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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Korach

Parashat Korach

A Two-Tiered Machloket

Rabbi Yossef Carmel28 Sivan 5766
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One of the perplexing elements of the tragic dispute between Korach and company and Moshe was Bnei Yisrael’s reaction in its aftermath. Great miracles had proven clearly that Moshe had been right and Korach had paid with his life for his sin. How then could "neutral" people have joined up with Korach posthumously to condemn Moshe’s heavy-handed handling of the situation (see Bamidbar 17:6)? It is also interesting that their reaction does not occur right after witnessing the Divine swallowing up of Korach or burning of the 250 people who offered ketoret (incense). Rather, it occurred the day after Elazar took their ketoret pans and incorporated them into the mizbe’ach (altar) as a remembrance.

One could explain that in the immediate aftermath they were too scared to criticize Moshe but that they were emboldened as things calmed down. However, the Netziv profoundly uses the observations to explain each other. There was a qualitative difference between Moshe’s opponents. Korach, Datan, and Aviram had completely evil intentions and scorned Moshe and Aharon. They were swallowed up and disappeared from the scene. In contrast, the 250 who joined them were excited by Korach’s idea to increase the ranks of those who would serve Hashem in the Mishkan. For this reason, says the Netziv, the utensils used in their improper and ill-fated offering of ketoret could be incorporated in the mizbe’ach. While they were punished, it was in the manner of Aharon’s sons, Nadav and Avihu. They were remembered in a way that prompted others to learn the lesson from their serious mistake.

Upon seeing the respect given to the 250, the people thought that Moshe should have stopped their activities in a manner that protected their lives. Why did Moshe instruct them to bring incense as a deadly test? They were not aware that this was a Heavenly decree.

One can ask on the Netziv’s approach from the mishna in Avot: "Any dispute that is not for Heaven’s sake will not last ... this is the dispute of Korach and his congregation." After all, the Netziv said that the congregation’s intentions were reasonable?

The mishna, which mentions Korach and his congregation separately, may have been hinting that there were different levels of machloket going on simultaneously. The Netziv does point out that the 250 allowed their egos to carry them away and forget the crucial fact that Moshe was the "father of all prophets." Thus, this element of their dispute was not for Heaven’s sake, and Hashem put an end to their position in the dispute. The positive element of their behavior, including sincere service of Hashem with the ketoret, was eternalized in the mizbe’ach. Regarding Korach, there was nothing positive to salvage

We can learn important lessons. Even quality people with good intentions must avoid getting carried away and sinning terribly. Inversely, even those who sin terribly may be good people who, after receiving atonement for their sins, can leave some positive impact.

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