Korach 5780


The danger of scoffing[1]

וידבר אל-קרח ואל-כל-עדתו לאמר בקר וידע יקוק את-אשר-לו וגו’ זאת עשו קחו-לכם מחתות וגו’‏
[Moshe] spoke to Korach and his assembly, saying: “Tomorrow morning it shall be known who is Hashem’s…Do this: Take for yourselves firepans”[2]

This week’s parsha details the rebellion of Korach. He challenged the leadership of Moshe and Aharon, convincing a group of the greatest sages of Israel to join his cause. Korach claimed that Moshe was making everything up[3]. He claimed that Moshe was a false prophet. Moshe challenged this band of rebels to a test to determine who was the true prophet of Hashem. The next morning, they would all take firepans and put incense on them. Through this act of Divine service, it would become clear who was Hashem’s chosen leaders. The result was that those that banded with Korach were burned to death by their firepans, whereas Moshe and Aharon emerged unscathed. This validated their rightful place as the leaders of the people, and prophets of Hashem.

Why did they have to come up with this whole firepan test? Seemingly, there was a much simpler test that would have sufficed. Six days a week the Jews would receive miraculous bread from Heaven called munn. It had many miraculous properties, besides its tremendous abundance. Our Sages teach us[4] that the munn was a sort of barometer for a person’s spiritual standing. If they were completely righteous, the munn would in the morning literally land by their doorstep. If they were wicked, the munn would fall outside the camp[5], requiring a journey to go out and collect it. Everyone in between’s standing would also be evident from where their munn landed. Why didn’t Moshe just tell everyone to see in the morning where Korach and his munn would fall[6]? The one who had the munn by their doorstep would be righteous, and the one whose munn would be outside the camp would be wicked.

One suggestion is that it wasn’t possible[7]. Until that point, Korach hadn’t done anything wrong. He was originally very righteous[8], and must have had the munn land on his doorstep. The day he created his rebellion, is when he became completely wicked. However, the munn didn’t fall on the day of Korach’s rebellion[9]. This is how despised discord is before Hashem. He withheld the munn from everybody because of the feud. There was no way then to determine who was righteous and who was wicked[10]. Moshe instead concocted the firepan test, which ultimately proved successful anyways. However, there’s a simpler explanation than this, which penetrates the human psyche.

The danger of machlokes, discord, and leitzanus, scoffing, is that they’re almost impenetrable. No matter how many proofs and reproofs you offer, they bounce right off[11]. Korach’s main tactic against Moshe was scoffing at the laws he taught them[12]. Scoffing has the dangerous ability to take something serious and make it meaningless[13]. If Moshe tested them with the munn, Korach and his band would have had a thousand explanations for why their munn fell so fall away. They would claim that it was because they didn’t rebel enough. Had they made a stronger effort, Hashem would have been pleased with them. Moshe knew these dangers, and he knew he had to put a stop to the discord at once. He suggested instead a test with the firepans, squashing Korach’s rebellion and returning the peace to the people[14].

Good Shabbos

[1] Based on Ta’amah D’Krah by (Rav Chaim Kanievsky shlita) to Numbers 16:5,6

[2] Numbers loc. cit.

[3] מדבר בעדת קרח…אתמול מביאשין כנגד משה ואומרים לא משה נביא אמת ולא אהרן כהן גדול ולא תורה מן השמים (Koheles Rabbah 10:2); שאמר קרח לא משה נביא ולא אהרן כהן גדול ולא תורה נתנה מן השמים (Yalkut Shimoni Korach § 752, seemingly based on Tanchuma Yashan Korach Hosafah 2)

[4] Yoma 75a

[5] Rashi ad. loc.

[6] See Derushim Nechmadim parshas Korach by the Maharam Shif (printed at the end of Chullin), who says that indeed Moshe tried to prove his innocence with the munn (albeit for a different accusation, see Sanhedrin 110a)

[7] Sheivet Mussar Chapter 37

[8] HaEmek Davar to Numbers 16:1 says Korach was the gadol hador. See also Tiferes Yehonasan ad. loc.

[9] Rav Chaim Kanievsky presumes the Sheivet Mussar had some source in Chazal for this suggestion. This explanation assumes that the munn would have fallen after the rebellion started, and not that it would have already fallen that morning. I’m not sure what time of day it would have fallen then

[10] Presumably, since the reason it didn’t fall was because of machlokes, it wouldn’t have fallen until the machlokes was resolved. Moshe had no choice then but to find some other means of settling it. However, if Korach’s claim was that Moshe was making everything up, then seemingly the latter’s munn would never have fallen close to his door. Shouldn’t that have been enough proof of his innocence? It seems from the continuation that Rav Chaim Kanievsky is focusing more on Moshe showing how wicked Korach is, rather than him trying to vindicate his own character. Indeed, Rav Chaim doesn’t even mention Korach’s claim that Moshe was making everything up

[11] See also “The power of scoffing”, https://parshaponders.com/vayakhel-pekudei-5778/

[12] See Rashi to Numbers 16:1 for the laws he scoffed at. See also https://parshaponders.com/korach-5778 for a deeper explanation for Korach’s arguments

[13] Mesillas Yesharim Chapter 5

[14] Rav Chaim Kanivesky offers a final suggestion: perhaps the munn only showed who was righteous or wicked specifically with regards to observing the laws of the munn. It would therefore prove irrelevant in this context