Beit Midrash

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To dedicate this lesson
based on Siach Shaul, p. 403

His Eye Deceived Him


Rabbi Shaul Yisraeli zt"l

Sivan 23 5780
What do we learn from the story of Korach? Was it written just to teach what happens as a result of dispute between leaders in Israel? It would seem not, because right after Korach had been "defeated," we see that the people were still complaining about Moshe, which required another miracle, of the flowering staff, to settle (Bamidbar 17:24). Even then, we do not see that people regretted their old positions. Furthermore, the Torah states that the point was to "lower from over Me the complaints of Bnei Yisrael" (ibid. 20). There was no attempt to totally eliminate them. If the point were just to show Moshe’s primacy, it would not have been necessary to describe the prominence of those who joined Korach. Is it complimentary to Moshe to see how even the most respected people were not confident of his greatness?!

It seems that the greatest lesson was what Rashi (Bamidbar 16:7) pointed out: "What did the wise Korach see that brought him to this silliness? His eye deceived him," in that he saw that the great Shmuel descended from him. This teaches us to what extent the "eye" can deceive: someone who was wise and great enough to see into the future still made a mistake so grave as to have him lose his whole world in a matter of moments.

A person should not be confident that he has his life under control. A person like Korach, who walked around filled with miztvot, wearing tzitzit and tefillin, and had access to the divine spirit, could make such a deadly mistake. Certainly he and the 250 heads of courts who followed him thought they were coming to save Judaism – a lofty and holy cause.

This can be because it is possible to be what the Ramban (Vayikra 19:2) calls a "disgusting person with the ‘permission’ of the Torah," but in so doing violate the edict to "be holy" (ibid.). It is interesting that Korach rallied around specifically that mitzva of being holy ("for all the congregation are all holy" – Bamidbar 16:3). He mistakenly thought that his approach was that of holiness and thereby he was a builder of Judaism, upon whose shoulders the nation would stand. He acted with the illusion that he was acting for heaven’s sake without realizing that it was the Satan who was pushing him and that his theory was a satanic one that would destroy him.

The divine calculations of what is a mitzva and what is an aveira are such that only one who has dominion over his evil inclination can discern (see Bava Batra 78b). If there is something wrong with a person’s control over his evil inclination, then his calculation of the mitzva is not a valid calculation. Then, one can speak of sanctity and in the name of sanctity, but really be speaking as a disgusting person.

Indeed, the purpose of the mitzvot is to discipline a person, so that the disgusting part is removed from his heart. Our religious belief is that only mitzvot can accomplish this. However, the mitzvot are but a tool [in this regard], and if they are not used [properly], it cannot work even if it is the greatest tool.
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