Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Korach
To dedicate this lesson

The Prophet Shmuel "Caused" the Sin

The Prophet Shmuel is the "cause" for the uprising by Korah and his gang. But if we look more deeply, we will see that Shmuel is also the rectification of Korah's sin! How so?


Rabbi Netanel Yossifun

Sivan 25 5782
Translated by Hillel Fendel

The renowned Rebbe Mendel of Kotzk was once speaking to his students about Parashat Korah and the rebellion he tried to wage against Moshe and Aharon. The Rebbe laid out Korah's complaints against Moshe Rabbeinu so convincingly, that the students began to think that if their Rebbe had lived during the times of the Israelites in the desert, he would actually have joined up with the bad guys!

Such a suspicion is of course groundless, but this story expresses that which our Sages taught: Despite the terrible dispute that Korah and his gang initiated, with such destructive consequences, Korah in fact had many great qualities, and his claims were not (only) cheap demagoguery, but also bore the seeds of a genuine spiritual disagreement that needed to be clarified.

As is well-known, the story of Korah's rebellion is a popular one for Torah preachers, lecturers, and darshanim. Over the years, many lessons have been taught and learned about the dangers and insidious nature of discord and friction. In this article, however, we would like to focus not on Korah's personality or his downfall, but rather on the manner in which his great, fallen strengths were rectified, and how they returned over the generations to illuminate appropriately within the Jewish nation.

Jewish tradition and history teach and show that every downfall inevitably leads to a rectification. Even regarding a fallen soul, G-d "devises means that even one who is banished, should not be cast from Him" (Shmuel II 14,14). If a given force suffered a downfall in one generation, it will be revealed once again in another generation in a corrected way. Even regarding Korah, the Torah states that his sons did not die (Bamidbar  26,11), meaning he had a continuation.

In fact, the Sages teach: "Korah was clever; why then did he engage in this foolishness [of a rebellion against Moshe]? It is because he saw prophetically that his descendants would be a great dynasty, including the Prophet Shmuel about whom it is written that he was equal to Moshe and Aharon. Korah thereupon said, 'Such greatness is due to stem from me, should I then remain silent and not take my portion?'"

That is to say, Korah looked into his own soul and his strengths, and saw among them Shmuel – for a person includes in his soul all the souls and strengths of his descendants. Korah saw that all of Shmuel's strengths and powers were hidden within himself (Korah) – and this gave him the motivation to rail against Moshe and Aharon.

As such, the Prophet Shmuel is the "cause" for the uprising by Korah and his gang. But if we look more deeply, we will see that Shmuel is also the rectification of Korah's sin! How so?

Korah said something positive - "The entire congregation is holy" – together with the negative words, "so why do you [Moshe and Aharon] raise yourselves up above the community of G-d?" He is protesting the various assignments given to the leaders of Israel. He is not willing to accept that there are Priests and other leaders whose function it is to raise up the entire nation. And in fact, at first glance, Shmuel the Prophet seems to be taking this very same approach! This began with his very first childhood days in the Tabernacle with Eli HaKohen. The Midrash tells us that when Shmuel was first brought to the Tabernacle in Shilo, his family wanted to offer the thanksgiving offerings that his mother Chana had brought – but they could not find a kohen to slaughter the animals. When little Shmuel saw this, he told the kohanim, "What's the problem? The Halakha [Jewish law] states that slaughtering may be done even by an Israelite [and not just a kohen]!"

The Priests heard and brought Shmuel's words to the leader of the generation, Eli the High Priest, who said, "Shmuel is right – but there is another law in Halakha that forbids one from ruling on Jewish Law before his teacher; and since I was right there, he never should have issued that ruling – and moreover, who does so, is liable for the punishment of death."

On a deeper level, we see that Shmuel appears to be following the route taken by his ancestor Korah, agitating against the authority of Eli – who was both the generation's leader like Moshe, and a High Priest like Aharon.

When Chana heard that Shmuel might be executed, she protested greatly, as expected, and Eli offered the following proposal: "Shmuel will be put to death, but I will pray for you to have another son even greater than him." She did not accept this: "It is for this boy that I prayed" (Shmuel I 1,27) - that is, there can be no substitute for Shmuel.

And on a deeper level, Chana is saying, "Don't worry about his Fear of Heaven, for I prayed for him. This boy has a mother who prayed for him during Shabbat candle lighting and at every opportunity, and this connection between prayer and his forebears will watch over him and ensure that he walks in the ways of Moshe and Aharon."

And in fact, Shmuel grew up to become the next leader of the generation, but at the same time remained a loyal student of Eli. He implemented in an affirmative manner the positive words of his ancestor Korah – "the entire congregation is holy" – by walking among the people, from place to place, to turn their hearts back to their Father in Heaven.

And all this was in the merit of the prayers and Fear of Heaven of his mother Chana, as well as her devotion to him materially, as is written, "His mother made for him a small robe, and she would bring it up to him from time to time" (2,19).

Let this be a call to all the mothers of Israel: "Pray for your children. It is from you that Fear of Heaven, theirs and all of ours, will sprout."

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