"He Shall Not Be Like Korach and his Congregation"

  • Harav Yehuda Amital

Sicha for Shabbat from the Roshei Yeshiva
Yeshivat Har Etzion



"He Shall Not Be Like Korach and his Congregation"

Summarized by Matan Glidai

Translated by Kaeren Fish


Various explanations have been offered for Korach's rebellion – where exactly his mistake lay; how he dared to speak out against Moshe, the most humble of men, claiming that Moshe was elevating himself, etc. Rashi, for example, writes (16:7), "Korach was clever. Why did he perform this foolish act? His eye led him astray. He saw a great dynasty that would rise up from him (Korach) – the prophet Shemuel, who was compared to Moshe and Aharon..." But all of the explanations offered are only partial solutions, since they fail to explain one thing: Moshe informed Korach and his gang that if it turned out that he (Moshe) was right, and that God had chosen him and Aharon, then Korach's whole congregation would die (Rashi 16:6). How, then, could Korach and his followers not have given up their fight? All the various explanations can perhaps explain the creation of the rebellion in its early stages, but it is difficult to believe that any of these reasons so convinced Korach and his men of their own case that even the threat of death had no effect on them.

The reason for this is simple: dispute and a disputational bent can bring about a situation in which a person loses all sense of logic and clear-headedness. He can believe in his argument so strongly that neither reasoning nor any threat will budge him. As an argument becomes more and more heated, a person believes with increasing intensity that he is correct that everyone else is wrong. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 6b) explains the verse in Mishlei (17:14), "Before it flares up the fight is abandoned," as follows: "Before the argument flares up, you are still able to abandon it. Once it flares up, you are unable to abandon it."

Yaakov declared on his deathbed: "Shimon and Levi are brothers; swords are their instruments of cruelty. Let my soul not enter their counsel; let my honor not be attached to their assembly, for they killed a man in their anger..." (Bereishit 49:5-6). Rashi connects the words "Let my honor not be attached to their assembly" with Korach's rebellion, according to which Yaakov links the rebellion to the slaying of the men of Shekhem by Shimon and Levi. Dispute can bring a person to such a loss of clear-headedness that he becomes capable of killing someone who thinks differently from him. The Gemara (Chullin 89a) explains the verse from Iyov (26:7), "He hangs the earth upon nothingness (belima)" as teaching that "The world exists only for the sake of one who restrains himself (bolem et atzmo) during a dispute."

The Mishna in Avot (5:17) teaches,

"Any dispute which is conducted for the sake of Heaven is destined to last, and one which is not for the sake of Heaven will not last. Which dispute was for the sake of Heaven? The dispute between (the schools of) Hillel and Shamai. Which was not for the sake of Heaven? The dispute of Korach and all his congregation."

When there is a dispute that is not for the sake of Heaven, one may reach a situation of heated argument, creating great animosity and hatred between two groups, to the extent that even the reason for the dispute is forgotten. After a few years, when those concerned think back on it they discover that the entire dispute revolved around a childish and unimportant matter, and they cannot understand what all the fuss was about for all that time. The dispute between Hillel and Shamai is an example of a genuine dispute, with each side listening to the other and not losing a sense of logic because of the argument. This is a dispute for the sake of Heaven, which lasts for a long time.

Korach's dispute thus remains the paradigm of a dispute which is not for the sake of Heaven. This rebellion even has halakhic ramifications which are relevant for all generations. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 2a) warns,

"Anyone who maintains a dispute transgresses a negative commandment, as it is written, 'And he shall not be like Korach and his congregation' (Bamidbar 17:5)."

(Originally delivered at seuda shelishit, Shabbat Parashat Korach 5756 [1996].)


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