The Thirty-eighth Sedra
26 Sivan – 2 Tammuz 5781
FROM THE TORAH
Although Moses and Aaron have endured the murmurings of the Israelites who, in previous sedras, remember Egypt in strangely idealized terms, the endurance of the two leaders is condemned in Sedra Korach by various detractors: their cousin Korach and apparently other Levites, certain Reubenites, and 250 other leaders of Israel. The rebels accuse Moses and Aaron of overreaching. Moses sees in their protests motives of demagoguery and usurpation. Following a demonstrative judgment, duties and perquisites of Kohanim and Levites are demarcated.
KORACH AND OTHERS CONFRONT MOSES AND AARON
Korach (Korach) son of Yitzhar son of Kehath son of Levi takes it upon himself to join with the Reubenites Dathan and Aviram sons of Eliav and On son of Peleth, and 250 renowned and esteemed leaders of the Children of Israel. Together they rise and assemble against Moses and against Aaron. “The two of you have gone too far,” they protest, “for all the congregation are holy, with the Eternal in their midst; why do you exalt yourselves over the Eternal’s community?”
MOSES RESPONDS TO THE CHALLENGE
Hearing this, Moses falls upon his face and responds to Korach and his group: In the morning the Eternal will make known who is His, who is holy, whom He would draw near to Him. The one whom He chooses He will draw near to Him! Let all of you take fire pans, put fire in them and incense on top of the fire, before the Eternal tomorrow. The man whom the Eternal chooses shall be the holy one. You have gone too far, O sons of Levi!
To Korach, Moses delivers this message: Is it not enough that the Eternal has separated you, O sons of Levi, from the congregation of Israel to bring you near to Him for service in His Tabernacle and to minister to the congregation? Thus distinguished already, you and your fellow sons of Levi, seek also Kehunah (Priesthood)! But, really, you and your company are joining together against the Eternal, for why should Aaron be the target of your complaint?!
DATHAN AND AVIRAM ACCUSE MOSES
When Moses summons Dathan and Aviram sons of Eliav, they refuse, accusing Moses of bringing them up from a land flowing with milk and honey (cf. Exodus 3:8) in order to kill them in the wilderness and in the meantime to rule presumptuously over them. Even if you had succeeded in bringing us to a land flowing with milk and honey, they argue, where our portion would be fields and vineyards, you would not even then have the right to punish us!
MOSES DEFENDS HIMSELF
Moses angrily entreats the Eternal to disregard their offering, and he adjures: Not even a single ass have I taken from them, not one of them have I harmed!
THE ETERNAL INTERVENES
Moses orders Korach: You and all of your company, appear with Aaron before the Eternal tomorrow! Let each man offer a fire pan with incense before the Eternal: 250 fire pans and yours and Aaron’s! So each man takes a fire pan, puts fire in it and incense on top of the fire, and they stand at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting together with Moses and Aaron.
Korach has assembled there all of the congregation against them, and the Dense Presence (K’vod) of the Eternal appears. The Eternal directs Moses and Aaron to separate themselves from the congregation as He shall immediately destroy it. But they fall upon their faces and entreat: O God of the spirits of all flesh, if one man sins, will You be angry with the entire congregation?! The Eternal then bids Moses direct the congregation away from the dwellings of Korach, Dathan and Aviram. Accompanied by the Elders of Israel, Moses goes to Dathan and Aviram and has the congregation remove itself from the tents of those wicked men and avoid contact with anything of theirs so as not to be swept away by their sins.
In the meantime, Dathan and Aviram have themselves come out and are standing at the entrance of their tents, accompanied by their wives, their children, and their youngest. Moses declares: If all of these die in a manner that reflects the common fate of men, then the Eternal has not sent me on His behalf. But if the Eternal causes the earth to open its mouth and swallow them and theirs alive down to Sheol, then you shall know that these men have spurned the Eternal! Immediately upon the conclusion of his words, the ground is divided under them, the earth opens its mouth, and it swallows them, together with their houses, everyone associated with Korach, and all of their possessions. They all descend alive to Sheol, the earth covers them, they disappear from the midst of the community.
All of Israel standing around them flee at their cry, fearing: lest the earth swallow us as well! A fire goes forth from the Eternal, consuming the 250 men offering the incense.
DISPOSAL OF THE SACRED REMAINS OF THE FIRE
The Eternal bids Moses charge Elazar son of Aaron the Kohen with the responsibility of disposing of the remains of the fire pans of the sinners who lost their lives and of the fire. As they were offered before the Eternal, they became holy. The remains of the fire are to be scattered away. The fire pans are to be made into plates of metal as a covering for the Altar due to their sanctity and as a sign for the Children of Israel. Thus does Elazar the Kohen with the copper fire pans to remind the Children of Israel that only a descendent of Aaron may offer incense before the Eternal. Any other would suffer the fate of Korach and his company.
THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL PROTEST THE DEATHS
The next day all of the congregation of the Children of Israel complain against Moses and against Aaron: You have killed the Eternal’s people! As the congregation assembles, they see that the Tent of Meeting is covered by the cloud and there appears the Dense Presence of the Eternal. As Moses and Aaron reach the Tent of Meeting, the Eternal speaks to Moses: Remove yourselves from the midst of this congregation and I shall destroy them immediately! They fall upon their faces.
Moses orders Aaron: Put some of the fire from the Altar in a fire pan, add incense, and go quickly to the congregation to seek atonement for them, because the punishing effect of the Eternal’s wrath has begun. Aaron runs into the midst of the community, where the plague has begun, and there, where he stands between the dead and the living, the plague is arrested. The number of dead is 14,700, beyond the number of those who died in the affair of Korach (cf. Numbers 16:31ff.). As the plague is arrested, Aaron returns to Moses at the entrance of the Tent of Meeting.
The Eternal bids Moses charge the Children of Israel to collect from the chief of each father’s house his staff, twelve staffs in all, and to inscribe each man’s name on his staff, with the name of Aaron on the staff of Levi. Place the staffs in the Tent of Meeting before the Testimony, at the place where I meet with you, and the staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout. Thus shall I rid Myself of the complaints that the Children of Israel lodge against you.
Moses so instructs the Children of Israel, whose chiefs provide him their staffs, with the staff of Aaron among them. Moses deposits the staffs before the Eternal in the Tent of Meeting. On the next day, when Moses enters the Tent of Testimony, the staff of Aaron of the House of Levi has sprouted and blossomed, producing almonds. Moses brings out all of the staffs for all the Children of Israel to see and for the staffs to be returned. But the Eternal has him keep Aaron’s staff before the Testimony as a sign for rebels, to stem their complaints against Him, so that they do not die. Moses does exactly as the Eternal has commanded him.
THE ISRAELITES FEAR
But the Children of Israel say to Moses: We are dead, we are lost, all of us are lost! If one should even come near the Tabernacle of the Eternal, he shall die. Shall we ever finish dying?
SACRED CHARGES OF LEVITES AND KOHANIM
The Eternal says to Aaron: You, together with your sons and your father’s house, shall be responsible for any iniquity of the Sanctuary. Keep with you your brothers of the staff of Levi, the tribe of your father, that “they may be attached” (yilavu) to you and serve you and your sons before the Tent of Testimony. Let them keep your charge and the charge of all the Tent but without coming near to the sacred implements or to the Altar, so that they and you do not die. Only they shall be attached to you for all the service of the Tent of Meeting; no outsider shall draw near to you. I have taken, from the Children of Israel, your brothers the Levites as a gift for you, dedicated to the Eternal.
Only you, with your sons, shall be responsible for any iniquity of your Kehunah. The Kehunah of you and your sons shall apply to everything of the Altar and that which is behind the Dividing Curtain. You shall keep the charge of the Sanctuary and of the Altar so that there may be no more wrath upon the Children of Israel. The outsider who encroaches shall be put to death.
SANCTITIES ACCRUING TO PRIESTLY ANOINTMENT
The Eternal speaks to Aaron: I grant you charge of My sacred donations, all of the sanctities of the Children of Israel that accrue to your anointment and to that of your sons as an everlasting statute. This applies to the most holy offerings by fire; their meal offering, their sin offering, and their guilt offering, shall be yours and your sons’. You shall eat it in the most holy place, every male; it is consecrated to you.
Any devoted thing in Israel shall be yours.
The first issue of the womb of any animal, man or beast, that is offered to the Eternal, shall be yours. But you must see that the firstborn of man and the firstborn of an unclean animal are redeemed. Its redemption price, from the age of one month, shall be the equivalent of five silver shekels of sacral weight, that is, twenty gerahs. Do not redeem the firstborn of an ox, a sheep or a goat; they are holy. You must dash their blood against the Altar and turn their fat into smoke, a fire offering of a pleasant aroma to the Eternal. Their meat shall be yours, like the breast of a wave offering and like the right thigh.
FOR THE KOHANIM AND THEIR HOUSEHOLDS
Gift offerings shall also be yours, the wave offerings of the Children of Israel: I give them to you, to your sons, and to your daughters with you, as an everlasting statute. Everyone in your household who is pure may eat of it.
The freshest and choicest oil, wine and grain, and all first fruits of the Land, that is given to the Eternal, I give to you. Everyone in your household who is pure may eat of it.
All of the sacred donations which the Children of Israel donate to the Eternal, I give to you and to your sons and to your daughters with you, as an everlasting statute, an eternal covenant of salt before the Eternal, for you and for your offspring with you.
ENTITLEMENTS OF KOHANIM AND LEVITES
The Eternal says to Aaron: You shall not be entitled to the land of the Children of Israel or to any portion in their midst. I shall be your portion and your entitlement amidst the Children of Israel! And to the sons of Levi I grant every tithe in Israel in consideration of their service of the Tent of Meeting. No others of the Children of Israel shall approach the Tent of Meeting and thereby die of that sin. Only the Levite shall perform that service and be responsible for their iniquity appertaining to it, an everlasting statute throughout your generations. The Levites shall not be entitled to any portion among the Children of Israel, as their inheritance is the tithe of the Children of Israel which is separated for the Eternal.
TITHE FROM THE TITHE
The Eternal speaks to Moses: Speak to the Levites regarding the tithes that they receive from the Children of Israel. I have given them to you as your possession. From all of your tithes you shall take a tithe for the Eternal, which you shall give to Aaron the Kohen. It will be considered your sacred gift, like grain from the threshing floor, like the fullness from the vat. The part that is to be so consecrated must be its best part. The rest of it may be considered as the produce of your threshing floor or vat and therefore may be eaten anywhere by you and your household. You shall not be guilty of any sin as long as you have separated from it its best portion. Do not profane the sanctities of the Children of Israel, and you shall not die.
FROM THE PROPHETS
Haftarah for Shabbat Korach
I Samuel 11:14-12:22
Samuel convenes the nation at Gilgal to inaugurate the kingship of Saul. There, before the Eternal, they offer sacrifices of peace, and Saul and all of the men of Israel rejoice greatly.
Samuel addresses all of Israel: I am setting over you a king, as you have asked. The king will walk before you. I am old and gray; my sons are with you. I have walked before you from my youth until this day. Answer me in the presence of the Eternal and in the presence of His anointed: Whose ox have I taken, or whose ass? Whom have I defrauded, or whom have I oppressed? From whom have I taken a bribe to look the other way? If so, let me return it! They respond: None of these have you done!
Samuel continues: The Eternal is the Source of Moses and Aaron and all that they achieved, and it is He who brought up your fathers from the land of Egypt. It is He who brought them to this place. But as they forgot the Eternal, their God, He sold them into the hand of Sisera, captain of the army of Chatzor, and into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the king of Moab. They fought against them, and they cried out to the Eternal: We confess our sin and acknowledge our idolatry to the idols of Baal and Ashtoreth. We ask for Your deliverance and promise that we will serve You.
The Eternal sent Jerubaal (cf. Judges 6:32ff.) and Bedan and Jephthah (cf. Judges 11:8ff.) and Samuel, and He saved you from your enemies. But when you saw that Nachash, king of the Ammonites, was coming against you, you called for a human king (cf. I Samuel 8:4ff. & 11:2ff.), when the Eternal your God was your king! But here is the king whom you have chosen and whom the Eternal has placed over you. If you are true to the Eternal and obey Him, both you and your king, good and well. But if not, then the hand of the Eternal will be against you and against your fathers.
Now stand still and observe this great thing which the Eternal will perform before your eyes! It is already the season of the wheat harvest, yet I shall call to the Eternal that He send thunder and rain. Know and see thereby that your evil is great for having asked for yourselves a king.
Samuel calls to the Eternal, who sends thunder and rain on that day. The people are in great fear of the Eternal and of Samuel. They entreat Samuel to pray to the Eternal on their behalf, admitting their sin in having asked for a king. Samuel says to the people: Fear not, for though you have done this evil, turn not away from following the Eternal; serve the Eternal with all your heart! For by turning away from following the Eternal, you would go after vanities which can neither help nor deliver. Now the Eternal will not forsake His people, for the sake of His great name, for the Eternal has resolved to establish you as His people.
FROM TALMUD AND MIDRASH
Numbers Rabbah 18:1,14
“A brother offended
is harder to reconcile
than the strongest city,
and such disputes
are like the bars of a castle.”
This teaching applies to Korach’s dispute with his cousin Moses.
They were both grandsons of Kohath, son of Levi.
Korach rebelled against his Kohathite “brother” by demeaning the honor that they already shared as fellow Levites and Kohathites, and his disputes caused the earth to raise its bars against him. How are they “bars of a castle?” Because he rebelled not simply against Moses but against God in His “palace” as well!
The bars of God’s palace are immovable, as we find in its construction: “The middle bar within the boards extends from one end to the other” (Exodus 26:28). Such also were Moses and Aaron, the bars of His Tabernacle.
“The strongest city” may be likened to the Torah, as was said, “The Eternal grants strength to His people…” (Psalms 29:11a), as He granted them the Torah—but also, “…the Eternal bless His people with peace” (ibid. 11b)!
Numbers Rabbah 18:2
Korach’s Method and Motivation
He took words to persuade most of the leaders of Israel to follow after him. Similarly, “Moses and Aaron took these men who were designated by names” (Numbers 1:17), which are words. When the Eternal tells Moses, “Take Aaron and his sons with him” (Leviticus 8:2) to install them, Moses explains to the congregation, “This is the word which the Eternal commanded to do” (ibid., 5). The prophet prescribes, “Turn, O Israel, to the Eternal your God” (Hosea 14:2)—but how?—“Take with you words” (ibid. 3)! When Abram and Sarai enter Egypt, she was taken to the palace of Pharaoh because Pharaoh’s officers praised her beauty, that is, spoke words about her to Pharaoh. So we see that words of persuasion are associated with taking, and “Korach takes” means that he enticed their hearts with his words!
But what was his own motivation (self-persuasion)? Korach was the “son of Yitzhar son of Kehath son of Levi” (Numbers 16:1). Korach thought: My father Yitzhar was one of four sons of Kehath: “Amram, Yitzhar, Chevron, and Uzziel” (Exodus 6:18). From Amram the firstborn came his sons Aaron the Kohen Gadol and Moses the Melech (King). Who would be in line then for the next honor? The second son of Kehath, my father Yitzhar! But who was made head of the House of Kehath? My cousin Elitzaphan son of Uzziel (Numbers 3:30): Uzziel was fourth in line while my father Yitzhar was the second! I, as his son, should have been head of my family’s house instead of Elitzaphan son of the youngest! Korach therefore held it against Moses for passing over him and sought to undo everything that had been implemented by Moses. For that reason he took words to persuade most of the leaders of Israel to follow after him.
Talmud Yerushalmi Sanhedrin 10:1
Tanchuma Buber Korach 4
Numbers Rabbah 18:3
Korach the Apikoros
These words follow directly upon the conclusion of the preceding Sedra Shelach-Lecha: “Let them make for themselves tzitzith…” (Numbers 15:37ff.). Rav taught that Korach was an apikoros (an irreverent character). Based upon the preceding mitzvah of tzitzith, which prescribes a thread of techeylet (a particular color such as violet) among the corner fringes of a tallit (cloak), Korach floated the following halachic question to Moses: Suppose the cloak itself is colored entirely of techeylet, would it then require tzitzith? Moses answered that it would, based upon a verse found further on in the Torah: “Fringes shall you make for yourself upon the four corners of the cloak with which you cover yourself” (Deuteronomy 22:12), repetition of the mitzvah to underline the requirement of tzitzith even for a cloak colored entirely of techeylet! So Korach muttered: A tallit that is made entirely of techeylet does not fulfill the mitzvah, but four threads of techeylet do?!
Then Korach turned to the mitzvah of mezuzah: Would a house that is full of holy books still require a mezuzah, which contains only two small parshiyot (paragraphs) of the holy Torah (Deuteronomy 6:4-9 & 11:13-21)? Moses answered that it would, based upon the repetition of, “And you shall inscribe them upon the doorposts of your house…” (Deuteronomy 6:9 & 11:20)! So Korach muttered: The entire Torah, with its 275 parshiyot, does not fulfill the mitzvah of mezuzah for a house, but two parshiyot within a mezuzah do?!
To Korach, Moses said: Your questions are not based upon reverence for the commandments; rather, you are attempting to refute them because of your own heart (out of reverence for yourself)! The words, “Korach takes…,” then, should be understood in accordance with the same words that Eliphaz hurled against Job: “Why does your heart take you (carry you away)” (Job 15:12)?
Numbers Rabbah 18:5
Influence of Neighbors
Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai asked his students:
What is the virtuous path for man to follow?
Rabbi Yosi answered: A good neighbor.
What is the evil path for man to avoid?
Rabbi Yosi said: An evil neighbor.
(Mishnah Avot 2:9)
Dathan and Aviram were neighbors of Korach. As for Korach, grandson of Kehath, “the Levites would encamp around the Tabernacle of Testimony…” (Numbers 1:53), and “the families of the sons of Kehath (son of Levi) would encamp along the south side of the Tabernacle” (Numbers 3:29). As for Dathan and Aviram, grandsons of Reuben, “the Children of Israel would encamp around the Tent of Meeting at a distance (on the outer circle)” (Numbers 2:2), and “the banner of the camp of Reuben was positioned in the south…” (Numbers 2:10)!
But Judah and Issachar and Zebulun were neighbors of Moses and Aaron, as is written: “Those who would encamp directly east of the Tabernacle, east of the Tent of Meeting, were Moses and Aaron and his sons…” (Numbers 3:39), and “encamping on the easternmost side (on the outer circle) under the banner of the camp of Judah…” (Numbers 2:3) were also, “alongside him, the tribe of Issachar…” (Numbers 2:5) and “the tribe of Zebulun…” (Numbers 2:7)! Since Judah and Issachar and Zebulun were, in effect, adjacent to the Torah, they became learned of Torah, as is written, “Judah, my legislator” (Psalms 60:9), “of the sons of Issachar, who possess knowledge of the seasons…” (I Chronicles 12:33), and “from Zebulun, who hold the staff of a scholar” (Judges 5:14)!
Since Dathan and Aviram were neighbors of a demagogue, they were punished with him and thus disappeared from the world.
Numbers Rabbah 18:20,4
Talmud Sanhedrin 110a
Advice of Wives
“Korach…takes it upon himself
to join with the Reubenites Dathan and Aviram sons of Eliav
and On son of Peleth…”
“Moses summons Dathan and Aviram sons of Eliav…!”
On son of Peleth was so named because he was the beneficiary of miracles (pela’ot). Rav taught: His wife saved him by convincing him that he had no interest in Korach’s dispute: Whether Aaron or Korach is Kohen Gadol, in either case your status will be the same, that of a disciple, as they said, “All of the congregation are holy” (Numbers 16:3)! So what did she do? She gave him wine and put him to bed and sat at the door with her hair loosened. Thus, when anyone came for On her husband—when he saw her, he turned away. Eventually they were all swallowed up.
“The Eternal speaks to Moses:
Take the Levites from amidst the Children of Israel and purify them…
Sprinkle upon them water of purification
and have them shave all of their flesh…”
Thus did Moses to Korach, and Korach accounted it all to his wife: Not only that, but Moses also held my hands and my feet and waved me and declared me pure! She said to him: Look at what he has done: Moses is the Melech, he has made his brother the Kohen Gadol, appointed the sons of his brother the attending Kohanim, he has assigned terumah to the Kohanim, and of the ma’aser that he grants you he says take out one-tenth of it and give it also to the Kohanim! He treats you with disrespect and he is jealous of your hair!
But her husband pointed out that Moses had done the same to himself. She replied that since Moses had already coopted all of the honor, his thinking was resigned (like that of Samson when he pulled down the pillars of the temple of Dagon upon the Philistines and upon himself: “I might as well die with the Philistines” (Judges 16:30)!)
So we learn, “The wisest among women builds her house…” (Proverbs 14:1a)—that is the wife of On son of Peleth—“…while a foolish woman destroys it with her own hands” (ibid. 1b)—and that is the wife of Korach!
Numbers Rabbah 18:6
The Fourth Offense
“They assemble against Moses and against Aaron…:
‘You take too much upon yourselves,
for all the congregation,
all of them, are holy,
and the Eternal is in their midst;
why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of the Eternal?’
When Moses heard,
he fell upon his face.”(Numbers 16:3-4)
Korach said to Moses and Aaron: All of them heard at Sinai, “I, the Eternal, am your God…” (Exodus 20:2ff.)! So why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of the Eternal? If you alone had heard it, and they had not heard it, then you would have reason. But now that all of them have heard it, too, “Why do you exalt yourselves?”
Moses was frightened by this dispute because this was already the fourth such offense that the people had committed.
It may be compared to a prince who offends his father, the king, once, twice, three times. Each time the king is mollified by his devoted friend. But when the prince offends for a fourth time, the friend’s hands grow weak. “How many times can I beg the king?” thinks the friend.
The devoted friend here is Moses. When they sinned with the golden calf, “Moses implored the Eternal…: Why should Your anger…blaze forth against Your people…” (Exodus 32:11)? When the people complained bitterly against the Eternal at Taverah, “Moses prayed to the Eternal…” (Numbers 11:2). With the scouts, “Moses said to the Eternal, ‘When Egypt will hear…’” (Numbers 14:13). Now, with this dispute of Korach, how much more can I entreat the Omnipresent? Therefore, his hands grew weak; in other words, “he fell upon his face!”
Numbers Rabbah 18:7
Tanchuma Korach 5
Moses’s Guarded Response
“Moses…responds to Korach and his group:
In the morning the Eternal will make known who is His…”
Why “in the morning?”
Moses thought: Perhaps they have raised their protest out of overindulgence in food and drink. So, between now and tomorrow morning, perhaps they will repent of their dispute. In order to justify the delay in ascertaining God’s decision, he says to them: I am not allowed to enter God’s Presence just now. Of course God does not engage in eating and drinking Himself, as might have been inferred from Moses’s waiting. But now we can see that the real reason was because of our indulging in eating and drinking!
Another explanation: Moses was saying to them that the Holy One, blessed be He, has established boundaries in His world. For example, are you able to combine day and night? The answer is found in the first verses of Creation: “There was evening, and there was morning…” (Genesis 1:5) and “God made a separation between the light and the darkness” (Genesis 1:4)! This was done for the operation of the world. And just as He made a separation between the light and the darkness, so also He separated Israel from the other nations, as was said: “I have separated you from the other peoples to be Mine” (Leviticus 20:26).
Similarly, He has separated Aaron, as was said, “Aaron was set apart to be consecrated as most holy…” (I Chronicles 23:13). If you could blur the distinction which He has made between light and darkness, then you would be able to override this distinction (between Aaron and the congregation), too. Such is the reason why Moses said, “In the morning the Eternal will make known who is His…”: It has already been designated, like the separation between evening and morning and between Israel and the nations, “the one whom He chooses He will draw near to Him” (Numbers 16:5)!
Numbers Rabbah 18:8
“Let all of you take fire pans,
Korach and all of his congregation,
put fire in them and incense on top of the fire,
before the Eternal tomorrow…”
Why did Moses propose this?
He said to them: Other nations have a plethora of practices and priests while for us there is one God and one Torah, one Altar and only one Kohen Gadol. You are 250, all of whom seek the High Priesthood” (cf. Numbers 16:10)! I can go along with that: “Therefore let you and your congregation” (ibid. 11) “take fire pans…and put in them fire and place upon them incense…” (ibid. 6-7)! The incense is the most select of offerings but it contains within it a fatal ingredient, from which Nadab and Abihu were burned to death (cf. Leviticus 10:1 ff.). So I warn you now that only the one of you whom the Eternal shall choose as holy will emerge alive from this experience, and the rest of you will perish (cf. Numbers 16:7). “That should be sufficient warning for you, O sons of Levi” (Numbers 16:7)! Foolishly, notwithstanding his warning, they went ahead with the offering of incense, thereby sinning at the cost of their lives, as was said, “the fire pans of those who sinned at the cost of their lives” (ibid. 17:3).
But what drove Korach, who was clever, to pursue this nonsense? He was obsessed with a vision of his line into the future (cf. I Chronicles 6:16-23) including the prophet Samuel (cf. I Samuel 1:1), who was reckoned the equal of both Moses and Aaron, as was said, “Moses and Aaron among His Kohanim, and Samuel among those who would speak in His name—when they called to the Eternal, He would answer them” (Psalms 99:6), twenty-four Levitical generations of his descendants prophesying by the Holy Spirit (cf. I Chronicles 25:1-31). With such greatness to come from me, he thought, how can I keep silent?
But the grandeur as it applied to Korach was his delusion. The line into the future was not to the credit of Korach, even though they were his descendants, but to the credit of his sons, who repented of their association with their father’s sin, as was implied when the earth swallowed up Korach and his band, yet “the sons of Korach did not die” (Numbers 26:11)! Moses saw this in his response to the rebellion, but Korach misapplied his warning that only one would survive and the rest would perish, misapprehending that “the man that the Eternal would choose as the holy one” (Numbers 16:7a) would be him!
Talmud Rosh Hashanah 25a-25b
“The Eternal is the Source of Moses and Aaron and all that they achieved…
The Eternal sent Jerubaal (cf. Judges 6:32ff.)
and Bedan and Jephthah (cf. Judges 11:8ff.) and Samuel…”
(I Samuel 12:6,11)
When the Beit Din determined Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of every month,
they depended upon the testimony of witnesses
to report the first appearance of the crescent of the new moon.
Since the moon completes its revolution in approximately 29½ days,
witnesses would be received on the 30th day following the previous Rosh Chodesh.
If two witnesses came and their testimony was accepted,
the Beit Din would sanctify the 30th day as Rosh Chodesh.
If they did not come or their testimony was not accepted,
the 31st day became Rosh Chodesh by default.
It happened that two witnesses came to the Beit Din at Yavneh and testified that they saw the crescent on the 30th day. But on the night of the 31st day no crescent was seen! Rabban Gamaliel, Nasi (Chief of the Beit Din), accepted their testimony and sanctified the 30th day as Rosh Chodesh. Rabbi Dosa ben Harkinas objected: How can they testify that a woman has given birth while on the next day her belly is between her teeth? Rabbi Joshua (possibly the Associate Chief of the Beit Din) let it be known that he agreed with Rabbi Dosa ben Harkinas to disregard the testimony due to its apparent impossibility. Whereupon Rabban Gamaliel, recognizing that the calendar of sacred festival days of the current month of Tishri depended upon which day was determined to be Rosh Chodesh, ordered Rabbi Joshua: Appear before me with your staff and your money on the day that would be Yom Kippur (the tenth day of Tishri) according to your calculation!
Rabbi Akiba went to Rabbi Joshua and found him upset. So he offered him this teaching: Whatever Rabban Gamaliel decides (as Nasi) is thereby done, as was said, “These are the set times of the Eternal, sacred convocations, which you shall declare” (Leviticus 23:2,4,37), whether at their proper time or not at their proper time, I have no set times but these! (Rashi: “You” as the Beit Din determine them; Rabbeinu Chananel: Repeated twice to indicate that even in error, whether unintentionally or intentionally, there are no “set times” but what “you shall declare!”)
So Rabbi Joshua went to Rabbi Dosa ben Harkinas and said to him: If we question the decision of the Beit Din of Rabban Gamaliel, then we would have to question the decision of every Beit Din that has been established from the time of Moses until now, yet it was said, “Then Moses ascended, along with Aaron, Nadav and Avihu, and Seventy of the Elders of Israel” (Exodus 24:9), the names of the Elders not being disclosed, thereby avoiding comparison, in order to teach you that any Beit Din that has been established in Israel could be as good as the Beit Din of Moses!
Now Samuel was reckoned the equal of both Moses and Aaron, as was said “Moses and Aaron among His Kohanim, and Samuel among those who would speak in His name—when they called to the Eternal, He would answer them” (Psalms 99:6). Moreover, “Samuel said to the people: The Eternal is the Source of Moses and Aaron and all that they achieved…” (I Samuel 12:6); and then he cited along with himself three lesser of the “Judges”: “The Eternal sent Jerubaal (who is Gideon, cf. Judges 6:29,32) and Bedan (here referring to Samson, a Danite, cf. Judges 13:2ff.) and Jephthah (cf. Judges 11:8ff.) and Samuel…” (I Samuel 12:11). So here we see that Scripture compares three light “judges” to three profound leaders, saying that Jerubaal was in his generation like Moses in his generation, that Bedan in his generaton was like Aaron in his generation, and that Jephthah in his generation was like Samuel in his generation, in order to teach you that even when a mediocre person is appointed as leader over the community, he should be respected as on the level of the greatest!
Scripture also says that when there is a legal question, “You shall come to the Levitical Kohanim and to the judge who shall be in those days…” (Deuteronomy 17:9). Now can you imagine that a person could go to a judge who would not be in his days? Therefore, the implication of these words is to content yourself with and respect decisions of the judges who are in your days! This is in accordance with the sage’s advice, “Say not: Why were the former days better than these” (Ecclesiastes 7:10)!
Then Rabbi Joshua, with his staff and his money in hand, appeared before Rabban Gamaliel at Yavneh on the day that would have been Yom Kippur according to his calculation.
Our Rabbis taught: When Rabban Gamaliel saw him, he arose from his seat and kissed him on the head. He said to him: Peace upon you, my master and my student—my master in that you have taught me Torah in public, and my student in that you have accepted my decree and upheld it as a disciple. Happy is the generation whose leaders pay heed to their disciples: how much the moreso then do the disciples pay heed to their teachers! But why say how much the moreso: is it not normal for the disciples to pay heed to their teachers? The point is that because the teachers defer to the disciples, how much the moreso do the disciples apply this lesson to themselves!
Copyright © 2021 Eric H. Hoffman