Parshas Korach: Death by Jealousy

In this week’s sedra (in Chutz la’Aretz) we read of the machlokes (strife) and rebellion that was instigated by Korach, a first cousin to Moshe and Aharon (their fathers, Yitzhar and Amram, respectively, were brothers).  Korach was jealous over their positions as melech (Moshe) and kohen gadol (Aharon), as well as the appointment of Eltzafan ben Uziel, another first cousin (his father, Uziel, was the youngest uncle, and Korach felt he himself should have been promoted), as the nasi (prince) over the tribe of Levi (Bamidbar 16:1-2 w/ Rashi there).

Rather than living as an ashir ha’samayach b’chelko – one who is satisfied with his portion and content with his lot in life (Avos 4:1) – Korach cast his aspirations onto the lives of others.  Though he claimed that the nation did not need leaders at all, as the entire assembly is holy, and there G-d dwells – רַבלָכֶםכִּי כָלהָעֵדָה כֻּלָּם קְדֹשִׁים, וּבְתוֹכָם ה; וּמַדּוּעַ תִּתְנַשְּׂאוּ, עַלקְהַל ה (Bamidbar 16:3), what Korach really wanted was gedula, leadership, for himself.

With feelings of jealousy, haughtiness and anger, Korach gathered a group of men to join his rebellion, and he instigated the machlokes against Moshe and Aharon.  Ultimately, the fires of strife destroyed Korach and his assembly, when the ground opened up and swallowed them alive (and the 250 men were burned in a Divine fire) (Bamidbar 16).

The Sages (Avos 5:17) teach us that Korach’s rebellion was one that was not l’shem Shomayim (it was not for the sake of Heaven), and such quarrels will never endure.  Rabbi Zev Leff shlita explains that an argument for the sake of Heaven (like that of Hillel and Shammai, ibid) is one that seeks to uncover and reveal the truth.  This means that neither party wants to be ‘right’ for the sake of being ‘right.’  Rather, they each want to know the truth of Torah, and when that truth is revealed, both parties win, and everyone is satisfied.  Neither side has a need to be ‘right,’ for their quest is only to uncover the truth.  However, in an argument that is not for the sake of Heaven, the quarreling party only wants to be right.  The truth is irrelevant, as long as the winner is ‘right,’ for the sake of being ‘right.’  Not only will such a machlokes destroy the instigator, it will take down everyone else as well (see Bamidbar 16:27 w/ Rashi).

Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski z’l teaches, in the name of Rav Chaim Shmulevitz zt’l (Sichos Mussar), quoting the Mishnah, “Envy, lust and pursuit of honor remove a person from the world” (Avos 4:21), “The expression ‘remove a person from the world’ is rather strange. R’ Chaim Shmulevitz explains that the usual deviation from proper behavior is a very gradual one. The Sages teach that the tactic of the yetzer hara, the evil inclination, is to seduce a person to commit a very minor infraction, then lead him on to progressively more serious transgressions (Shabbos 108b). That is the nature and order of the world. The yetzer hara will not entice a person into doing something patently absurd, for the evil inclination knows with such tactics, it will not succeed.

“However, if a person is overtaken by envy, one escapes the natural order of the world. One is no longer bound by logic. The passion of envy can be so great that it can overwhelm all rational thought, and leave one vulnerable to the seduction of the yetzer hara, causing a person to behave in the most irrational manner. Envy indeed removes a person from the natural order of the world.  That is what happened with Korach. As Moshe understood this, he delayed the trial until the next day (see Rashi to Bamidbar 16:5).

“The Korach episode conveys a most important teaching. We are all vulnerable to envy, and envy is not a difficult emotion to identify. If you feel yourself being envious, do nothing for a while. Envy can suspend all logical thinking and make one do things that one will regret.  If you feel envious, ventilate your feelings to a friend or write them down. Read one of the ethical works about envy. This will help you realize that envy is a futile and destructive feeling. Before doing anything foolish that may be a reaction to your envy, seek counsel, take time, and simply wait. You may avoid making serious mistakes” (

Rav Yaakov Bender shlita writes, “The headquarters for any conversation about machlokes is in this parashah, where we read of Korach’s desire for leadership, and his self-destructive campaign against Moshe Rabbeinu.  The Medrash teaches, ‘What did Korach, who was a wise person, see to commit this absurdity? Mah ra’ah la’shtus zeh?’ (see Rashi to 16:7).  In the choice of language, Chazal are hinting at the answer to their question.

“To overcome the desire to fight, a person has to see past the moment.  Why do people fight?  Why is there machlokes?  Because when someone feels hurt or offended, it feels good to unload, to let that anger out.  The ways of the RS”O are shalom (see Shabbos 10b) and that’s what He expects from us.  All it takes is the ability to step back and see the bigger picture… Korach was not a fool.  He understood the nature of machlokes.  He knew that if he would overlook the perceived slight, he would gain so much more… and yet, Mah ra’ah la’shtus zeh?  What was it that distracted him from seeing the truth?

Machlokes has to do with perception and vision, and by seeing past the cause of aggravation or frustration and focusing on the bigger picture – this is your wife, or your parent, or your child, do you really want to live a life in which they don’t have a meaningful role to play?  One who can do this – take a step back and contemplate – will end up so much happier… See bigger.  See past the moment. Don’t get lost in the desire of that moment to win, and both sides will flourish and succeed.  If you can see big, you will be big.  Korach saw something else and it pulled him away from the truth, and so, he remained small for eternity” (Rav Yaakov Bender on Chumash, v.2, p.221-223).

Miriam’s sin reminds us of the dangers of lashon harah; the slander of the Meraglim reminds us to always cherish E”Y; and Korach’s rebellion reminds us that the path to success, and the path of life (and eternal life), is that of shalom.

We must not only learn these fundamental lessons of Sefer Bamidbar, we must have the courage to implement them into our lives, דְּרָכֶיהָ דַרְכֵינֹעַם וְכָלנְתִיבוֹתֶיהָ שָׁלוֹם, her (the Torah’s) ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace (Mishlei 3:17). 

בברכת בשורות טובות ושבת שלום,


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