Korach, his congregation & the Hope

כָּל מַחֲלֹקֶת שֶׁהִיא לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם, סוֹפָהּ לְהִתְקַיֵּם. וְשֶׁאֵינָהּ לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם, אֵין סוֹפָהּ לְהִתְקַיֵּם. אֵיזוֹ הִיא מַחֲלֹקֶת שֶׁהִיא לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם, זוֹ מַחֲלֹקֶת הִלֵּל וְשַׁמַּאי. וְשֶׁאֵינָהּ לְשֵׁם שָׁמַיִם, זוֹ מַחֲלֹקֶת קֹרַח וְכָל עֲדָתוֹ:

Every dispute that is for the sake of Heaven, will in the end endure; But one that is not for the sake of Heaven, will not endure. Which is the controversy that is for the sake of Heaven? Such was the controversy of Hillel and Shammai. And which is the controversy that is not for the sake of Heaven? Such was the controversy of Korah and all his congregation.

The famous saying from the Sayings of the Fathers (Pirkei AVot 5:17) raises a huge question: what was the exact nature of the “machloket”, the “controversy” of “Korach and all his congregation”?

For one, we notice that there is no one of the other side. Unlike th controversy of Hillel and Shamai who represent two different approaches to Jewish Law and thinking, Korach and his congregation are all on the same side. It might be that it’s so important to have a controversy that they don’t need another side. They are those whose first answer is, “no”, then, “what did you say?”…

Korach who is a Levite is supported by two leaders of the tribe of Reuven: Datan and Aviram. Their attitude is that of “we are not going”… as if saying: ‘this is an impossible task; just last week (outside of Israel – this week), we were told in the incident of the spies that we are staying in the desert for 40 years, so forget it! The dream of reaching the Holy Land is dead; it’s hopeless; we’re done; we’re not “going up”’.

And Moses deals with them in an interesting, humble yet strong way: he has no problem getting up and going to speak with them, again, even though they already told him off the first time; even though he is Moses and they are two troublemakers; even though G-d speaks with him and not with them. Nevertheless he goes. And once he gets to their tent area, he says something famous but strange:

וַיֹּאמֶר֮ מֹשֶׁה֒ בְּזֹאת֙ תֵּֽדְע֔וּן כִּֽי־ה’ שְׁלָחַ֔נִי לַעֲשׂ֕וֹת אֵ֥ת כָּל־הַֽמַּעֲשִׂ֖ים הָאֵ֑לֶּה כִּי־לֹ֖א מִלִּבִּֽי׃

And Moses said, “By this you shall know that it was the LORD who sent me to do all these things; that they are not of my own devising:

אִם־כְּמ֤וֹת כָּל־הָֽאָדָם֙ יְמֻת֣וּן אֵ֔לֶּה וּפְקֻדַּת֙ כָּל־הָ֣אָדָ֔ם יִפָּקֵ֖ד עֲלֵיהֶ֑ם לֹ֥א ה’ שְׁלָחָֽנִי׃

if these men die as all men do, if their lot be the common fate of all mankind, it was not the LORD who sent me.

וְאִם־בְּרִיאָ֞ה יִבְרָ֣א ה’ וּפָצְתָ֨ה הָאֲדָמָ֤ה אֶת־פִּ֙יהָ֙ וּבָלְעָ֤ה אֹתָם֙ וְאֶת־כָּל־אֲשֶׁ֣ר לָהֶ֔ם וְיָרְד֥וּ חַיִּ֖ים שְׁאֹ֑לָה וִֽידַעְתֶּ֕ם כִּ֧י נִֽאֲצ֛וּ הָאֲנָשִׁ֥ים הָאֵ֖לֶּה אֶת־ה’׃

But if the LORD brings about something unheard-of, so that the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, you shall know that these men have spurned the LORD.”

וַיְהִי֙ כְּכַלֹּת֔וֹ לְדַבֵּ֕ר אֵ֥ת כָּל־הַדְּבָרִ֖ים הָאֵ֑לֶּה וַתִּבָּקַ֥ע הָאֲדָמָ֖ה אֲשֶׁ֥ר תַּחְתֵּיהֶֽם׃

Scarcely had he finished speaking all these words when the ground under them burst asunder.

What is the test to know that he is a true messenger of G-d and they are not? G-d has to create “something new”, something “unheard of”… to show off?? For what?? What is exactly the nature of the point??

Perhaps what is at stake here is not simply an argument over leadership style, but an argument over a way of life. By saying “we won’t go” they express desperation, limited vision, unwillingness to work together. And to believe in a better tomorrow. For them, there is no tomorrow and therefore no need to anything for it. For Moses, and further, for the Jewish people since, not going up is not an option. Not going up means – at best, maybe – at this moment, in this place, maybe I can’t do XYZ, but I’ll try again tomorrow. And the next day. And the next one. It’s not for nothing we have a national anthem called Hatikva, The Hope. It’s not just a lovely song; it’s a way of life, of thinking, of being, today, tomorrow, here, there, everywhere. Possibly this is what the dispute is about: at the heart of it we’re asking, is there a good future? even when it’s dark and the path difficult to chart, the answer must be, yes.

Shabbat Shalom.

Taste of Daf Yomi from this week:

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