Following the tragic episode of Korach’s revolt against Moshe’s authority, which included a demand by 250 of his followers to be given the rights of the kehuna (priesthood), God speaks to Aharon and affirms his right to the various matenot kehuna – priestly gifts. He lists the many different donations that the people are to make to the kohanim, through which the kohanim – who were not given agricultural lands in Eretz Yisrael – were supported and provided with a livelihood.
Rashi (18:8), citing the Sifrei, observes that God introduces this section with the term “hinei” (generally translated as, “behold”). This term, as Rashi demonstrates from elsewhere in the Torah, has a connotation of joy. Chazal, it appears, found it worthwhile to emphasize that this mitzva – the obligations of the matenot kehuna – was given to the kohanim with special joy.
The obvious question arises as to the particular significance of joy in this context. Why would Chazal seek to draw an association between the matenot kehuna and joy?
The Tolna Rebbe explained that this section was presented in response to the tragedy of Korach’s revolt. As Rashi proceeds to explain, God speaks here to Aharon to confirm his and his children’s rights to the privileges of the kehuna after it had been challenged and protested by Korach and his followers. For this reason, the Rebbe suggested, Chazal wanted to emphasize the quality of joy and contentment in this context. The antidote to “Korachism,” to the insatiable lust for power and prestige that led to the downfall of Korach and his followers, is contentment. Chazal sought to draw our attention to the fact that part and parcel of God’s response to the unfortunate event of Korach’s revolt was the lesson of simcha, of feeling content and satisfied with one’s lot, rather than focusing on what others have that he does not have. Beyond affirming that Korach was wrong, that the rights of the kehuna were reserved only for Aharon and his children, God found it necessary to underscore the vital importance of feeling happy and content with what one has, rather than constantly feeling dissatisfied, looking around to observe other people’s blessings, and desiring more.
We might add that the verse cited by the Sifrei to demonstrate the association between “hinei” and joy is a very significant one in this context. The Sifrei points to God’s remark to Moshe at the burning bush, informing him that Aharon would come out to greet him upon his return to Egypt (“Hinei yotzei likratekha”) and would be overjoyed to see him (“ve-ra’akha ve-samach be-libo” – Shemot 4:14). As Rashi famously comments (there in Sefer Shemot), Aharon rejoiced over his younger brother’s appointment as leader of the nation, without feeling any resentment or envy, and was rewarded for his selflessness with the privilege of wearing the priestly breastplate (choshen) upon his chest. Appropriately, in the context of God’s response to Korach’s revolt, Chazal make reference to Aharon’s genuine happiness over his younger brother’s position of prestige. He felt perfectly content and joyous knowing that his brother received such distinction, rather than feeling angst over having not been chosen himself for this position. This is precisely the kind of simcha that is needed to avoid the pitfall of Korach, the dangers of jealousy and perennial dissatisfaction that could lead us to irrational behavior and foolish measures. We must follow the example of Aharon, who was capable of seeing the blessings of others without feeling envious, and of experiencing genuine joy and contentment with his lot, even when others around him had more.