The Torah portion of Korach recounts how G‑d told Moshe and Aharon: “Separate yourselves from the midst of this community and I will destroy them in an instant.” Moshe and Aharon responded: “G‑d, L-rd of all spirits, if one man [Korach] sins, shall you direct Your wrath at the entire community?”1

Rashi explains that the phrase “L-rd of all spirits” refers to G‑d’s omniscience. Moshe and Aharon therefore added these words to their rejoinder for, as Rashi says, they were in effect saying: “Unto You is revealed all thoughts; You know who is the sinner. If one man alone has sinned, shall You direct Your wrath at the entire community?”

G‑d responded: “You have spoken well. I know, and shall make known, who has sinned and who has not.”

Why does Rashi use the term “You know who is the sinner” rather than the more commonly used expression “It is known to You,” as in2 “It is revealed and known to He who spoke and the world was created”? Particularly so, since Rashi begins by saying “it is revealed.” It would thus seem more appropriate for him to conclude with “It is known to you.”

The explanation is as follows. Moshe and Aharon understood that since G‑d knows everything with His particular knowledge and providence, He clearly knows who actually sinned. And, in fact, it was only one individual, as Rashi says: “If one man alone is the sinner.”

Only one individual was actually considered to be the sinner, although many joined Korach in his revolt, because Korach was the only instigator; it was he alone who had the intention of revolting against G‑d. The other individuals were merely beguiled by Korach into joining him.

Because there were such great differences among those who participated in the revolt, and in their intent to rebel, Moshe and Aharon correctly argued that there must also be a difference in the severity of punishment; those individuals whose intention was less malevolent should be judged more leniently.

G‑d’s response: “You have spoken well; I know, and shall make known, who has sinned and who has not,” indicates that He agreed that there would indeed be a difference in the degree of punishment — the instigator would be judged more harshly than those enticed by him.

The reason why Rashi uses the expression “Unto You is revealed all thoughts; You know who is the sinner,” as well as the reason for the expression “I know,” now becomes clear.

There are two levels of Divine knowledge and providence.3 The first is considered “revealed and known.” This means that G‑d does not vest Himself in the knowledge and providence, but rather that everything is revealed and known to Him as a matter of course.

Although this knowledge embraces each and every detail, since it transcends vestment within created beings and is thus disassociated from them, it encompasses all beings equally. The actions of created beings cannot affect this level, nor do individual differences have any bearing upon it.

Then there is the level of providence and knowledge whereby “G‑d knows ,” i.e., G‑d occupies Himself, as it were, in a vested manner. There are differences on this level, in consonance with the specific level of each created being.

Because it is only here that the actions of created beings are closely examined and have an effect, as it were, above, reward and punishment according to the actions of the different created beings emanate specifically from this level, the level of “G‑d knows.”

Rashi thus chooses the word “knows” and not “it is known” with precision, as reference is being made to that level from whence reward and punishment come.

Moreover, knowledge at the level of “knows” is in a vested manner, wherein there is awareness of all the details. It is on this level that there is a distinct difference between Korach (the true rebel) and those who merely were taken in by him.

Moshe and Aharon thus addressed G‑d as the One who “knows.” To which the response was that He does indeed “know,” and therefore will vary the severity of retribution between Korach and the rest of the community.

Based on Likkutei Sichos , Vol. XVIII, pp. 196-198.