Yesterday, we noted Yaakov’s deathbed wish expressed as he condemned the violent tendencies of Shimon and Levi: “Be-sodam al tavo nafshi bi-k’halam al teichad kevodi – My soul shall not enter their council, my honor shall not be included in their assembly” (49:6). Rashi, citing the Midrash, explains this as a reference to two future incidents involving descendants of Shimon and Levi. The first is the sin of Ba’al Pe’or, when Zimri, the leader of the tribe of Shimon, publicly engaged in relations with a Midyanite woman, and the second was the revolt against Moshe instigated by Korach, a great-grandson of Levi. Yaakov here requests that his name be omitted when the perpetrators of these offenses are identified. Indeed, as Rashi observes, Zimri is identified simply as the leader of Shimon, and Korach is identified as “the son of Yitzhar, the son of Kehat, the son of Levi.” In neither instance is Yaakov named as the offender’s ancestor. Rashi adds that Yaakov’s name is, however, mentioned in a different context – in reference to Korach’s descendants who sang in the Beit Ha-mikdash. In Sefer Divrei Hayamim I (6:18-23), a descendant of Korach is named as a singer in the Temple, and his lineage is traced through Korach, who is identified there as “the son of Kehat, the son of Levi, the son of Yisrael.”
It is worth noting the way Rashi describes Zimri’s sin in this context. Rather than focus on the fact that Zimri had a public illicit relationship with a Midyanite woman, Rashi chooses instead to describe Zimri’s confrontation with Moshe before committing his forbidden act. The Midrash tells that Zimri brazenly brought the Midyanite woman to Moshe and asked whether he was permitted to cohabit with her. When Moshe responded that this was forbidden, Zimri brazenly ridiculed him, noting that he – Moshe – had married Tzippora, a woman from Midyan. This is the aspect of Zimri’s sinful act which Rashi focuses upon in explaining Yaakov’s wish to dissociate himself from it. This point of focus sheds light on the connection which Rashi implicitly makes between this incident and Korach’s revolt. Both situations marked a brazen uprising against Moshe’s authority, the desire to assert autonomy and publicly reject Moshe’s leadership.
It thus appears that according to Rashi, Yaakov here condemns not just Shimon and Levi’s violence, but rather their brazen disregard for authority. Just as they reacted to their sister’s abduction on their own, without consulting their father, their descendants, in these instances, expressed scorn and disdain for the nation’s leadership and insisted on pursuing their own agendas without submitting to authority.
This might also be the reason why the Midrash contrasts these two incidents – the uprisings of Zimri and of Korach – with the Leviyim’s singing in the Beit Ha-mikdash. The Mikdash was a place where different groups had assigned roles and worked together in peace and harmony. Moreover, it marked the place of “assembly” for the entire nation, as opposed to the “assemblies” noted by the Midrash, which were conducted for the sake of promoting the specific interests of particular groups. The Midrash here warns of the dangers of actions similar to Shimon and Levi’s assault on Shekhem, where a small group acts independently without bending to authority and without looking out for the concerns of the nation at large. The “assemblies” that Chazal encourage were those of the Beit Ha-mikdash, where people come together and work harmoniously in the service of the Almighty, rather than dividing in small groups with each promoting only its own particular viewpoints.