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Parsha Pearls: Parshas Korach

For My honor you did not protest!
Not Just Anyone Can Interpret the Torah
When the Wicked Do Mitzvos
No Peace for the Wicked
Not Even a Needle

"For My honor you did not protest, but for the honor of a human being you protest!" (Nedarim 39b)

The Gemara says (Nedarim 39b) that when Korach stood up and denied the prophecy of Moshe Rabbeinu, the sun and the moon refused to shine, saying to Hashem, "If you do not stick up for the son of Amram, we will not shine!" Hashem shot arrows and spears at them and forced them to shine, saying, "Every day there are people who bow down to you and yet you continue to shine. For My honor you did not protest, but for the honor of a human being you protest!" Ever since that day, the sun and the moon do indeed try to protest for Hashem’s honor and not shine, but every day Hashem shoots arrows and spears at them and forces them to shine.

This is a puzzling story. From Hashem’s words it sounds as if He would have approved of the sun and moon going on strike for the sake of His honor. In that case He would not have forced them to shine. Only because they went on strike for Moshe Rabbeinu’s honor, did He force them. But at the end of the story, when they indeed did stop shining for Hashem’s honor, He forced them to shine. Why didn’t Hashem allow them to make the appropriate protest against the idol-worshippers?

The answer is that it was too late. They had already shined for so many centuries, despite the existence of idol-worship, that a protest at this point would be meaningless.

Today we are faced with legislation by the Zionist government to draft all Torah-observant Jewish men into their army. Why did Hashem send us this threat? What are we to learn from it?

Perhaps all these years we were like the sun and the moon: we protested the army for the honor of human beings, for the yeshiva bochurim, so that they could continue to learn Torah. Protesting for the honor of Torah scholars is no small thing, just as protesting for the honor of Moshe Rabbeinu was no small thing. But we did not protest the army for Hashem's honor. Hashem commanded the Jewish people to stay in exile until moshiach comes, not to establish a state and an army and not to wage wars. The Zionist army is the antithesis of all of that. We should have stated openly that we refuse to serve because fighting in that army is a rebellion against Hashem. That is why Hashem is now setting the Zionists loose upon us, to threaten us and scare us into joining them. We must do teshuva and begin to protest openly for Hashem's sake. Let us hope that it will not be too late, as in the case of the sun and moon, and Hashem will accept our protest and our Kiddush Hashem.

Another lesson to learn from the current events is based on Melachim II 3:27. There it is written that when Meisha, king of Moav, saw that the Jews were attacking him and winning, he took his firstborn son and sacrificed him upon the wall, and then "there was a great anger against Israel, and they departed and went home." In Sanhedrin 39b, there is a dispute as to whether Meisha sacrificed his son to Hashem, or to an idol. The Gemara says that according to the opinion that he sacrificed him to Hashem, we understand well why there was anger against Israel. But if he sacrificed him to an idol, why was there anger? The Gemara answers that Meisha’s action served as a reminder that the Jews also sacrificed their children to idols at that time. The question is: what did the Gemara mean earlier when it said that if he sacrificed to Hashem, we understand why there was anger against Israel? The Radak explains that when Meisha wished to do what he imagined was Hashem’s will, he stopped at nothing, not even having mercy on his own son. By contrast, the Jews at that time were sinners and they angered Hashem every day. Thus Meisha’s act aroused an accusation in Heaven against Israel.

Today as well, the Zionists are telling us that we have to fight in their army. Through this evil decree, Hashem is speaking to us: "Where is your army? The Zionists risk and often sacrifice their lives for their false religion, for what they imagine is Hashem's will. Why don’t you show any dedication and self-sacrifice for true Judaism?"

It took them a lot of hard work and mesirus nefesh to build their rebellion against Hashem, and it will take a lot of hard work and mesirus nefesh for us to undo what they did. Some of us may have to sit in jail. Some may have to go without money and some may have to move to lands where they have no home and no income.

At the same time, the current decree may be the first step to our yeshuah. The decree has united religious Jews in realizing that the Zionist state is not a safe or spiritually healthy place for a Jew to live. As a result, perhaps many religious Jews will leave Eretz Yisroel. Others will be denied the bribe of Zionist support due to their refusal to be drafted, and they will be free to speak their minds. Let us pray that Hashem guide all of Klal Yisroel in the right path.

And they gathered against Moshe and Aaron, and said to them, "You have taken too much for yourselves! For all of the congregation are holy…" (16:3)

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein explained that Korach thought that every Jew is entitled to fulfill the laws of the Torah in accordance with his own understanding. Korach's logic told him that a tallis made of techeiles was exempt from tzitzis, that a house full of seforim was exempt from mezuzah, and that he was entitled to be a kohein. But this is a great error; one must keep the Torah only as explained by the poskim of his time, who possess the traditions and methods of learning passed down from one sage to another throughout the generations. Without this, one is bound to make mistakes, often in the most serious of transgressions. In our long history we have seen many groups of heretics and wicked men who have based their beliefs on some inference from the Torah or the words of Chazal. Only the scholars and sages of the generation are to be entrusted with interpreting the words of Hashem Yisborach.

When the Jewish people said at Sinai, "We will do and we will listen" they were highly praised by Hashem: "Who revealed this secret to My children?" (Shabbos 88a). If their greatness was that they were ready to keep the Torah even before knowing what it said, then we should find that they were praised for saying, "We will do." Why was it important that they also said they would listen? The answer is that if a person promises to "do all that Hashem spoke" it could mean doing anything he feels is the will of Hashem. Many times he will end up doing the opposite of the true will of Hashem. For example, the Rambam tells in his Laws of Idolatry (1:1) how the generation of Enosh erred in thinking that worshipping the stars was the will of Hashem. Therefore the Jews promised, "We will do and we will listen," that is, we are ready to do anything, but we will only do what we hear is the true will of Hashem. We will toil in Torah study to understand every mitzvah properly, with all its details, according to the tradition transmitted by the sages; only what they tell us will be considered fulfilling the Torah. Such a promise is indeed worthy of the highest praise. (Darash Moshe)

In our generation as well, we see the religious proponents of Zionism claiming that their beliefs and practices are true to the Torah, and bringing proofs. We must remember Reb Moshe's words: that the Torah is not open to all to interpret, only to the great poskim of the generation. And none of the great poskim ever issued an halachic ruling permitting the establishment of a state. At the time the state was established, many ruled explicitly that it was forbidden, and the others refused to answer the question. (See Mikatowitz Ad Hei B'Iyar, Chapters 6-8.)

"If one man sins, will You be angry at the entire congregation?" (16:22)

The Akeidas Yitzchak (Shaar 78) explains that when Moshe Rabbeinu said this prayer, he was speaking about the principle of "arvus," under which every Jew can be held responsible for what every other Jew does. He prayed, "If one man separates himself by his sins from the body of our nation, will You hold everyone responsible for him? What does he have to do with us?" Hashem's answer was: "Get away from the tents of these wicked men, and do not touch anything that is theirs, lest you be destroyed with all their sins." (v. 26) In other words, He agreed to what Moshe said, but only on condition that everyone keep far away from the wicked men. This, says the Akeidah, is the reason for the ancient custom to place a ban of excommunication on a sinner. Even today, when the government has prohibited us from placing bans, we must stay far away from the tents of the wicked, and then no punishment will come upon us due to them.

The Maharam Schick writes in his responsa (Orach Chaim 303) about the mitzvah of rebuking sinners, "All of the above was said regarding a sinner who is still considered a Jew, but in the case of an apostate who is considered like a gentile, who has separated himself from the Jewish people by his sins, the Akeidah has already explained that this was Moshe's prayer…and so there is no mitzvah to rebuke him."

We can apply the Akeidah's words to the secular Zionists of our time: since they have denied all the foundations of Judaism and separated themselves from our people, we need not worry that we will be punished for their deeds. A state founded and run solely by them would not be counted in the eyes of Hashem as a sin of the Jewish people. However, we must be concerned about the religious Zionists, for they are definitely part of our nation and the principle of "arvus" – shared responsibility – applies to them. It is their participation in the state that causes us all to be responsible for this great sin. How great then is our obligation to rebuke them and bring them back to the true path of Torah!

Is it not the wheat harvest today? I will call to Hashem, and He will make thunder and rain, that you might know and see that your evil is great that you have done in the eyes of Hashem, to ask for yourselves a king. (Shmuel I 12:17)

Why did Shmuel choose this miracle – rain in the summer – to teach the people that they should not have asked for a king? And why are the words out of order? It should have said, "And see that in the eyes of Hashem you have done a great evil." Rabbi Azariah Figo (1579-1647) in his work Binah L'itim explains that in truth, we must first ask why it was wrong of the Jews to request a king, in light of the fact that appointing a king is a mitzvah, and in light of Yaakov Avinu's prophecy, "The scepter shall not depart from Yehudah…" (Bereishis 49:10) The Ramban in his commentary to that verse in Bereishis provides an answer: that the right time for the rule of tribe of Yehudah – Dovid Hamelech and his house – had not yet arrived. Rabbi Azariah explains that there were kings of other nations ruling at that time, and Hashem did not want the monarchy of Dovid to begin until these other monarchies had fallen. Thus when the people requested a king, they were forcing the hour, and so in place of a king from the chosen tribe of Yehudah, they were given Shaul, from the tribe of Binyamin, the last of the tribes. And because Israel trespassed over the border of the nations, so to speak, by appointing a king of their own while the nations' kings were still ruling, they caused the nations to trespass against them later. Had they waited till the proper time, perhaps no other nation would ever have been able to dominate them.

Since the request for a king would have been proper in the right time, but in the wrong time it was considered a sin and an ominous event, it is exactly comparable to a request for rain in the summer. When rain falls in its proper time, it is a blessing and a good fortune; we always ask for rain in our prayers in that season. But we do not pray for rain in the summer, and if someone does so accidentally he must repeat his prayers, for rain in that season is not desirable. Shmuel said to the people, "Your request is similar to the request I am about to make: I will call out to Hashem and He will send rain now, in the summer. Had you waited till the proper time to ask for a king, it would have been fine, but now you have acted foolishly, for you are implying that there is something lacking in the providence of Hashem, Who planned for you to have a king later, not now.”

This the meaning of the words, “The evil is great that you have done in the eyes of Hashem.” The “eyes of Hashem” is a metaphor for hashgacha – providence – as it says, “Constantly the eyes of Hashem your G-d are on it” (Devarim 11:12). Shmuel told them: “Your sin is that you deny the eyes of Hashem, which are watching over you constantly. Your request implies that you do not trust in Hashem’s providence, and that therefore you need a king to lead you.” (Binah L’itim, Drush 24)

And Moshe was very angry, and he said to Hashem, "Do not look at their offering." (16:15)

Rashi explains that every Jew has a share in the tamid, the public offering brought each morning and afternoon. Moshe prayed that the portions of the tamid offering belonging to Korach, Dasan and Aviram should not be accepted by G-d; they should not be consumed by the fire.

Why was Moshe so concerned that G-d not accept any offering from the rebels, even an offering unrelated to their challenge to him? The Ohr Hachaim explains that the Torah says that Hashem is "G-d of faithfulness, doing no wrong" (Devarim 32:4). This means that He does not withhold anyone's reward, and compensates even the wicked for the few good deeds they do. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 96a) says that the wicked Nevuchadnetzar became powerful due to the four steps he took with the intention of rewriting King Merodach's letter with G-d's name at the beginning instead of at the end. Moshe feared that Korach, Dathan and Aviram had some merit from their few mitzvos and would thus escape punishment and be able to continue in their heretical rebellion; therefore he prayed that G-d not give them credit for their portion of the offerings.

The Tanna Devei Eliyahu (Chapter 24) lists several wicked men who enjoyed great success in life due to a small good deed they had done: Esav shed three tears and so he received Mount Seir, a land of abundant rain; Elifaz honored his father and so he begot Amalek; Yeravam rebuked Shlomo Hamelech and so he ruled over the Ten Tribes; Agag cried that he was about to be killed without leaving any descendents, and so he begot Haman; Nevuchadnetzar walked four steps for G-d's honor and became a powerful ruler. This is comparable to a man who finds a lost garment near a town, and comes to the center of town and announces his find, asking the owner to come forward and claim it. The townspeople are impressed with his righteousness and piety and make him their leader. Eventually he uses his power to destroy the entire land.

Although the analogy is not exact – unlike the townspeople who were fooled, G-d knows the future and is aware that the wicked will use their power for evil deeds – the Tanna Devei Eliyahu's point is that not only are the wicked rewarded for their few good deeds, but that reward is often success and power which enables them to perpetrate even greater wickedness. Thus Moshe feared that G-d would pay back Korach, Dasan and Aviram for their few mitzvos, even if that reward meant that their rebellion would last longer and lead more people astray. He therefore prayed that their mitzvos not be accepted.

In Berachos 10a we read that some bullies were bothering Rabbi Meir, and Rabbi Meir prayed that they should die. His scholarly wife, Beruriah, told him that he should rather pray for them to repent, as it says (Tehillim 104:35), "May the sins be gone from the earth" – not the sinners but the sins. But in the prayer against the heretics, we say, "May all the heretics perish in an instant." Why don't we pray for the heretics to repent, as we do for all other sinners?

The Gemara in Avodah Zarah 17a quotes the verse, "All who go to it (i.e. heresy) will not repent, and they will not achieve the paths of life" (Mishlei 2:19). Asks the Gemara: if they will not repent, surely they will not achieve the paths of life, so the second half of the verse is unnecessary! The Gemara answers that it means that even if the heretic does repent, he will die right away. The Maharsha explains that G-d does this out of His great mercy on the repentant heretic. Heresy is hard to resist, and G-d knows that if he were to live, he would be likely to revert back to his old ways. Therefore He causes him to die right after repenting so that he can go straight to the World to Come.

According to this we can understand why we pray for heretics to perish, not to repent. Actually, we are praying for them to repent, but we know that even if they repent they will have to die right away lest they revert back to their old ways (Al Hageulah V’al Hatemurah, Chapter 67).

Besides the benefit of this to the heretic himself – that he will be sure to go to the World to Come – there is a benefit to us in his dying. If he lives and reverts back to his heresy, he will be even more powerful than before, since he will be armed with the merit of the good deeds he did during the time he repented - G-d does not withhold the reward of any good deed, even from the wicked.

There shall not be any more like Korach and his company. (17:5)

The Sefer Chareidim 4:42 writes: Whoever holds onto a dispute transgresses a negative commandment, as it is said, “There shall not be any more like Korach and his company.” But in the next paragraph (4:43) he writes: Whoever does not hold onto a dispute against those who are on the wrong path is punished for all their sins, and transgresses a negative commandment: “Do not bear sin because of him” (Vayikra 19:17). We see from this that failing to fight against the wicked is a greater sin than unnecessary fighting, because although both are negative commandments, failing to fight the wicked carries the additional penalty of punishment for the sins of the wicked.

One reason why fighting the wicked is important is that peace is not good for the wicked. Peace allows them to focus on accomplishing their goals. This is what Chazal state (Sanhedrin 71b): “Death for the wicked is good for them and good for the world. Death for the righteous is bad for them and bad for the world. Wine and sleep for the wicked is good for them and good for the world. For the righteous, it is bad for them and bad for the world. Scattering the wicked is good for them and good for the world. Scattering the righteous is bad for them and bad for the world. Gathering the wicked is bad for them and bad for the world. Gathering the righteous is good for them and good for the world. Peace for the wicked is bad for them and bad for the world; peace for the righteous is good for them and good for the world.” Rashi comments, “When the wicked are separated from each other, they cannot conceive of evil counsel and help one another.” Similarly, David Hamelech prayed (Tehillim 92:10), “Let all evildoers be split apart!”

But there are some statements of Chazal that seem to indicate that Hashem wants the wicked to be at peace. Rashi on Bereishis 11:9, quoting Bereishis Rabbah 38:6, says, “Which was worse, the Generation of the Flood or the Generation of the Dispersal? The Generation of the Flood did not raise their hands against Hashem, while the Generation of the Dispersal did. Yet the Generation of the Flood was drowned while the Generation of the Dispersal did not perish from the world. But the reason is that the Generation of the Flood were robbers and there was fighting among them, and therefore they perished. The Generation of the Dispersal treated each other with love and companionship, as it says, ‘One language and unified words’ (Bereishis 11:1). You learn from this that fighting is hated and peace is great.”

In Deretz Eretz Zuta 9, it says, “Rabbi Elazar Hakapar used to say: Great is peace, and hated is dispute. Great is peace, for even if Jews worship idols and there is peace among them, the Divine Presence cannot harm them, so to speak, as it says, ‘Ephraim is joined together with idols, let him be’ (Hoshea 4:17).

The answer is that certainly it is bad for the world when the wicked cooperate with each other peacefully. But since peace is a good trait and Hashem does not withhold the reward for any good deed, the wicked are rewarded for their peace, although that reward itself ends up being to their detriment. This is similar to all the reward Hashem grants the wicked in this world, which results in their downfall in the World to Come, as it says, “And He pays back His enemies to their face, to destroy them” (Devarim 7:10).

This concept – that Hashem rewards every little good deed of the wicked – is expressed in our Parsha. The Torah says, “And Moshe was very angry, and he said to Hashem, "Do not look at their offering" (16:15). Rashi explains that every Jew has a share in the tamid, the public offering brought each morning and afternoon. Moshe prayed that the portions of the tamid offering belonging to Korach, Dasan and Aviram should not be accepted by G-d; they should not be consumed by the fire. Why was Moshe so concerned that G-d not accept any offering from the rebels, even an offering unrelated to their challenge to him? The Ohr Hachaim explains that the Torah says that Hashem is "G-d of faithfulness, doing no wrong" (Devarim 32:4). This means that He does not withhold anyone's reward, and compensates even the wicked for the few good deeds they do. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 96a) says that the wicked Nevuchadnetzar became powerful due to the four steps he took with the intention of rewriting King Merodach's letter with G-d's name at the beginning instead of at the end. Moshe feared that Korach, Dathan and Aviram had some merit from their few mitzvos and would thus escape punishment and be able to continue in their heretical rebellion; therefore he prayed that G-d not give them credit for their portion of the offerings.

The Prophet Yishaya said (57:21), “There is no peace, said my G-d, for the wicked.” The Midrash comments: From here we see that the Holy One, blessed is He, loves the wicked. This seems to make no sense - if G-d loves the wicked, why doesn’t He give them peace? The Chida (Kisei Rachamim, Avos Derabbi Nosson Chapter 12) explains: “When the wicked are in one organization, they can destroy the world and commit terrible sins. Through G-d’s great mercy, there is no peace among them, and thus the number of sins is decreased. This is what it means that the Holy One, blessed is He, loves the wicked – he splits them up for their own good, so that they should not have so many sins.”

This is how Hashem punished the Generation of the Dispersal: He did not kill them, since they deserved to live in reward for their internal peace. Instead, He split them up with disputes, causing them to lose that good trait of peace, and as a result they were no longer able to destroy the world and commit sins. The dispersal was good for them and good for the world. (Vayoel Moshe 2:53)

And they and all that was theirs descended alive into the pit, and the earth covered them up, and they disappeared from among the congregation. (16:33)

Why does the Torah have to add the seemingly redundant words "and they disappeared from among the congregation"?

The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 18:13) quotes another verse describing the punishment of Korach's group: "The earth opened its mouth wide and swallowed them and their houses and their tents, and all the possessions that were at their feet, in the midst of all of Israel" (Devarim 11:6). The Midrash notes the words "in the midst of all of Israel" imply that Korach's group and their possessions fell into the earth wherever they happened to be. There are two ways to explain this. Rabbi Yehuda says that many mouths opened in the earth. Rabbi Nechemiah counters that the Torah says that the earth opened its mouth, singular. Rather, he says that the earth took on the shape of a funnel, and every member of Korach's group, wherever he happened to be, rolled down into the hole. The possessions (יקום, literally "stand up") mean the money, which allows a person to stand on his feet. Our Rabbis say: Even if they had given clothes to the cleaners, they rolled down and got swallowed up with them. Rabbi Shmuel ban Nachmeini said: Even a needle that had been lent out to another Jew got swallowed up. Why? Because he disputed against the Holy One, blessed is He.

This seems strange. We know that Hashem does not make miracles for no reason. We understand why a miracle was necessary to swallow up Korach: because he and his group disputed the prophecy of Moshe Rabbeinu, all of our emunah was at stake. But why did the earth have to form a funnel and swallow up everything belonging to them, down to the last needle?

The Torah says regarding idolatry: "No part of the condemned property [of the idolatrous city] shall stick to your hand" (Devarim 13:18). It is forbidden to derive any benefit from an idol, even by melting down its gold, or by selling it to a gentile. The Rambam (Moreh Nevuchim 3:37) explains that people often think chance occurences to be causative. People say, "Ever since he moved into that house, or bought this animal or tool, he became wealthy. It was that thing that brought him the wealth." Here too, perhaps a person will become very successful with the money gained by selling the idol, and he will think that the idol was the cause. Then he will believe in the power of the idol, the exact opposite of what the Torah commands.

Korach and his group had to be swallowed up in order to save the Jewish people from his dangerous heretical ideology. But it would not have been enough just to swallow up the people in the group. They had spread their ideology among the Jewish people, and if any of their property was left over and Jews would derive benefit from it, they would be influenced to follow the source of the benefit and attribute some truth to Korach's ideology. Hashem, in His great love for the Jewish people, made sure that not even a needle of theirs remained, for had it remained, that needle would one day stab at the Jewish people like a sword.

That is the meaning of our verse: "The earth covered them up" - Korach and his followers - "and they disappeared from among the congregation" - their false ideology disappeared from the hearts of the Jewish people. Since nothing was left of their possessions, there was nothing to pull other Jews after their ideology.

Now we understand why the verse in Devarim ends with the words, "And all the possessions that were at their feet, in the midst of (בקרב) all of Israel." The possessions would have caused the ideology of Korach to persist in the midst of - in the hearts and minds of - all of Israel.

Accordingly, we can explain the word קרב in another context. The Torah says (Devarim 4:34), "Or has any god ever miraculously come to take for himself a nation from the midst of (מקרב) a nation..." Simply understood, this is a reference to the Jewish nation being taken out from the midst of the Egyptian nation. But now that we have explained קרב to mean the hearts and minds of the people, we can read this verse the opposite way: the Egyptian culture and ideology was taken out of the midst of the Jewish nation.

If false ideologies are not removed from the hearts of the Jewish people, even those who continue to learn and keep the Torah will carry the poison with them. We refer to this in the prayer upon leaving the beis medrash (Berachos 28b), which goes as follows: "I give thanks to You, Hashem my G-d, for You have placed my portion among those who sit in the beis medrash, and You have not placed my portion among those who sit on street corners." The last part of the sentence seems to be redundant - if one is sitting in a beis midrash, he is of course not on a street corner. But the answer is that if one has spent time among those who sit on street corners, even when he comes to the beis midrash afterwards he brings street corner ideologies with him and passes them along to others learning there. The beis midrash itself then becomes a street corner. We thank Hashem for the fact that we sit in the beis midrash and are not simultaneously sitting on a street corner. (Divrei Yoel, Naso pp. 124-125)