘I am G‑d your G‑d’ and ‘You shall not have any other gods.’ You said this in singular because it only applied to me and not to the Jewish community at large” (Shemot 20:2, Rashi). When Korach said to Moshe, “The entire assembly is holy,” Rashi explains that he meant, “All the Jews heard at Sinai the Divine message, ‘I am G‑d your G‑d’ and not just you alone.”

Superficially, it is puzzling that Korach should raise such an argument when it nullifies the defense that Moshe used for the Jewish people when they worshipped the golden calf. Korach should have been silent so as not to arouse Hashem’s wrath.

About the statute of the red heifer Rashi (19:22) cites Rabbi Moshe Hadarshan, who explains that symbolically the cow was to atone for the sin of the golden calf, as if to say, “Let the mother clean up her child’s mess.” Consequently, when Korach learned of the red heifer and that it rectified the sin of the golden calf, he assumed that Moshe’s defense was no longer needed and felt free to tell Moshe, “All the Jews are holy; they heard Hashem’s message at Sinai, and there is no justification for you to rise above them.”

(פנינים יקרים)

Alternatively, regarding the preparation of the red heifer, Hashem told Moshe and Aharon that, “You shall give it to Elazar the Kohen” (19:3), on which Rashi writes, “Mitzvatah besegan” — “the preparation of the red heifer had to be done by the deputy Kohen Gadol.”

Till then Korach believed that Aharon was not guilty in any way for the making of the golden calf. Now that he heard that in lieu of Aharon, the deputy Kohen Gadol was assigned to prepare it, he concluded that Hashem was not satisfied with Aharon’s involvement in the calf, and had replaced him with Elazar. This led him to think that for the same reason Aharon should not be the Kohen Gadol either, and that his appointment had been Moshe’s decision and not Hashem’s. Therefore, he declared a rebellion against Moshe.

(בינה נבונים על מדרש פליאה בשם אמרות ה')

* * *

Alternatively, the reason why Korach thought that he should be the Kohen Gadol instead of Aharon was that Hashem selected Elazar to prepare the red heifer, and the name Elazar (אלעזר) and Korach (קרח) both have the same numerical value of 308.

(פרדס יוסף החדש)

"וישמע משה ויפל על פניו"
“Moshe heard and fell on his face.” (16:4)

QUESTION: Rashi comments that this was the fourth offense committed by the Jewish people. On the previous three occasions, Moshe was able to defend them, but now “nitrashelu yadav” — “his hands sank down” — since he feared that Hashem would no longer accept his advocacy.

Why was Moshe unable to defend them at this time?

ANSWER: When the Jews sinned with the golden calf, Moshe came to their defense and argued: “In reality, the Jewish people did not commit any sin. The commandment, ‘You shall not have any other gods’ was said in singular and thus referred only to me. Consequently, only I am obligated and not them” (Rashi, Shemot 20:2). On the basis of this argument, Hashem forgave the Jewish people.

Korach argued that “Everyone is holy” and all had heard the commandments at Sinai (Rashi 16:3). Upon hearing these words, Moshe became very frightened, because this undermined the defense he presented in the case of the golden calf on behalf of the Jewish people.

(זכרון ישראל)

"וידבר אל קרח...בקר וידע ה' את אשר לו ואת הקדוש"
“He spoke to Korach... ‘In the morning G‑d will make known the one who is His own and the holy one.’ ” (16:5)

QUESTION: Why did Moshe push them off until the following morning?

ANSWER: When the Jewish people were in the wilderness their source of food was manna from Heaven, and each morning they would go out and find their daily allotment. According to the Gemara (Yoma 75a) the righteous (tzaddikim) would find their manna on the doorsteps of their tents. An intermediateperson (beinoni) had to leave the camp to gather it, and a wicked person (rasha) had to go some distance and expend considerable effort to gather his portion.

Therefore, Moshe told Korach and his followers that “In the morning G‑d will make known — according to where you find your manna it will be obvious if Aharon is the tzaddik or you and your followers.”

(מהר"ם שי"ף)

Alternatively, the Gemara (Berachot 19a) says that if one sees a Torah scholar commit a transgression during the evening, one should not have suspicion about him during the day because it is definite that by morning he will have done teshuvah.

Korach and his people were Torah scholars and, in essence, great men. Moshe was confident that during the night they would realize their mistake and do teshuvah. Hence, their rebellion against him, which in reality was a rebellion against Hashem, would cease.

(שער בת רבים)

"רב לכם בני לוי"
“It is too much for you, O offspring of Levi.” (16:7)

QUESTION: Rashi asks, “Since Korach was a wise man: how could he have acted so foolishly?” “His eye caused him to err because he saw that the prophet Shmuel would be among his descendants, and in his merit he would be saved.” What foolishness did Korach commit?

ANSWER: In describing Korach’s confrontation with Moshe, the Targum Yonatan ben Uziel (16:2) writes, “They stood audaciously, and in the presence of Moshe, rendered a halachicdecision regarding the laws of a techeilet (blue) string in a four-cornered garment.”

The Gemara (Eiruvin 63b) states that for renderinghalachic decisions in the presence of one’s Rabbi, one of the punishments is dying without survivors. Thus, Korach thought that he was allowed to question and dispute Moshe’s various appointments, but to decide halachic matters in his presence was foolish since he risked dying without any survivors.

However, when Korach envisioned that the prophet Shmuel would be one of his descendants, he fearlessly and foolishly expressed an halachic opinion in Moshe’s presence, convinced that he would not receive the prescribed punishment.

(ילקוט האורים - כרם חמד)

"רב לכם בני לוי"
“It is too much for you, O offspring of Levi.” (16:7)

QUESTION: The Midrash Rabbah (18:2) asks, “Korach was a wise man and among those who carried the Ark. How could he have acted so foolishly? He erred because he saw that among his offspring would be the prophet Shmuel; therefore, he was sure that he would triumph over Moshe and Aharon.”

What encouragement did Korach derive from seeing that the prophet Shmuel would be among his descendants?

ANSWER: Korach objected to Elitzafan’s appointment as leader of his family. He argued that the position should have been given to him since his father was older than Elitzafan’s. The Gemara (Chagigah 14a) says that a leader of the community must have two qualities, 1) learned in Torah and 2) at least fifty years old. Though Korach was learned and thus met one of the prerequisites needed to be a leader, since he was among those who bore the Ark, he must have been under the age of fifty, because a Levite may only bear the Ark until that age (see 8:25, Rashi).

The prophet Shmuel led the Jewish community for eleven years and passed away at the age of fifty-two. Seeing prophetically that his descendant Shmuel would be a leader of the community though he was under fifty, Korach concluded that even one quality is sufficient and despite his own relative youth, his Torah scholarship qualified him to be a leader.

(ר' יהונתן ז"ל אייבישיץ)

"רב לכם בני לוי"
“It is too much for you, sons of Levi.” (16:7)

QUESTION: The Midrash Rabbah (18:2) asks, “Korach was a wise man and among those who carried the Ark. How could he have acted so foolishly?” Why does his being among those who carried the Ark make it difficult to comprehend why he engaged in the dispute?

ANSWER: The Ark that housed the Torah was two and one half cubits long, one and one half cubits wide, and one and one half cubits tall (Shemot 25:10). The dimensions all being in fractions conveys a lesson in humility. Namely, one who acquires Torah knowledge should learn from the Ark to be humble.

Declaring war against Moshe and Aharon was an act of brazen arrogance. The Midrash therefore wonders, since Korach was a wise person, why did he act so foolishly? Moreover, being among those who carried the Ark, he should have known the Ark’s message and not acted so arrogantly against Moshe and Aharon.

(עיטורי תורה בשם ר' עקיבא ז"ל סופר)

"המעט מכם...ויקרב אתך ואת כל אחיך בני לוי אתך ובקשתם גם כהנה"
“Is it not enough for you...And He has drawn you near, and all your brethren, the offspring of Levi, with you — yet you seek priesthood as well!” (16:9-10)

QUESTION: Grammatically it should have said, “lachem” — “for you” — instead of “mikem” — “of you”?

ANSWER: When the census of the Jewish people was taken, the tribe of Levi contained the smallest number of people (see 3:39). One reason for this was that they carried the Ark, and any disrespect to the Ark was punished with death.

Moshe told Korach and his people, “hame’at — The reason that there are so few — mikem — of you — is because of your exalted and holy position.” “Uvikashtem gam kehunah — “Why are you seeking priesthood!? This will increase the possibility of even greater peril. If while performing the daily service in the Beit Hamikdash you act improperly, Hashem may, G‑d forbid, reduce your numbers further. Therefore, for your own welfare, you should desist in your demands.”

(כלי יקר)

"המעט כי העליתנו מארץ זבת חלב ודבש להמיתנו במדבר כי תשתרר עלינו גם השתרר"
“Is it not enough that you have brought us up from a land flowing with milk and honey to kill us in the wilderness, yet you seek to dominate us, even to dominate further.” (16:13)

QUESTION: It would be sufficient to say, “lehistareir aleinu — “you seek to dominate us.” The words, “gam histareir” — “even to dominate further” — seem superfluous?

ANSWER: The Torah relates that as the brothers noticed Yosef approaching them in the field, they said one to another, “Let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits, and we will say, ‘A wild beast devoured him,’ and we shall see what will become of his dreams. Reuven heard and he rescued him from their hand” (Bereishit 37:20-21). According to the Midrash (see Rashi), the words “We shall see what will become of his dreams” were said by Hashem in response to their plan. “You say let us kill him, but I say let us see whose plan will prevail — yours or Mine.” Reuven heard this Divine statement, and thus, decided that it was his obligation to save Yosef.

Datan and Aviram brazenly castigated Moshe as a failed leader and audaciously said, “Yet you seek to dominate us.” Suddenly a voice emanated from Heaven and said, “Gam histareir” — “He will indeed also dominate further — regardless of your plans.”

"העיני האנשים ההם תנקר לא נעלה. ויחר למשה מאד... לא חמור אחד מהם נשאתי"
“Even if you would blind the eyes of those men we shall not go up. This distressed Moshe greatly and he said... ‘I have not taken even a single donkey of theirs.’ ” (16:14-15)

QUESTION: 1) What were they alluding to when they spoke of blindness? 2) How does Moshe’s mention of not taking even one donkey answer their complaint against him?

ANSWER: When the Torah forbids taking bribes it says, “For a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise” (Devarim 16:19). The infamous troublemakers Datan and Aviram, who joined with Korach in his rebellion against Moshe, thus saw an opportunity for personal gain. When Moshe summoned Datan and Aviram, they told the emissaries that even if Moshe would attempt to blind them — i.e. bribe them — they would not come to see him. In reality however, they were merely assuming a demeanor of mock indignation, and actually hoping Moshe would get the hint and give them a handsome bribe.

Moshe was offended by their insinuation that if he wanted their cooperation he should bribe them. Greatly outraged, he said, “I have been the judge of the entire people and had many opportunities to succumb to greed, yet it never dawned upon me to violate the Torah and I have not taken even a single donkey of theirs. How do they have the audacity to think that I would consider such a thing?! I have never taken a bribe and will never give one!”

(פון אונזער אלטען אוצר)

"ויחר למשה מאד ויאמר...לא חמור אחד מהם נשאתי"
“This distressed Moshe greatly, and he said... ‘I have not taken even a single donkey of theirs.’ ” (16:15)

QUESTION: What justification did he have for taking donkeys, that he prided himself that he did not take one nevertheless?

ANSWER: Employees of charitable organizations usually have travel expense accounts, and some spend lavishly while traveling. When Moshe traveled to Egypt to tell Pharaoh to release the Children of Israel, he would have been justified in presenting them with a bill for the expenses incurred on their behalf.

Nevertheless, he used his own donkey to transport himself and his family (Shemot 4:20) and did not ask for reimbursement.

(מדרש רבה י"ח, י')

"ויחר למשה מאד ויאמר...לא חמור אחד מהם נשאתי"
“This distressed Moshe greatly, and he said... ‘I have not taken even a single donkey of theirs.’ ” (16:15)

QUESTION: How is this point supposed to convince them of his correctness?

ANSWER: The donkey which Moshe used to go to Egyptwas no ordinary one. It was the son of the she-donkey mentioned in Pirkei Avot (5:6) among the things Hashem created at twilight on Erev Shabbat. This donkey was previously used by Avraham when he went with Yitzchak to Mount Moriah for the Akeidah, and it will again be used by Mashiach the descendent of David when he reveals himself to the Jewish people (see Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer 31).

Moshe said in dismay, “I do not understand why they think I am acting without prior instructions from Hashem. My donkey was not echad meihem’ — like one of the usual donkeys. This shows my connection to Hashem.”

(דבש וחלב)

* * *

It is related in the Gemara (Megillah 9a) that the Egyptian king, Ptolemy II (3476-3515 or 246-285 BCE) commanded 72 Torah sages to translate the Written Torah into Greek.

He placed them all in separate rooms, where they would be unable to communicate with each other. By placing them all in solitary confinement, he hoped to demonstrate that their separate translations would reflect many differences of opinion, proving that the Torah is not Divine in origin, G‑d forbid.

G‑d inspired them all to produce the same exact translation, known among non-Jews to this day as the Septuagint, from the Greek word meaning “seventy.” All 72 sages made certain identical changes from the literal meaning of the Torah in several places to forestall possible misunderstandings by non-Jews seeking to confirm their own mistaken beliefs.

One of these changes was in the pasuk, “Moshe took his wife and sons ‘vayarkiveim al hachamor’ — “and mounted them on the donkey” (Shemot 4:20). The sages were worried that non-Jews would mock, “Didn’t Moshe have a horse or a camel?” and therefore they all individually translated it into Greek as “he mounted them on a carrier of people,” which the Gemara quotes as “vayarkiveim al nosei b’nei adam.” The word “adam” (אדם) is an acronym for the only three for whom this special donkey was created — אברהם, משיח בן דוד, משה.

(דבש וחלב)

"ויחר למשה מאד ויאמר...לא חמור אחד מהם נשאתי"
“This distressed Moshe greatly, and he said... ‘I have not taken even a single donkey of theirs.’ ” (16:15)

QUESTION: The word “meihem” — “of theirs” — seems superfluous?

ANSWER: The Jews left Egypt with great wealth: Everyone had 90 donkeys laden with gold and silver taken from the Egyptians (Bechorot 5b). Moshe, who led the Jews triumphantly out of Egypt, was considered a king (see Devarim 31:3 Targum Yonatan, and Rambam, Beit Habechirah 6:11). According to halachah (Rambam, Melachim 4:9), the king is entitled to half of the plunder taken in battle. Consequently, Moshe was entitled to receive 45 laden donkeys from each member of the Jewish community.

Moshe became upset when he saw the Jewish people’s lack of appreciation for all that he had done for them. He was thus saying, “I was entitled to half of their wealth, yet I did not take even one donkey meihem — of heim — the 45 that I was entitled to. (The word “heim” [הם] has the numerical value of 45.) When will they begin to appreciate all the good I have done for them?”

(בית יעקב ר' יעקב הכהן ז"ל טראב – מסלתון ראב"ד ביירות)

"ולא הרעתי את אחד מהם"
“Neither have I wronged one of them.” (16:15)

QUESTION: The words, “et achad meihem” — “one of them” — seem extra. He could have simply stated, “Lo harei’oti lahem” — “I did not wrong them.”

ANSWER: When Moshe visited his brethren in the field, he noticed two Jews, Datan and Aviram, fighting amongst themselves. When one lifted a hand against the other, he exclaimed, “Why do you strike your brother?” (Shemot 2:13) Moshe broke up the fight and thus spared the other a beating.

When Korach came to argue with Moshe, he was joined by the infamous rebels, Datan and Aviram. Moshe was shocked to see them and said in amazement, “The one I stopped from beating up his friend may have reason to be angry with me, but velo harei’oti et achad meihem — to one of them I did no evil — in fact I rescued him — why does he join my adversaries?”

(חתם סופר)

"ויקם משה וילך אל דתן ואבירם וילכו אחריו זקני ישראל"
“And Moshe rose up and went to Datan and Aviram; and the elders of Israel followed him.” (16:25)

QUESTION: 1) The words “vayakam Moshe” — “and Moshe rose up” — seem superfluous? 2) Why did the elders follow him?

ANSWER: On a similar phraseology, “vayakam sedei Efron” — “the field of Efron was confirmed” (Bereishit 23:17) — Rashi writes that the term “vayakam” (lit. “rose up”) is used to teach that, “tekumah hayata lo” — the property became elevated because it passed from a commoner’s possession to that of a king, Avraham. Similarly, in our case, the words “vayakam Moshe” — “and Moshe rose up” — mean that he experienced an elevation and appeared in his full glory as the King of K’lal Yisrael. Witnessing Moshe in this exalted spirit, immediately the elders of Israel followed behind him.

As far as Hashem was concerned, the fate of Datan and Aviram was sealed. Hashem instructed Moshe only to speak to the assembly, and indeed Moshe had no intention of approaching Datan and Aviram to speak to them. He merely hoped that when they saw his majestic disposition and the entourage behind him, they would respect him and repent (see Rashi).

From this episode one can derive a striking example of Moshe’s great love for each and every Jew. Regardless of how low Datan and Aviram stooped, Moshe tried to save them from sinking alive into the depths. How much more is it incumbent upon everyone to do the utmost to help Jews who are not rebels, but simply alienated due to lack of Torah education.

(לקוטי שיחות חכ"ח)

"ויאמר משה בזאת תדעון כי ה' שלחני לעשות את כל המעשים האלה כי לא מלבי"
“Moshe said, ‘Through this shall you know that G‑d sent me to perform all these acts, that it was not from my heart.’ ” (16:28)

QUESTION: The words “ki lo milibi” — “that it was not from my heart” — are superfluous. Once he proved that Hashem sent him “to perform all these acts,” obviously they were not his doing?

ANSWER: During the Divine revelation at the burning bush, Hashem pleaded with Moshe for seven days to be His emissary to take the Jewish people out of Egypt. Since Moshe was reluctant, Hashem told him, “The post of Kohen Gadol, which I originally planned for you, will go to your brother Aharon” (Shemot, 4:14 Rashi). During the seven days of inauguration of the Mishkan, Moshe served as a Kohen Gadol and hoped that he would retain this position for life. However, on the eighth day, Aharon became the Kohen Gadol instead of him.

One of the complaints of Korach and his cohorts was “Why did Moshe make decisions on his own and appoint his brother as Kohen Gadol?” Moshe told them, “Be assured that I did not do anything on my own. All my actions were in accordance with instructions from Hashem (16:3, 28, Rashi). Moreover, ‘ki lo milibi’ — ‘it was not from my heart’ — that Aharon should become Kohen Gadol since the position was originally meant for me and I greatly desired it.”

* * *

It is interesting to note that Onkelos writes “arei la meire’uti”; the word “meire’uti” is Aramaic for ratzon — “will.” Thus, he was telling them, “The selection of Aharon as Kohen Gadol was not my choice, and actually contrary to my desires.”

(שמע שלמה)

"ואם בריאה יברא ה' ופצתה האדמה את פיה ובלעה אתם ואת כל אשר להם וירדו חיים שאלה"
“But if G‑d will create a new phenomenon, and the earth open its mouth and swallow them and all that is theirs, and they will descend alive to the pit.” (16:30)

QUESTION: Why did Moshe wish such a strange death upon Korach and his followers?

ANSWER: Moshe loved all the Jewish people, including Korach and his followers. These people were sinning terribly, since by quarreling with him, they were actually defying Hashem’s will. Had they died immediately, they would have left this world without doing teshuvah, and they would thus have lost their share in Olam Haba the World to Come. Therefore, he prayed that they descend alive to the pit, hoping that while still alive, they would regret their wrongdoings and do teshuvah.

According to an opinion in the Gemara (Sanhedrin 109b) Korach and his followers do indeed have a share in Olam Haba.

(מרגליות הים על מס' סנהדרין)

"ותפתח הארץ את פיה ותבלע אתם"
“The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them.” (16:32)

QUESTION: The words “et pihah” — “its mouth” — are superfluous. It should have said simply “the earth opened up and swallowed them”?

ANSWER: When a Jew does good or, G‑d forbid, evil, Hashem rewards or punishes him measure for measure (middah keneged middah). Korach and his followers ridiculed Moshe with their mouths, by going around in the community agitating, and spreading blatant lies about him. Since they sinned by opening their mouths and saying improper things, they were punished with the earth’s opening its “mouth” and swallowing them.

(ר' שלום זצ"ל מבעלז)

"ותפתח הארץ את פיה ותבלע אתם ואת בתיהם"
“The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their houses.” (16:32)

QUESTION: Previously (16:27) it is stated that Datan and Aviram went out and stood, “petach ahaleihem” — “at the entrance of their tents.” Why does it say that they were swallowed with “bateihem” — “their houses” — and not “ahaleihem” — “their tents”?

ANSWER: The difference between a tent (ohel) and a house (bayit) is that a tent is temporary and a house is permanent. The sojourn in the wilderness was a temporary stop-over between Egypt and Eretz Yisrael. Therefore, all the people lived in tents and were looking forward to their permanent residences. Now, as the earth swallowed them, Korach and his people could no longer anticipate coming to Eretz Yisrael, and thus, “ahaleihem” — “their tents” — in which they temporarily dwelled, now became “bateihem” — their permanent houses — in which they would remain underground for a very long time.

(ר' שלמה ז"ל קלוגער)

"וירדו הם וכל אשר להם חיים שאלה"
“They and all that was theirs descended alive to the pit.” (16:33)

QUESTION: Why did Korach and his people receive such a strange punishment?

ANSWER: Korach opposed the leadership of Moshe and Aharon. He argued, “The entire community is holy; why rise above the assembly of G‑d?” (16:3). Korach, in effect, was advocating a government of anarchy.

Rabbi Chanina says, “Pray for the welfare of the government, for were it not for the fear of it, men would swallow one another alive” (Pirkei Avot 3:2). The punishment that Korach received was a message to him and to all future generations that without leadership, eventually one gets swallowed up alive.

(לקוטי בתר לקוטי)

"וכל ישראל אשר סביבתיהם נסו לקלם כי אמרו פן תבלענו הארץ"
“All the Jews who were around them fled at their sounds for they said, ‘Lest the earth swallow us.’” (16:34)

QUESTION: Instead of “nasu lekolom,” which literally means “fled to their sounds” it should have said “nasu mikolom” — “fled from their sounds”?

ANSWER: When Yitzchak blessed Yaakov he said, “Hakol kol Yaakov vehayadayim yedei Eisav — “The voice is Yaakov’s voice, but the hands are Eisav’s” (Bereishit 27:22). According to the Gemara (Gittin 57b), “Yitzchak meant that Yaakov’s power is in the voice that prays and Eisav’s power is in his murderous hands. Whenever a prayer is effective, a descendant of Yaakov must have been present, and whenever an army is victorious, Eisav’s descendants must have contributed.”

Upon seeing what was happening to Korach and his contingent, the people were afraid that the earth would swallow them, too. Therefore, immediately “nasu lekolom” — “they ran to their voices” — they recited prayers to Hashem to be spared such a fate.

(ר' חנוך זצ"ל מאלכסנדר)

"ותפתח הארץ את פיה ותבלע אתם ואת בתיהם ואת כל האדם אשר לקרח.... ואש יצאה מאת ה' ותאכל את החמשים ומאתים איש מקריב הקטרת"
“The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their houses and all the people who were with Korach.... A flame came forth from G‑d and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who were offering the incense.” (16:32,35)

QUESTION: The 250 people who joined Korach were burned to death. Datan and Aviram were swallowed alive in the earth. What happened to Korach?

ANSWER: There is an opinion in the Gemara (Sanhedrin 110a) that Korach did not die with those who were burnt or swallowed by the earth, but that he actually died later in a plague (see Rashi, ibid.). Another opinion says that Korach was both burnt and swallowed into the earth: When the 250 people began to bring their ketoret, Korach joined them and was consumed by fire. He was standing near the pit which opened up for Datan and Aviram, and he rolled into the open mouth of the earth.

According to the latter opinion, the reason Korach received both punishments is that if he had only been burnt and not swallowed, Datan and Aviram would have complained, “Why were we burned as followers of Korach, while Korach himself was not?” If he would have been swallowed but not burnt, the 250 people burnt would have had a similar complaint. Therefore, he received both punishments.

The fire of the ketoret burned his neshamah, and his body rolled into the open mouth of the earth. Thus, all his people witnessed him receiving his just deserts.

(מהרש"א ועץ יוסף מס' סנהדרין)

* * *

A halachic consequence of how Korach died is the following:

Regarding the fire-pans used by Korach’s contingent to offer ketoret the Torah says “Elazer the Kohen took the fire-pans, that were offered by haserufin — the ones who were burned — and hammered them out as a covering for the altar.”

Consequently, if Korach was not among the ones who died by being burned, his fire pan was not among those used as a covering for the altar.

(צפנת פענח)

"והנה פרח מטה אהרן לבית לוי...ויגמל שקדים"
“And behold the staff of Aharon of the house of Levi had blossomed...and bore ripe almonds.” (17:23)

QUESTION: Why almonds?

ANSWER: In his complaint against Moshe, Korach argued, “For the entire assembly is holy. Why do you exalt yourself over the congregation of Hashem?” (16:3). Essentially, he advocated a government of anarchy where there would be total equality.

Almonds blossom more quickly than any other fruit (see Rashi). The message was that in every facet of the universe, there is a hierarchy. Just as some fruit ripen faster than others, likewise it is necessary to elevate some human beings over others in order that law and order prevail.

* * *

Alternatively, among the tribes it was Levi who was singled out to be closer to Hashem, because like the almonds which grow speedily, they responded with alacrity to Moshe’s call, “Mi laHashem eilai” — “Whoever is for Hashem join me” (Shemot 32:26) — executing those who would have brought chaos to the Jewish community through the golden calf.

(לקוטי בתר לקוטי)

"ויאמר ה' אל משה השב את מטה אהרן לפני העדות למשמרת"
“G‑d said to Moshe, ‘Bring back the staff of Aharon before the holy Ark as a safekeeping.’” (17:25)

QUESTION: Aharon’s staff that bloomed was placed in front of the holy Ark together with a flask ofmanna (Shemot 16:33). When the Ark was hidden, so was the jar of mannaand Aharon’s staff (Yoma 52b).

What is the connection between the Ark, the staff, and the manna?

ANSWER: The Ark represents Torah. In it were the Tablets and the sefer Torah written by Moshe (Bava Batra 14a). Aharon’s staff symbolizes the human craving for peace. Aharon was the ultimate peace lover, and through his staff Korach’s rebellion was put to rest. Manna, which was the source of sufficient nourishment for all, on the other hand, represents economic security. Thus, the storing of manna and the staff near the Ark conveys the message that the staff of Aharon and the jar of manna go together with the Ark of Hashem; there can be no economic security or enduring peace in the world without the moral and ethical standards of the Torah.

When the Ark is “lost” — when its sacred influence is eliminated from the arena of life — the staff of Aharon and the jar of manna and all that they represent, disappear. All deliberations and plans for economic security and enduring peace come to naught because they are neither enshrined in the Ark, representing Torah, nor guided by the teachings of the Tablets contained therein.

(הדרש והעיון)

"וידבר ה' אל אהרן ואני הנה נתתי לך את משמרת תרומתי"
“G‑d spoke to Aharon: ‘And I, behold, I have given you the safeguard of My heave-offerings.’ ” (18:8)

QUESTION: Because Korach challenged the Priesthood of Aharon, the Torah allocates to Aharon twenty-four Matanot Kehunah — priestly gifts (Rashi).

Why twenty-four?

ANSWER: Korach did not openly attack or personally affront Aharon for being appointed Kohen Gadol. Waging his war in a deceptive and stealthy way instead, Korach argued, “The entire community is holy; why rise above the assembly of Hashem?” (16:3). With this he meant to say that no one should be singled out for leadership.

In addition to his original group of cohorts, he also incited the entire community to participate in the debacle. He visited all the tribes and told them that he was not seeking personal gain, but rather battling on their behalf for fairness and justice. They were convinced and joined with him (16:19, Rashi).

One who steals in a hidden and secretive way is a ganav — thief — and in addition to paying back the principal, must also pay double. Since people of all twelve tribes schemed stealthily against Aharon’s priesthood, the Jewish people had to give double — 24 gifts — to Aharon and his children to receive pardon.

(לקוטי שיחות חכ"ג)

"אך פדה תפדה את בכור האדם ואת בכור הבהמה הטמאה תפדה"
“But you shall surely redeem the firstborn of man, and the firstborn of an impure beast shall you redeem.” (18:15)

QUESTION: Why only for man is there a double expression “padoh tifdeh” — “you shall surely redeem” — and not for animals?

ANSWER: According to the Gemara (Bechorot 12b), if a person sets aside a sheep to redeem his firstborn donkey and the sheep dies, he is not required to replace it. However, if the money one sets aside to redeem a son is lost, one must provide replacement money (Bechorot 51a).

Therefore, regarding the redemption of man, the Torah uses a double expression to indicate that there is a possibility for a double expenditure; however, this is not so in regard to the redemption of an animal.

(לוח ארז)

* * *

Alternatively, to redeem a firstborn male the Torah prescribes that the father give five shekels to the Kohen. According to halachah (Shulchan Aruch, Yorah Dei’ah 305:7), even if the father divides the five shekels between two kohanim, and even if this is done on separate days, the child is redeemed. However, since the Torah prescribes using a live sheep for the redemption of a firstborn donkey the process must be done through one Kohen only since a live sheep is not dividable. Money may be used for the redemption, if one does not have a sheep (Yoreh Dei’ah 321:5), and according to the principle of “lo pelug” (not to make extra distinctions), the rule about one Kohen also applies.

To allude that specifically a pidyon haben can be done through more than one Kohen and at intervals, the Torah writes the double expression “padoh tifdeh.”

(הדרש והעיון)

"ופדויו מבן חדש תפדה בערכך כסף חמשת שקלים"
“Those that are to be redeemed — from one month shall you redeem them according to your valuation, five silver shekels.” (18:16)

QUESTION: According to the Torah, a day starts with the preceding night. Why is it customary to make a pidyon haben on the thirty-first day and not the night before? (See Yorah Dei’ah 305:12, Shach.) Moreover, the Torah states the reason for pidyon haben because “on the day I struck down every firstborn in the land of Egypt I sanctified every firstborn in Israel for Myself” (3:13), and the slaying of the firstborn was at midnight?

ANSWER: Since the firstborn were slain at midnight, instead of saying, “beyom hakoti kol bechor” — “on the day when I struck every firstborn” — it should say “beleil” — “on the night.”

The use of the term “beyom” — “the day” — can be explained with the Zohar’s statement (Shemot 38a) that the night Hashem revealed Himself in Egypt was as bright as broad daylight, as King David says, “And night is luminous as day” (Psalms 139:12). To commemorate the slaying of the Egyptian firstborn and the saving of the Jewish firstborn, which brought about the concept of pidyon haben, and which took place when it was light, we perform the pidyon haben during the day.

* * *

Rabbi Yaakov Emden writes in his siddur, “if necessary a pidyon haben may be done after chatzot — midnight.” The reason for this may be that since the pidyon haben commemorates the miracle of the slaying of the Egyptian firstborn and the saving of the Jewish firstborn, which took place at midnight, it stands to reason that a pidyon haben may be performed after midnight.

(הדרש והעיון)

"כל תרומת הקדשים...נתתי לך ולבניך...ברית מלח עולם הוא"
“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)

QUESTION: What is the connection between salt and the priestly gifts?

ANSWER: Some people, unfortunately, do not give tzedakah because they are reluctant to give away part of their wealth. The Torah, therefore, is telling us that tzedakah is like salt; it causes meat to shrink somewhat, but the preservative effect far outweighs the loss. Similarly, though on the surface it appears that one’s net value is shrinking, in reality, thanks to the tzedakah, one’s earnings are preserved.

* * *

It is related (Ketuvot 66b) that Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai was once traveling on the outskirts of Jerusalem. A young girl who was picking barley from the garbage in the street approached him and said, “Rabbi, please support me.”

He asked her, “Whose daughter are you?”

She replied, “I am the daughter of Nakdimon ben Gurion.”

Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai knew him to be one of the wealthiest people in Jerusalem (see Gittin 56a) and incredulously asked her “What happened to all your father’s wealth?”

She responded with the famous parable: “melach mamon, chaseir” — if a person wants to “salt” his money, i.e. preserve it to be long-lasting, he should reduce his assets by giving some to tzedakah. Unfortunately, her father did not properly observe this mitzvah, and therefore his fortunes were not preserved.

(שער בת רבים)