by Adrian Kelaty, Dvar Yerushalayim Student
YEHUDA BEN MOSHE KELATY, Z”L
“Vayikach Korach” – and Korach took. But just what did he take? There are several explanations relating to the lashon “vayikach”. Some say that it meant that he took the men away from the congregation with persuasion, with words. The Midrash Tanchuma tells us that he made a feast to influence the men through alcahol. That is the reason why Moshe told Korach that Hashem will make himself known “in the morning” i.e. when they were sober.
Another translation for “Vayikach” comes from the root “lakach”, meaning to acquire. By taking the path against Moshe Rabbenu, Korach “acquired” a bad deal.
A third explanation is that Korach “separated” from the congragation. Why? Petty jealousy. He felt that the leadership of the tribe of Kehath should not have gone to Elizaphan (whose father Uziel was the youngest son of Kehath) but to himself, as he was the son of Yitzhar (oldest son of Kehoth). Korach was assured by his prophetic vision that Samuel the prophet would be one of his descendants, which only served to heighten his lust for power. Little did he know that it was pnly through the repentance of his sons that Samuel was to come from his line.
Dathan and Abiram, those infamous troublemakers, joined the rebellion because they foolishly beleived that they were the replacements for Moshe and Aaron. As soon as Korach and his followers rebelled, Moshe fell on his face, not only because this was the fourth time that there was an uprising, but because this rebellion was now coming from the tribe of Levi, who had so far been the loyalest of all the tribes to Hashem’s cause. This was also the first time that the rebellion was directed exclusively against Moshe Rabbenu.
Moshe made three statements to Korach: “G-d will make known…”, “He will draw him close to Himself” and “Whomever He will choose”. Why were all three neccessary?
To understand this, we must know that Korach’s followers were divided into three sections:
(1) Korach and his 250 men, who objected to Aaron’s priesthood.
(2) Dathan, Abiram and On Ben Peleth, who challenged Moshe Rabbenu’s
(3) A section of the Bnei Yisrael, who demanded to serve in the
Tabernacle with the Levites.
Moshe answered each one of these groups as follows:
(1) “G-d will make known the one who is His own” – meaning
Moshe Rabbenu himself. Thus, Korach, Dathan, Abiram and their
followers were swallowed into the earth.
(2) “…and the holy one” – meaning Aaron. Thus the fire went forth and
consumed the 250 men but left Aaron untouched.
(3) “…whomever He will choose” – meaning the Bnei Yisrael. For them,
Hashem unleashed His wrath and 14,700 Israelites were killed by the
plague until Aaron offered incense as atonement, thus stopping the
deaths. Following this, Hashem made Aaron’s staff blossom to show
that He only chose the Levites for serving in the Tabernacle, and
We see that Moshe commanded the 250 men of Korach to come “each man with his fire pan – 250 fire pans”. Why is the number 250 mentioned twice? It is to exclude Dathan and Abiram, who did not want the priesthood. It is also to show the wealth of Korach, who could supply each man with his own fire pan, even in the Wilderness.
Moshe Rabbenu went to meet Dathan and Abiram to ask them to repent, but when they saw Moshe coming towards them, they retreated to their tents. Then Moses knew that he had done all that he could, so he put them in “Cherem” (imposed a ban on them). Because of this, Dathan and Abiram defiantly came out of the tents, confident that Moshe Rabbenu would not approach them.
Hashem made the earth open up and swallow Korach, Dathan and Abiram “alive into the pit”. “Alive” meaning that death did not prove an atonement for them, and “into the pit” meaning that they went straight to the lowest level of Gehinnom. What happened to On Ben Peleth? Thanks to his wife, he managed to do teshuva at the last minute, and was saved.
It was a miracle that the pit did not open up and swallow any of the onlookers, who must have been standing near Korach and his followers. In fact we learn from Targum Yonatan that the onlookers turned their faces towards the pit to hear the men cry out “Moses is true and his Torah is true!” All of Korach’s belongings went into the pit with him, “even a needle on loan to someone else rolled in and was swallowed with them”. (Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 10). This goes to show how Hashem exacts His punishment only on those who deserve it.
But still, a part of the Bnei Yisrael were not satisfied., for the next day they cried to Moshe and Aaron “You have killed the People of Hashem!” Because of this, Hashem caused a plague to start amongst the People. Wasting no time, Moshe commanded Aaron to make a fire offering in time to stop the angel of death. However, the group that had caused the trouble had mingled with the rest of the People, and the angel of death was striking at them in general. Therefore, Aaron threw his fire pan in the angel’s face, and the plague stopped.
We then see that Hashem commands that each tribe leader give their staff to Moses, including Aaron. The next day, Aaron’s staff had blossomed and yielded almonds. This was a sign that the Levites had the sole rights to the Temple service. The staff was later placed in the Holy of Holies, as a reminder to ward off any further rebellions.
The Jewish People are then told to make various offerings, and Hashem tells us that He is making a “salt-like covenant” with them. What is the significance of salt? Just as salt preserves meat, so the offerings preserve the universe.
Hashem awards the Levites the tithes for not receiving a portion in the Land of Israel. Why is this an especially suitable susbtitute? The rest of Israel will have to work the land for their produce. But the Levites, with no portion of the land, must receive finished produce, ready to eat.
“Insights into the Torah” – Rav Zalman Soratzkin
“The Midrash Says” – Rav Moshe Weissman
“The Call of the Torah” – Rav Elie Munk
“Love your neighbour” – Rav Zelig Pliskin
“Encyclopedia of Biblical Personalities” – Yishai Charidah