According to ancient sources, Korach, the central figure as this week’s reading begins, was a very wealthy man. While still in Egypt, he had discovered one fo the three warehouses where Joseph had accumulated treasures for Pharaoh during the seven years of plenty. Korach’s wealth had bred arrogance and a haughty self-confidence. He was not content with financial power; he wanted political power as well.
In addition, Korach was a relative of Moses, both of them being from the tribe of Levi.
As this week’s parsha opens, Korach, along with Dathan, Abiram and On, descendants of Reuben, all stood together against Moses (Bamidbar/Numbers 16:1-3). Korach was the obvious leader and in essence, he challenged not only the leadership of Moses, but his divinely appointed mission and even the Torah itself.
But Korach is not honest in his accusations. He used flattery of the masses to mask his jealousy of Moses.
“All the people are holy,” he declared. In other words, ‘Why should you have authority over all of us? We can hear for ourselves what Hashem wants? Who do you think you are? I’m also a Levite. Why shouldn’t all of us have the same privileges that you have? It’s just not right!’ He made it appear as if he wanted the entire people to have a voice in what would be done and what wouldn’t be done (democracy). In truth, however, Korach wanted all the power for himself.
The Midrash tells us that during this confrontation, Korach challenged even the mitzvot. For example, Korach asked Moses,’If a tent is filled with holy books (scrolls), does it still need a mezzuzzah?’ Moses replied that most certainly it did according to the Torah. Korach laughed mockingly and said, ‘What benefit are a few words carved on the tent pole compared to several scrolls within the house? It’s nonsense!’
Korach analyzed the mitzvot as if he were dealing with man-made laws. He rejected the principle that Torah is from Hashem and while we seek to understand as much as we can and study its words continuously, we also accept that it is not necessary to understand, but to do. Korach forgot what Israel said at Sinai: “We will do, and we will hear.” Instead he was submitting the commandments of the Torah to his own human evaluation – an exceedingly dangerous thing to do.
The bottom line principle is this: It is essential to know WHAT Hashem said; it is even more essential to accept THAT He said it! What Hashem gave us in the Torah should indeed be read, discussed, analyzed and applied, NOT for argument or human judgement, but for the purpose of our individual and national spiritual growth. Visit any Beit Midrash (house of study) in Israel or abroad, and you will witness lively and often loud discussions and debates about the Torah and its message. But the discussions are not geared towards accepting or rejecting Torah; they are for the purpose of digging deeper into its true meaning.
That is where Korach went wrong, driven as he was by jealousy.
We know the end of the story: Korach, Dathan and Abiram and their families along with all their possessions were destroyed completely because they arrogantly rebelled against Hashem’s purpose for Israel and His divinely appointed leader.
But did you notice that one of the four men mentioned at the beginning is missing from the judgement? On, the son of Peleth, descendant of Reuven, was listed as a leader of the rebellion in the opening verse. However, afterwards he is never mentioned again. There is no indication that he and his family were destroyed. Where did he go?
After Korach’s confrontation with Moses, we read that Moses fell on his face. As was his habit, he sought wisdom from Hashem. In the very next verse, he declares to Korach and his companions that “In the morning Hashem will show Who is His servant…” It could be that Moses hoped that overnight these men would come to their senses and repent.
The Midrash informs us that when On returned home that evening after the confrontation, his wife pleaded with him to remove himself from Korach, Dathan and Abiram. She reasoned with him, saying, “Do you really think that Korach cares anything about you? If he succeeds in seizing power, he’ll forget all about you. Can’t you see that all he really wants is power for himself? Don’t be deceived; don’t endanger us because of foolish promises that Korach will never keep. He is not a man to be trusted.” With these words and more, On’s wife succeeded in talking sense into her husband’s mind and he did not return with Korach the following morning.
Mishle/Proverbs 14:1 A wise woman builds up her house but a foolish woman destroys it with her own hands.
Korach’s wife is described as an arrogant and manipulative woman. She encouraged Korach in his rebellion.
She paid with her life and that of her children.
On’s wife turned her husband toward Hashem and His ways; toward righteousness, repentance and integrity.
At least two of the sons of Korach also had a change of heart overnight and removed themselves from their father’s rebellion. We know that because in the book of Psalms, written much later, we find psalms written by “the sons of Korach.”
In Tune with Torah this week = 1) We study Torah to grow spiritually, not to pass judgement on its commandments; 2) ladies, be a force for spiritual good for your husband and your children at all times.
The rewards of both of these principles are eternal.