Parshas Korach: Seeking Peace for the Sake of Truth

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Korach, Korach – a first cousin to Moshe and Aharon (see Rashi to Bamidbar 16:1) – spearheads a rebellion against the leadership of Moshe and the kehunah (priesthood) of Aharon. 

Feeling slighted by a perceived lack of kavod (honor) that Korach believes should rightly be his, he convinces a handful of men from the tribe of Reuven, along with two hundred and fifty leaders of the people, to join his rebellion.

Ultimately, after much drama (see Bamidbar 16), Korach’s attempted rebellion and coup fail, as the ground opens up and swallows Korach and his men, their families and their possessions.

G-d has proven to the doubters that Moshe and Aharon are the Divinely chosen and Divinely appointed rulers of the nation. 

R’ Soloveitchik zt’l teaches, “The Korach controversy was a rebellion, not a quarrel due to ungratified physical desires.  Moreover, the masses were not involved at all.  The am, the people who demanded water at Rephidim, the am that told Aharon to build a god (at the incident of the golden calf), did not participate in the anti-Moshe campaign of Korach.  The leadership of the rebellion consisted of a few individuals, and the followers were several hundred at most… It was a conspiracy, premeditated and carefully thought out. 

“The Ramban explains that Korach’s enmity was incurred when Aharon was elevated to the position of Kohen Gadol (High Priest).  However, in spite of his anger, Korach did not attempt to come out publicly against Moshe.  He understood very well that the people, notwithstanding minor incidents, were devoted and loyal to their great leader, and that any attempt to unseat Moshe would be met with anger and derision.  Korach waited patiently for an opportunity that would somehow undermine Moshe’s position and popularity.

“The opportune moment arrived sooner than Korach anticipated.  It was the incident of the spies, perhaps the most tragic incident in Moshe’s life.  The Almighty’s decree that all the adults would die in the desert was a hard blow to Moshe’s prestige.  For a short while, he lost his influence over the crowds.  Before the Israelites had left Egypt, while they were still busy building fortresses for Pharaoh, Moshe had promised those slaves that a short time after their departure from Egypt they would enter into the Promised Land, a long flowing with milk and honey… Suddenly, all their hopes and dreams were dissipated and shattered.  No land, no conquest, no rivers of milk and honey, no realizations of the promise were in sight – only many bleak and dreary years before Israel would set foot on the soil of Canaan” (Chumash Masores HaRav, Bamidbar, p.129).

Korach grabbed onto the moment of Moshe’s perceived weakness, after the disaster of the spies in Parshas Shelach, and staged his (unsuccessful) rebellion. 

Of all the lessons we learn from Korach and his men, and their מחלוקת שאינה לשם שמים (quarrel not for the sake of Heaven – see Avos 5:20), one of the most enduring and powerful lessons is to stay far, far away from quarrel and strife. 

In fact, the Sages teach (see Sanhedrin 110a) that anyone who becomes embroiled in מחלוקת (quarrel and strife) transgresses a lav d’Oraisa – prohibitive biblical command – not to be like Korach and his assembly!

Those who disagree l’Shem Shomayim (for the sake of Heaven) seek the truth of Torah; those who disagree not l’Shem Shomayim (not for the sake of Heaven) seek nothing but their own honor and glory. 

Pride is concerned with who is right; humility is concerned with what is right” (author unknown).

Recalls R’ Yehudah Kravitz, who headed OU Kosher’s meat industry supervision for 10 years as the rav hamachshir (supervising rabbi) recalls, “Rav Belsky’s (R’ Chaim Yisroel Belsky, 1938-2016, zt’l) genius in learning and psak halacha was surpassed by his greatness in middos.  He was the anav mikol adam, the most humble of men.  I saw evidence of this in many instances.  I saw how visiting rabbanim would insult him and he would not react.  He never said a bad word about them, not in their presence and not after they had left.  His only interest was in clarifying the halacha l’amito (truth of Jewish law).  When other distinguished poskim disagreed with his psak, he was ready and eager to discuss the issues with them, and was prepared to retract his psak if he could be proven wrong.  It was not ‘my psak.’  It was what he deemed to be the Torah’s viewpoint, and if it could be shown that this was not the case, then so be it.

“Whether or not his psak was popular meant nothing to him.  Whether he received honor or insults was irrelevant.  He was interested solely in the truth – nothing more, nothing less. 

“I never saw him display a trace of anger, and there were instances when he had every reason to become angry.  Once, a visiting rabbi was being disrespectful and was becoming angrier by the minute.  When it became clear that it would be impossible to carry on a reasonable discussion with this man, R’ Belsky got up and left the room, rather than respond.  I saw this happen only once.  All other times, he did not react at all to insults. It was as if they were speaking about someone else.

“I personally witnessed how R’ Belsky accorded honor and spoke pleasantly to rabbanim who had acted toward him with disrespect.  When he met them, it was as if nothing at all had happened” (Rav Belsky, Artscroll, p.49-50).

As we enter the month of Tammuz, the beginning of the end of the destruction of our Holy Temple, let us learn from Korach and his assembly what not to do.  Perhaps if we strive for peace like we mean it, we will be worthy to see our destroyed places rebuilt, as we return to Yerushalayim, the city of Shalom.  May it be immediate and in our days, amen

בברכת חודש טוב ושבת שלום,

Michal

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