The Torah portion of Korach recounts how G-d told Moshe and Aharon: "Separate yourselves from the midst of this community and I will destroy them in an instant." Moshe and Aharon responded: "G-d, L-rd of all spirits, if one man [Korach] sins, shall you direct Your wrath at the entire community?"
Rashi explains that the phrase "L-rd of all spirits" refers to G-d's omniscience. Moshe and Aharon therefore added these words to their rejoinder for, as Rashi says, they were in effect saying: "Unto You is revealed all thoughts; You know who is the sinner. If one man alone has sinned, shall You direct Your wrath at the entire community?"
G-d responded: "You have spoken well. I know, and shall make known, who has sinned and who has not."
Why does Rashi use the term "You know who is the sinner" rather than the more commonly used expression "It is known to You," as in "It is revealed and known to He who spoke and the world was created"? Particularly so, since Rashi begins by saying "it is revealed." It would thus seem more appropriate for him to conclude with "It is known to you."
The explanation is as follows. Moshe and Aharon understood that since G-d knows everything with His particular knowledge and providence, He clearly knows who actually sinned. And, in fact, it was only one individual, as Rashi says: "If one man alone is the sinner."
Only one individual was actually considered to be the sinner, although many joined Korach in his revolt, because Korach was the only instigator; it was he alone who had the intention of revolting against G-d. The other individuals were merely beguiled by Korach into joining him.
Because there were such great differences among those who participated in the revolt, and in their intent to rebel, Moshe and Aharon correctly argued that there must also be a difference in the severity of punishment; those individuals whose intention was less malevolent should be judged more leniently.
G-d's response: "You have spoken well; I know, and shall make known, who has sinned and who has not," indicates that He agreed that there would indeed be a difference in the degree of punishment - the instigator would be judged more harshly than those enticed by him.
The reason why Rashi uses the expression "Unto You is revealed all thoughts; You know who is the sinner," as well as the reason for the expression "I know," now becomes clear.
There are two levels of Divine knowledge and providence. The first is considered "revealed and known." This means that G-d does not vest Himself in the knowledge and providence, but rather that everything is revealed and known to Him as a matter of course.
Although this knowledge embraces each and every detail, since it transcends vestment within created beings and is thus disassociated from them, it encompasses all beings equally. The actions of created beings cannot affect this level, nor do individual differences have any bearing upon it.
Then there is the level of providence and knowledge whereby "G-d knows," i.e., G-d occupies Himself, as it were, in a vested manner. There are differences on this level, in consonance with the specific level of each created being.
Because it is only here that the actions of created beings are closely examined and have an effect, as it were, above, reward and punishment according to the actions of the different created beings emanate specifically from this level, the level of "G-d knows."
Rashi thus chooses the word "knows" and not "it is known" with precision, as reference is being made to that level from whence reward and punishment come.
Moreover, knowledge at the level of "knows" is in a vested manner, wherein there is awareness of all the details. It is on this level that there is a distinct difference between Korach (the true rebel) and those who merely were taken in by him.
Moshe and Aharon thus addressed G-d as the One who "knows." To which the response was that He does indeed "know," and therefore will vary the severity of retribution between Korach and the rest of the community.
Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XVIII, pp. 196-198.
- (Back to text) Bamidbar 16:21-22.
- (Back to text) Eruvin 13b, et al.
- (Back to text) Torah Or, p. 14d; See Derech Mitzvosecha, Mitzvas Eved Ivri ch. 2; VeHinei Nisba'eir Li'eil 5663.
Rashi in his second comment on the verse
"Moshe was greatly angered [with the band of rebels] and said to G-d: 'Do not pay heed to their offering...,' " notes the following: "The Midrash says:
[Moshe said to G-d,] 'I know that they have a portion in the communal offerings. Their portion as well should not be accepted by You....' "
This needs to be understood. Since these were communal offerings, they had no association with particular individuals. For a community is not a partnership of many individuals, but an entirely novel entity unto itself.
Since an individual sharing in a communal offering is a seeming impossibility, why was Moshe concerned that the rebels' share of the communal offering not be accepted, if they - like all other individuals - had no such share?
Rashi's statement that "they have a portion in the communal offerings" means the following: Since each individual Jew was commanded to give a half-shekel from which the communal offerings were to be purchased, and since, moreover, this donation brought about personal atonement, each and every Jew therefore had a portion in the offerings.
And although it was necessary that each individual "hand over [the half-shekel] 'extremely well' " in order to create the new entities known as "communal money" and "communal offerings," it was impossible to wholly eradicate the individual's contribution.
This will be better understood in light of the fact that as explained in Kabbalah, "Holiness does not move from its place," which as the Alter Rebbe explains, means that "even after it [i.e., holiness] has ascended on most high, it is still not totally uprooted from its first place."
So even after the coins had been elevated to the status of "communal money" they still retained the sanctity generated by the individual donors. Thus, even with regard to communal offerings it is correct to say that individuals "have a portion." Moshe therefore asked G-d not to accept the rebels' portion.
In light of the above, we may better understand why Moshe said "I know (that they have a portion in the communal offerings)," rather than simply saying "they have a portion in the communal offerings."
The words "I know" uttered by Moshe emphasize that this knowledge is not something readily grasped by most people on their own, but rather emanates from Moshe, the nasi, the leader, of the generation.
For ordinarily the individual and the community are two distinct and even competing entities, similar to individual and communal offerings, each of which is entirely different from the other.
This difference also descended into the world at large, giving rise to two types of societies: those that stress the needs of the community as a whole, even when these impinge upon the rights of the individual, and those which value the rights of the individual, even if this sometimes means forgoing the communal good.
However, this sharp distinction exists only in the ordinary scheme of things, but not from the perspective of the nasi. For as the leader of the generation, the "nasi being all," he has the ability to unite the individual and the community into one cohesive entity.
This is similar to the two qualities found in the nasi himself: On one hand, he is just an individual; on the other, all his characteristics and deeds relate to the entire community. So too, he is leader not only of the collective whole, but of each individual in particular.
Therefore it was specifically Moshe who could sense that within the communal offerings were felt the unique aspects of each individual.
Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXXIII, pp. 105-111.
- (Back to text) Bamidbar 16:15.
- (Back to text) Tanchuma, Korach 7; Bamidbar Rabbah, 18:10.
- (Back to text) See Rashi, Shmos 30:15.
- (Back to text) Ibid.
- (Back to text) See Rabbeinu Bachya on Bamidbar 16:15.
- (Back to text) See Rosh HaShanah 7a and additional sources cited there. See also Mishneh LeMelech, Hilchos Klei HaMikdash 6:9.
- (Back to text) See Sefer HaMaamarim 5711, p. 31 and fn. ibid.; Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XVIII, p. 113ff.
- (Back to text) See Eitz Chayim 4:3, 34:3, 35:1. See also Pardes 14:1 as well as Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXXII, pp. 24-25 and sources cited there.
- (Back to text) Iggeres HaKodesh, Biur to Epistle 27 (p. 147a).
- (Back to text) See Peirush HaMishnayos of the Rambam, Introduction to the Order of Kodshim.
- (Back to text) Rashi, Chukas 21:21.
The Torah portion of Korach is named after the individual who led a revolt against Moshe and Aharon. How is it possible that an entire Torah portion, including the many parts that do not deal with Korach and his revolt, should be named after an unrepentant rebel,
an evil person "whose name is not mentioned"?
We must perforce say that Korach possessed some merit, for which reason the portion is named after him.
Korach and his band revolted out of their desire to be priests - High Priests. The Midrash tells us that in trying to dissuade them from their folly, Moshe said: "We have but one G-d ... and but one High Priest; the 250 of you all desire to be High Priests?! I, too, desire to be one!"
Moshe was thus telling them that while their desire was proper and laudable, it was also unrealistic, since there could only be one High Priest at any given time.
Korach's quality will be even better understood according to the exposition of the Alter Rebbe. Our sages inform us that in the Time to Come, the Levites will become Kohanim. Korach, the Alter Rebbe explains, desired to bring about this change during his time. "He was, however, sadly mistaken, for this manner of conduct can only come about when all is purified and refined." Thus, Korach's intent was indeed lofty; he desired to reveal in his times that which will only be revealed in the Time to Come.
Herein lies the difference between Korach's error and that of the spies, who returned - as related in the previous section of Shlach - from spying out Eretz Yisrael with a negative report about the land.
The spies' underlying motive for their unglamorous report was a good one as well - they much preferred the wholly spiritual lifestyle that they enjoyed in the desert to the more mundane existence they would have to lead upon entering the land. They were, however, greatly mistaken, for G-d's main desire was that they perform physical mitzvos in Eretz Yisrael. The spies' error thus lay in their very approach; they were conceptually wrong.
Korach, however, was not wrong in theory, for what he desired - that the Levites be Kohanim - is in fact what will exist in the Time to Come. It was only that his timing was off.
The reason for the Torah portion's title will be understood accordingly. It stresses the positive aspects of Korach - his desire for the High Priesthood, and his desire to transform the present into the splendid future.
These positive aspects of Korach are also alluded to when Rashi explains the words "Korach took" to mean "he took himself," i.e., he reached into the very depths of his soul.
Moreover, Rashi traces Korach's illustrious lineage not only - as the verse does - to "Yitzhar, the son of Kehos, the son of Levi," but also to Levi's father, Jacob.
There are a number of important lessons here. First, we should strive to emulate Korach's desire to become a High Priest. However, together with this desire to reach the greatest heights, we must also know that we have to descend within the world of Torah and mitzvos, and that indeed, "deeds are above all else."
Yet another lesson: When we meet a Jew whose conduct is similar to Korach's in the simple context of the verse, we are not to think: "What possible connection have I with such an individual? How can I possibly descend into 'the pit' to rescue him?"
Rather, we learn from this section that even a Jew whose actions are of the lowest order has an illustrious ancestry embedded deeply within him. Even such an individual can be roused to proper behavior and performance of mitzvos, for the inner recesses of even such a person's heart remain steadfastly bound to G-d and His Torah. All this person has to do is "take himself" in hand, and he will succeed in revealing his wonderful inner qualities.
Based on Sefer HaSichos 5748, Vol. II, pp. 500-505.
- (Back to text) See Sanhedrin 110a; Tanchuma, Korach 11; Zohar, Vol. III, p. 56b; Rashi, Korach 16:7.
- (Back to text) Yoma 38b.
- (Back to text) Bamidbar 16:10.
- (Back to text) Rashi, ibid., verse 6.
- (Back to text) Tanchuma, Korach 5; Bamidbar Rabbah 18:8.
- (Back to text) Likkutei Torah, Korach, p. 54b ff.
- (Back to text) Likkutei Torah of the AriZal on Yechezkel.
- (Back to text) See Likkutei Torah, Shlach 37b ff.
- (Back to text) Korach 16:1.
- (Back to text) Avos 1:17.
- (Back to text) See Igros Kodesh of the Rebbe Rayatz, Vol. II, p. 80, and sources cited there.