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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Korach

Parashat Korach

How When Affects Who, What, Where and Why

Rabbi Yossef Carmel30 Sivan 5764
3295
Dedicated to the memory of
Yaakov Ben Behora
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One who learns the parashiyot of Bamidbar casually may view the described events as independent episodes that occurred "whenever." In fact, while some events clearly transpired in the first year in the midbar (wilderness) and others took place during the 40th and final year, there are several important events whose timing is not evident from the Torah. In some cases, the chronological question may seem technical, but there are cases where the timing affects the very nature and message of the events that occurred.

Let us give a few examples. When did the m’koshesh (Bamidbar 15:32-36) desecrate Shabbat? Rashi brings the view that it was on the second week after Bnei Yisrael were commanded to keep Shabbat. Thus, the nation was disgraced for not succeeding in keeping more than one Shabbat. The Ramban learns from the proximity to the Sin of the Spies that it occurred soon after that sin, a full year later.
The C’naani (Amalek) attacked Bnei Yisrael and took captive(s) (Bamidbar 21). According to the gemara (Rosh Hashana 3a), they seized the opportunity of Aharon’s death (in the 40th year) to attack. The Radak says that the matter refers to the defeat of the ma’apilim, who decided to go to Eretz Yisrael after Hashem decreed that they would have to wait 40 years because of the Sin of the Spies. The difference is not just 38 years, but affects which generation it affected. Was it the generation that had been liberated from slavery and had been decreed to die in the midbar, or was it the generation that had grown up in the midbar and was preparing to take on the challenges of entering the Land?

A very significant difference of opinion is found in our parasha. When did Korach’s rebellion occur? Ibn Ezra (16:1) bases himself on the group’s main complaints to arrive at the following thesis. The Tribe of Levi, Moshe’s tribe, replaced the firstborn in their projected role of religious leadership. The Levi’im were put at the disposal of the Kohanim, Moshe’s brother’s family. The Tribes of Yosef supplanted the Tribe of Reuven, Yaakov’s firstborn. When these events occured, the reaction was prompt and severe; Korach led a rebellion of the disgruntled groups.

The Ramban (ibid.) cannot accept that approach. After all, his guiding chronological principle is that the Torah records all events in order, except in the few cases where it is explicit that is not so. Therefore, he says, the rebellion must have been after the difficult events of the second year had transpired. No one could have cast aspersions on Moshe’s leadership soon after leaving Egypt and after Moshe had saved the nation from Hashem’s wrath after the Sin of the Golden Calf. Only later, when Moshe did not prevent the punishment of 40 years in the midbar or the punishment received at Kivrot Hata’ava, did Korach’s band take old grievances out of the closet.

Let these examples encourage us to keep our eyes and minds open to the interaction between timing and content in the Torah.

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