Yesterday, we noted Rashi’s well-known comments explaining the verse in Parashat Korach (26:11) which tells that Korach’s sons did not die in the wake of his failed revolt against Moshe. Rashi writes, “They [Korach’s sons] were originally part of the plan, but at the time of the fight they harbored thoughts of repentance in their hearts. Therefore, a high place in Gehinnom was set aside for them, and they resided there.” This remark is based upon the Gemara’s comments on this verse in Masekhet Sanhedrin (110a): “A place was set aside for them in Gehinnom, and they sat on it and sang [praise to God.” According to the version of the story that appears in the Gemara, Korach’s sons sang shira – song of praise to God – during the time they spent in their place of refuge in Gehinnom.
What might be the significance of this depiction, of Korach’s sons singing after being spared?
Symbolically, the song of Korach’s sons represents the ability we all have to think positively and feel thankful even in the darkest of times and under the most dreadful circumstances. Even as they fell into the underworld, presumably doubting whether they would ever be rescued, Korach’s sons found the proverbial “silver lining” in the form of the special place set aside for them, and they were able to sing praise to God. The Gemara here teaches us that even when, Heaven forbid, we find ourselves falling into any kind of “Gehinnom,” into a painful and distressful situation, we can, as difficult as it may be, find what to feel grateful for and identify a source of hope and optimism.
More details of the fate of Korach’s sons appear in Rashi’s commentary to Tehillim (42:1), where he discusses the Psalms composed by Korach’s sons:
Asir, Elkana and Aviasaf were originally in their father’s plot, but at the time of the fight they withdrew, and when all their surroundings were devoured and the ground opened its mouth, their spot was preserved in the midst of the opening of the ground… There they sang, and there they composed these Psalms. They arose from there, and the sacred spirit rested upon them and they prophesied about the exiles, the Temple’s destruction, and the Davidic kingship.
Korach’s sons prophesied about the future tragedies that would later befall the Jewish People, and then of the ultimate restoration of the Davidic dynasty. It is precisely the message that they embodied, the capacity to find hope and optimism in the most desperate situations, that must accompany us throughout our exiles and which ensures the eventuality of redemption and restoration. The “shira” of Korach’s sons is to remain with us as a symbol of hope in the direst situations, and guarantees that our nation, like Korach’s sons, will eventually arise from the “underworld” of pain and suffering to the joy of experiencing the Shekhina in the Beit Ha-mikdash.