In this parsha we learn about the Korach's rebellion. Until this parsha Korach was only mentioned when genealogies of Leviim were described. In this parsha the Torah starts with: "And Korach took ...", and does not tell us a lot about Korach except for describing his ancestry. The Torah says very little about the causes of his rebellion and the claims Korach made. Who was Korach, what did he take, what were his motives and what was he trying to accomplish?




As we described in the previous parsha and in other places in our commentary, when we read the Torah's descriptions of the sins of the people in those generations, we should assume that the sin was much milder, than it seems at first sight, and that the people involved thought they were acting for the sake of Heaven. The subject of Korach is particularly very complicated, and even with all our attempts we will only gain a slight understanding into the deep reasons for the actions of this great man.


Before we try to understand the background of Korach's dispute, we need to try to understand who Korach was. It is known that generally the people, whose descendants are very great, have themselves a very high potential, though it does not always get materialized. Regarding Korach, his children were some of the coauthors of the book of Psalms[1]. A later descendant of Korach was prophet Shmuel, who in some ways was compared to Moshe and Aharon! Knowing who the descendants of Korach are, we can start forming a picture of who he was. He was a very righteous[2] and learned man, respected by the leader of the people[3] and standing on a very high spiritual level, knowledgeable in Torah and in the secret wisdom of Kabala. He was a highly sensitive individual who had seen all the suffering that was decreed on the Jewish people after the episode of the spies. As it often happens, when our nation is being punished, the true cause of punishment can get misinterpreted[4]. Often the righteous leaders are blamed for not leading the nation properly and being responsible for the failures of the people[5].


It is quite logical that many people including Korach thought that one of the causes of our punishment was due to Moshe's unsuccessful leadership[6]. Maybe he should not have sent the spies[7], or possibly he chose the wrong people to be the spies[8]. So the ability of Moshe's choice of leaders must be lacking. We see that at least in the case of the spies he failed. How can we then know that the Nasiim (princes) were chosen by Moshe according to the Divine command? Just before the episode of the spies, the Nasi of sons of Kehat was chosen to be Elitzafan ben Uziel a cousin of Korach (Bemidbar 3:30). At that time Korach was very much surprised. How could Moshe choose Elitzafan, the son of the fourth son of Kehat rather than himself, the son of the second son? Korach knew that he was very talented and knowledgeable and just could not come in peace with himself that he would not be a Nasi[9]. But he kept his thoughts to himself[10]. Now however, after it seemed Moshe made a clear mistake in choosing the spies, Korach came back to his thoughts.


According to Midrash[11], Korach actually foresaw his great potential but made a mistake thinking it will be used by himself, while in truth it only came out in his descendant Shmuel. Korach’s spiritual root was from Gevurah, the left side of Hanhagah[12] and his soul was connected to Cain, son of Adam. In certain cases the “left” has an advantage over the “right” and indeed in the end of days Hashem’s Rule over the universe will be through the left side of Hahagah. At that time the Leviim coming from Gevurah will have advantage over the Cohanim that come from Chesed (kindness). Leviim would then switch roles with Cohanim and they will serve Hashem[13]. The full potential of Cain’s soul would then be revealed. However at the time Korach started his dispute Cohanim this was a tremendous destruction. This world can not withstand Hashem’s Hanhagah through judgment and the Gevurah has to be subservient to Chesed[14]. Now Korach “acquired” for himself the bad sparks of Cain’s soul and this is why the parsha starts with the words: “And Korach took[15]”. 


As it often happens, once a person starts falling, he can fall very low. Our sages state (Shabbos 104a): “The one that wants to become unclean, a path is opened for him”. Once Korach started proposing that some of Moshe’s actions are not done according to Hashem’s command, a possibility opened to doubt everything Moshe does. This could lead the people into accepting only those of the commandments that they heard directory at Mount Sinai. Everything else could be considered Moshe’s own inventions[16]. Korach thus started an “election campaign” with the platform of “equality for all” and “no more exploitation of the poor”. “The entire congregation is holy” – said Korach, “why do you try to rule over it?” He brought a widowed woman who used to own a field and started explaining how this poor woman lost all her possessions due to unfair tithes instituted by Moshe[17].


We often hear arguments similar to Korach’s today as well. However as opposed to today, during Hashem’s Hanhagah in the wilderness the punishment was swift in coming. Korach was swallowed by the Earth. The story of Korach teaches us how much we have to trust our righteous leaders, “the eyes of the congregation[18]”. There is a dispute in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 109b) regarding whether Korach will have a share in the World to Come. According to the majority opinion[19] he will. He is eagerly waiting for Moshiach’s coming more that almost anybody else, since this will end his suffering. And we will also hope and wait for the final redemption to come speedily in our day.



Go to previous


Go to next




[1] Not the entire book of Psalms was written by Dovid himself. This book rather has prophetic prayers of ten different authors from various time periods. Some of the Psalms start with saying that they were written by children of Korach.


[2] Our sages (Talmud, Sanhedrin 109b) mention that one of the participants of the dispute - On, son of Peles was saved by his wife. She made sure that when Korach comes to take him along he would not be able to enter the tent. She accomplished this uncovering her hair and sitting in the entrance room. Clearly it did not occur to her that Korach would try to enter a tent where he would have to pass a married woman whose hair is uncovered! Not closing the eyes, not turning away, nothing would help. There was no question in anybody's mind that Korach would simply not be able to enter such a tent. Now let’s ask ourselves how many contemporary Rabbis we could name that would not even enter a place where one can meet married women with uncovered hair (or otherwise improperly dressed women?)


[3] Rav Moshe Teitelbaum (the author of Yismach Moshe) used to say that most of the great people were on Korach’s side, and only the simple folk went after Moshe's. He claimed that he himself in one of his gilgulim also lived in that generation, and he did join neither the side of Korach nor the side of Moshe. When asked how he could not join Moshe he answered: "You just don't realize what Korach was like" (see Divrey Yoel, Korach, page 15).

[4] After the destruction of the First Temple, many people thought that it was brought not because of breaking the Torah's commands, but on the contrary due to not worshipping idols with sufficient zeal (see Yirmyahu, chapter 44).


[5] If you read Tanach carefully you would see many examples of this in the ancient times. King Ahab blamed prophet Eliayu for the punishment of hunger (Melachim 1:18:17). Righteous King Hezekiah was blamed for the punishment of Assyrians (see Melachim 2:18:22). Many more examples can be brought from later times and even from recent history. After the decline of observance during the last 150 years, many Rabbis wrote that a terrible punishment will come, yet after the destructions brought by the WWII, many irreligious Jews blamed the Rabbis for everything!


[6] We can see this feeling of anguish coming through the words of Dasan and Aviram (Bemidbar 16:13-14): "… You brought us here to die in the wilderness and you also want to rule over us? You did not [fulfill your promise to] bring us into the land flowing with milk and honey and to give us fields and vineyards for inheritance."


[7] See Talmud, Sotah 34b; Rashi, Bemidbar 13:2-3.


[8] See Ramban 16:2.


[9] See Midrash Tanchuma, Korach, 1.


[10] See Ramban 16:2.


[11] See Rashi 16:7; Arizal, Shaar Hagilgulim, the 33rd introduction, see also Divrey Yoel, Korach.


[12] Regarding the “right” and the “left” in the Divine Rule, see our words in parshas Vayerah and Toldos, see also our article 10centuriesenglish.htm.


[13] See Arizal, Shaar Hapesukim, Yechezkel 2:1; Shaar Hagilgulim, the 35th introduction.


[14] See Zohar 1:17a; 3:176a. This is also the reason the Leviim wash the hands of Cohanim before the priestly blessing (Zohar 3:146b).


[15] See Arizal, Shaar Hapesukim, Korach.


[16] See Rav Yitzchak Eizek Chaver, Ner Mitzvah, page 103.


[17] Midrash Tehillim, 1. Since the Jews were in the desert, this story was obviously just a made up example of how “unfair” the laws of Moshe are. Korach claimed that the “religious” leaders are oppressing and exploiting the poor people, an argument used by various revolutionaries many times throughout history. Even though this argument may have some truth in regards to Christianity, it has no base when made against Judaism. Leviim were the people who were not given any land as inheritance and were the poorest segment of population. Moreover, many of the parts of the crop were given from rich to poor, for instance Peha, Leket, Shikcha, Maaser Oni and tzedoka. Besides this, every seven years the land was totally free for everyone to enjoy the crop on equal basis.


[18] See Talmud, Bava Basra, 4a.


[19] See Zohar 3:178a.