Parshas Korach: The All-Encompassing Fires of Strife

In this week’s parsha, Parshas Korach, we learn of the rebellion of Korach against his first cousins, Moshe and Aharon, the leaders of the Bnei Yisrael.  Additionally, he was jealous of the appointment of his other first cousin, Elizaphan (son of Uzziel) as prince over the sons of Kehas.  Korach, as son of Yitzhar (the second son of Kehas) felt that he should be appointed prince, and not his younger cousin, Elizaphan.

Mocking the mitzvos of techeilies on zitzis and mezuza, the perceived dictatorship of Moshe, and the priestly role of Aharon, Korach manages to convince others to join his rebellion as well.  Led by Korach, and with the supporting roles of Dasan and Aviram from the tribe of Reuven, along with two-hundred and fifty prominent men from Israel, the men accuse Moshe and Aharon of taking too much power for themselves.  Surely the entire assembly is holy, they cry, and Hashem is amongst them all, so why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of G-d? (Bamidbar 16:1-3 w/ Rashi to v.1).

In regard to the machlokes (quarrel or strife) that was led by Korach, the Sages teach:

כָּל מַחֲלֹקֶת שֶׁהִיא לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם, סוֹפָהּ לְהִתְקַיֵּם. וְשֶׁאֵינָהּ לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם, אֵין סוֹפָהּ לְהִתְקַיֵּם. אֵיזוֹ הִיא מַחֲלֹקֶת שֶׁהִיא לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם, זוֹ מַחֲלֹקֶת הִלֵּל וְשַׁמַּאי. וְשֶׁאֵינָהּ לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם, זוֹ מַחֲלֹקֶת קֹרַח וְכָל עֲדָתוֹ

Any quarrel that is for the sake of Heaven will endure and any quarrel that is not for the sake of Heaven will not endure.  Which is a quarrel that is for the sake of Heaven?  This is the disagreement between (the great sages) Hillel and Shammai (whose disagreements endure – and are studied – to this day in yeshivos around the world).  And a quarrel that is not for the sake of Heaven?  This is the fight of Korach and his assembly (Avos 5:17). 

Given that Korach was motivated by a desire for power, control, rulership and self-gratification, his fight was certainly not one that was l’shem Shomayim, and he and his assembly of men were punished.  In Divine Judgment, the ground opened up and swallowed the households of Korach, Dasan and Aviram.  As the nation fled the scene in terror, a heavenly fire descended and consumed the two-hundred and fifty followers.  

How terrible was their machlokes?  Rashi teaches: ונשיהם ובניהם וטפם. בֹּא וּרְאֵה כַּמָּה קָשָׁה הַמַּחֲלֹקֶת, שֶׁהֲרֵי בֵית דִּין שֶׁל מַטָּה אֵין עוֹנְשִׁין אֶלָּא עַד שֶׁיָּבִיא שְׁתֵּי שְׂעָרוֹת, וּבֵית דִּין שֶׁל מַעְלָה עַד עֶשְׂרִים שָׁנָה, וְכָאן אָבְדוּ אַף יוֹנְקֵי שָׁדַיִם Even their wives, children and infants were punished:  Come see how severe dispute is!  For an early court does not punish unless the guilty party has reached maturity, and the Heavenly Court does not punish until one has reached the age of twenty years.  And yet here, even those who suckled at the breast were destroyed (Rashi to Bamidbar 16:27).

In his Short and Sweet on the Parsha, Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Bregman writes, “According to Rashi, Ibn Ezra and Chizkuni, even Korach’s little children were swallowed into the ground.  Midrash Tanchuma (3) remarks that even the day-old babies were killed in Korach’s machlokes.    This leads to an obvious and simple question: How could the little children get swept up into the punishment of Korach and his followers?  Doesn’t the Torah state a rule that a person is only eligible for punishment from the Heavenly Court from the age of twenty and up?

“Maharal (Gur Aryeh) provides an answer: The concept of machlokes (dispute/separation) was created on the Second Day of Creation (Bereishis 1:6 – וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹקִים, יְהִי רָקִיעַ בְּתוֹךְ הַמָּיִם, וִיהִי מַבְדִּיל, בֵּין מַיִם לָמָיִם).  Additionally, Chazal teach (Pesachim 54a) that the fire of Gehenom (Purgatory/Hell) was also created on the Second Day of Creation.  Therefore, we may rightfully equate machlokes with the fires of Gehenom.  

“Now, when it comes to fire, one’s age and consent are immaterial; if you touch fire, you will get burned.  This same dynamic is at play when a person gets involved with machlokes.  It doesn’t matter who you are, nor is your age of any consequence.  If you are in any way connected to machlokes – even as the child of a rabble-rouser – you will get burned by it and suffer!” (Short and Sweet on the Parsha, Feldheim, p.379-380).

How dangerous are the flames of dissent amongst us, that whoever is associated with these fires will be consumed and burned, no matter their age or station in life!

In 1910, fierce dissension broke out in the Radin Yeshiva that was directed against a certain individual.  The situation became known to the Chafetz Chaim zt’l (R’ Yisrael Meir Ha’Kohen Kagin of Radin, 1838-1933).  He assembled the students of the yeshiva, and in a trembling voice, addressed them: 

“Our yeshiva is called Chafetz Chaim, alluding to the words of Scripture: Who is the man that is ‘chafetz chaim’ (desires life); loves days, to see good? Guard your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit (Ps.34:13-14).  Therefore, anyone who takes a share in stirring up contention does not belong among us here.  He is not one of us!  Contention in a yeshiva bearing my name!?  Heaven forbid!  Let it rather be healed!

“… You came to this yeshiva to earn the crown of Torah learning.  You left your families and kin… in order to bear the yoke of Torah.  Yet here now there is quarrel and strife!  Look at the words of the Rambam in his Yad HaChazaka, where he says that persons given to evil gossip and quarrel have no share in the World to Come.  You must flee from such things as from a blazing fire.  Otherwise, all your toil and effort will be for nothing; your Torah learning will be of no value, if you remain embroiled in this machlokes!”  (The Chafetz Chaim, by R’ M. M. Yoshor, Artscroll, p.325).

May we learn well the lessons of Korach and his men, and the message that resonates in our day and time.  For machlokes that is for the sake of self, and not for the sake of G-d, will never endure, and all those involved in it will bring ruination upon themselves and their loved ones, R”L.  May we save ourselves from such happenings by increasing ahavas Yisrael and acceptance of our fellow Jews.  

,בברכת חודש טוב ושבת שלום


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