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Judaism, Torah and Talmud


Parasha No. 38
Korah: “Korah”

Bemidbar (Numbers) 16, 1 - 18, 22

The Torah versus moral and political corruption - a topical theme

A. Summary of the parasha
The mitzvot Study on Rashi's commentary
The meaning of "keeping charge" using an extract from the
parasha with transliteration
How not to fail? and translation

B. Rules for controlling man's desire for power
limiting the possession of power
the correct place Listen to the parasha chanted
the Jewish balance between theory and reality teamim Ashkenazim (ORT link)

C. The object of the quarrel
The strategy used

D. Moshe's response to the manipulator Listen to the haftara chanted
teamim Ashkenazim (ORT link)
E. Conclusion. Exercises. Poem

F. Second level for advanced students

I dedicate this commentary
to political leaders of courage.

May the Torah give them the insight
and the will needed to act with integrity.


Level I

I. Method of Study

- first read this commentary
- then look up the references and read the parasha
- reflect on how the parasha relates to your personal life
- memorize the plan
- until you are capable of teaching it by heart

A. Summary of the parasha

With the help of injunctions and examples, the parasha teaches us why it is important for man to achieve a balance in his life between what is terrestrial and what is divine, for if he fails to do so, then death and destruction will prevail among men.
The parasha teaches us this moral lesson in two ways:
in a negative form, through the example of Korah's political and ideological revolt and his manipulative use of half-truths,
in a positive form, represented by Moshe's reaction to Korah's perrfidy and in the rules for the organization of the people which take into account the different levels of existence (division into three categories: Cohanim-Levites-people, the type of differentiation and the links that unite the three categories, the role of donations).

The mitzvot

It is against this background that the parasha describes mitzvot nos. 388-396:
" The Cohanim and the Levites are given charge (mishmeret) of parts of the Temple;
" The people are forbidden from entering these areas or assuming the functions of the Cohanim and Levites;
" All human and animal firstborn must be redeemed, except those of animals that are to be sacrificed;
" The Levites must accompany the sacrifices with music and singing;
" The people must give a tenth of their harvest to the Levites, who in turn must give a tenth to the Cohanim.
The commentary of the Shla will help us to understand the meaning of these mitzvot.

The meaning of the injunction to "keep charge of"

The injunction given to the Cohanim and the Levites to "keep charge" of the Temple does not refer to the dangers posed by robbers or enemies. Its aim is to ensure the honor, dignity and beauty of the sanctity of the Temple: ushemartem et mishmeret hakodesh, "and ye shall keep charge of the holy things" (Bemidbar 18, 5). Tractate Berakhot (page 3a) in the Talmud comments at length on the importance of the night guard and the Sages, who understand the secrets of tradition (Zohar I 188, II 196 a), abide by this injunction by studying the Torah at night.
Let us try and understand this more. The Shla says that the guard must be kept night after night (layela velayela), which evokes the image of the Sages of the Pesah Haggada who studied till the small hours of the morning.

How not to fail?

An important question:
how does one sustain a constant level of holiness and beauty during the night without weakening, for the night is a time of fantasy, delirium and fear? Korah failed on this point.
Psalm 91 (Yoshev beseter eliyon, He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High) seems to deal with this problem. Let us read it and then analyze it:
1. In order to have faith, one must learn to dwell in the "secret" (beseter) and "invisible" presence of Hashem, as within a living fortress (metsudati) to whom we talk to and to whom we direct our desires;
2. In this way, we will clearly not overcome the numerous attacks against us, but these will be of no effect and, sooner or later, our enemies will pay their dues.
3. What is this fortress, this place of safety and well-being? It is the Torah, say the Sages, noting that the first letters of the words of verses 8 and 9 of Psalm 91 ("beineika tabit veshilumat reshaim tire ki.., with thine eyes shalt thou behold and see the reward of the wicked, because…") form the word beTorahtekha (by Your Torah); it is through the Torah that man is linked to God and it is through it that he is saved (verse 14). This is written explicitly in the Torah: "ki-yada shemi, because he knows My name." This knowledge comes solely from the Torah, which was given to the Jewish people and which is studied by a people who respect the covenant of the circumcision, the key to all this knowledge.
4. The Psalm tells us where happiness is found:
- in marriage (beaholekha, the "tent" refers to woman),
- in all the ways of life which will be "guarded" (lishmorekha, verse 11);
5. Two conditions are given: man's desires should be directed towards Hashem and man should know Hashem through study.
6. Then,
- his prayer will be heard,
- Hashem will accompany him in his travails,
- he will join in the glory of Hashem,
- he will have a long life,
- he will find salvation;
7. The use of verbs with the suffix hu (the last letters of the tetragram) in the last three verses of the Psalm indicates the state of redemption and unity which will be granted to those who know the Torah, whose totality stands for the holiest name of Hashem.

I have used this Psalm in order to illustrate more clearly what parasha Korah teaches us:
- to live one's life according to the Torah does not only mean to live a religious life,
- the Torah prescribes a social and political organization of the people in which the task of the different groupings is to preserve life itself (this is the art of Judaism),
- all this is based on inner feelings,
- these feelings come from love and knowledge through study.


II. Rules and regulations for controlling man's desire for power

The body of rules given in Korah are necessary because even the most noble moral or religious ideals can turn into destructive fanaticism if they are not controlled by 2 criteria: reality and the teachings of the Torah.
In parasha Korah, the Torah seems to tell us that a noble ideal will inevitably turn into tragedy unless it is regulated.

The first essential rule limits the possession of power. This limitation is structured in an order of 100-10-1: from 100 fruits of harvest, 10 are given to the Levites (maaser), who in turn give 1 from each of the 10 to the Cohanim. Read verse 18, 26; the tithe (maaser) and the tithe of the tithe (maaser min hamaaser). The Shla explains that, in this way, each member of the people (represented as one of the 100) benefits in two ways:
- on the one hand, his desire for complete power is limited (he remains small as one of the group of 1000 and can never be "the" 1),
- on the other hand, association with the Levites and the Cohanim brings him closer to the 1 of the Cohanim, which represents the holiness of Hashem who is One, ehad.
It is only through these two contradictory processes that destructive tendencies common to the best of men, as in the case of Korah, can be controlled and vanquished. Even the sons of Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, perished because their desires, though positive, were not controlled or limited.

Regulation by adherence to one's correct place
The Shla gives us this wise teaching: he who tries to dwell in a place that is not his or that is above his level within the divine plan will burn himself and even risk death.
This was the case with the sons of Aharon, and for the children of Israel when they succumbed to an irrational desire for the quails that fell from the skies; they had hardly finished eating them when they died and the place where they perished was called Kivrot-hataava ("the tombs of envy," Bemidbar 11,34) . The Sages warn us not to approach a place that is too divine for us, where we will not be able to stand or even exist.
This is not just a lesson in modesty, for to be in one's correct place means to be where we are connected with Hashem, "in" His secret (beseter).
In contrast, what Korah's wife said to him (Tractate Sanhedrin, page 110a) involved pure ambition and the desire to be no. 1 without the presence of Hashem: "see what Moshe did, he became the king, he made his brother the Cohen gadol, the high priest and the sons of Aharon, his assistants. He receives the offerings and from what should come to you as a descendant of the Levites, he takes a tenth for the Cohen. He made you shave your head and humiliates you as one does with prisoners ; all this because he envied the beauty of your hair."

Regulation through the klal ufrat rule
The Shla analyzes at length the rules of Talmudic logic and shows how in the Torah everything is inter-connected. This is the uniqueness of Judaism, as opposed to the religions which claim to derive from Judaism but which abandoned the oral law found in the Talmud.
The Shla demonstrates that the klal ufrat rule is based on a general rule which applies to all levels of existence and to the Torah: indeed there are only thirteen points in all the Mishna and the Talmud on which the Sages do not disagree: these are the thirteen rules of interpretation (middot) of Rabbi Yishmael.
These rules are based on the first rule, which is the klal ufrat. We have already encountered this important rule in parasha Behar (refer to it). The reasoning is as follows: whenever there is a general rule and at the same time a specific case is given, it is only the specific case which counts. This means that the general rule (klal) is correct and must be acknowledged but it does not relate to our limited world where only the specific (prat), i.e. what is limited, is evident. The specific detail (prat) is that which is revealed (the nigla), while the general (the klal) belongs to the realm of what is hidden (the nistar). Judaism is not based on false ideals or false leaders, and no false messiah ever succeeded in imposing himself over the Jewish people. This is because we have been given numerous rules that help us overcome false leaders, irrespective of their gifts or the miracles they accomplish. These rules are described in detail in Devarim.

The Jewish balance between what is general-ideal and what is specific-concrete. This means that Judaism:
does not make simplistic black/white differentiations (with all the good on one side and the bad on the other);
it differentiates between different components;
and does not eliminate any element;
but inter-connects them.
Thus the Cohen represents the klal (the ideal), and the people represent the prat (the specific).
There is the same connection between the neshama (soul) and the body (prat).
The ideal is as real as reality and if it is absent the body becomes a corpse; at the same time it must remain separate from concrete reality.
Let's take an example: In the Psalms, the Hebrew word for money (kesef) and the word for desire (nikhsefa, Psalm 84, 3) have the same root: for desire must not be based on material things like money and money must not be separated from the feelings of desire that motivate it. Read the verse.
The ideal goal, the klal, is to know Hashem and to love Him, to "know His name" as says Psalm 91, 14, but this ideal desire is false and dangerous if it is not preceded by the study of the Torah and if it is not based on the Torah. If this is absent, men can easily claim that they murdered or carried evil actions in the name of "their God," while these actions are in fact projections of their own personal desires. When the prat believes it is the klal, believes it is God, it becomes crazy and kills.
God, the absolute, can only be "known" by men - who live within boundaries and limitations - through a complex process of discovery and study.

The same concept is found in the unity of the name of God, which is expressed in the 27 letters of the alphabet (klal) but can only be discovered through the 304, 805 letters of the Torah (prat). Those who do not know these letters and their inter-connections cannot claim that they know God or His divine plan ; and they can even less claim to know the reasons for God's actions. This is a lesson in modesty, particularly for those who aspire to lead our people.
Let's return to the aggada.
The same page of the Talmud (Sanhedrin 110a) tells us that Korah is the son of Yizhar (Bemidbar 16,1) because he succeeded in setting fire to the world, like the fire of midday (tsohorayim). Madness reigns. But the wife of On (cited in the same verse) succeeds in preventing her husband from joining the prevailing madness. This is what she told him:
don't get involved in this plot ; there is no difference between Moshe or Korah as leader, because you will always be small among the people.
but, he answered, I don't know what to do as I am part of the plot against Moshe and I have taken an oath together with the other conspirators.
I shall save you (she made him drunk and let her hair loose ; when the plotters came to fetch On, they saw the two together and let them be ; the plotters all perished). On's wife succeeded in saving her husband and brought him down to size.
The story concludes thus: this illustrates Mishle (Proverbs) 14, 1: "every wise woman buildeth her house, this is the wife of On, son of Peleth, hokhmat nashim baneta beita."

An impostor is someone who tries to impose on the public his own fantasies, which he claims to be those of God. History is replete with religious and political dictators who reaped bloodshed and destruction in the name of a religion which they and their disciples perverted, and in the name of the "new" message and revelation they claimed to bring to the world. History keeps repeating itself, filling cemeteries with widescale slaughter.

I wish to add a personal clarification on the Shla's commentary. When the Shla writes of the connection 1-10-100, he adds (referring to the 22,000 Levites) that this is also the secret of the connection 2-20-200: in Hebrew he writes sod alef-youd-kuf beit-khaf-reish. Indeed, when feelings of desire and love are organized and controlled, both in men and women, the connection 1-10-100 is doubled and becomes 2-10-200. Analyzing this in Hebrew, we note that 2-20-200 represents the connection between the letters of the word benediction (barakh, beit = 2, reish = 2000, khaf = 20). But a specific order is required for benediction to reign:
first beit (2), creation begins with the twinning of all things in the world (the Shla notes that this fact is stressed by Rashi in his commentary on Bereshit 1, 4 and 1, 24),
then there is an enormous extension of the 2, attaining the multiple dimensions of 200 for each member of a pair,
this finally reaches a median balance of 20, which is connected both to the ideal and to the specific ; when this comes from Hashem, it means that a state of berakha, benediction has descended on man. Youd, in Hebrew, has a numerical value both of 10 (written as the single letter) and 20 (written as the word youd) and represents the union of man and woman.

Tyranny in relationships
Instead of total union, many couples base their relationships on partial knowledge of each other: this leads to dissatisfaction, tyranny, non-communication, and exploitation. Parents also often avoid examining their tyrannical attitudes towards their children. These children, not surprisingly, often become tyrannical spouses in their turn and the cycle of domestic violence continues.

An example of differentiation in creation
Rashi writes that from the first day of Creation and from the first verse of the Torah, everything was given (this is the klal): this is shown in the use of the word et, which encompasses everything, in et hashamyim ve et haaretz (the heavens and the earth). Then what was created globally is placed within its particular day of creation, within its time and finally the whole process is entrusted by God to man so that he will "do" (laasot, Bereshit 2, 3) according to the divine plan. This balanced, progressive approach does not renounce the ideal, but teaches patience and wisdom in the development of man's personal and inter-personal life and for society as a whole.


C. Korah's pretext

I shall now present a detailed exposition of the problem posed by Korah. It is an important educational lesson for all us.

12 sons of Yaakov

250 plotters from 11 tribes (excluding the Levites) join Korah in the plot against Moshe

1. The descendants of Reuven

Eliav Peleth
and his children and his son:
Datan and Aviram On
(allied to Korah) (allied to Korah)

3. The descendants of Levi

2. Kehath

2. Yizhar
Gershon 1. Amram Uziel
Aharon 1.Korah Hevron Michael
Miriam Nefeg Elzafan
Moshe Zikhri Sitri

Follow the commentary with the help of the table.
The quarrel takes place among the descendants of Levi, the third son of Yaakov, and a loyal tribe.
The quarrel begins when Korah attacks his cousin Moshe: Korah believes he has the same leadership rights as his cousins and he claims that these privileges have been concentrated by Moshe:
in the hands of Moshe's siblings, in respect of spiritual matters,
in the hands of Elzafan, in respect of material matters.

Using perfidious means and contradictory arguments, Korah succeeds in mounting a mass revolt:
he claims that all the people are holy (Bemidbar 16, 3), not just Moshe's siblings and that the latter's duties should be divided among all the tribes. In this way he succeeds in pleasing everyone;
he claims that Moshe is a third child, who took the rightful power away from elder descendants of Kehath, such as Korah. This argument is baseless as Korah is a descendant of Levi who was a third child like Moshe;
but with this argument, Korah succeeds in mobilizing Datan, Aviram, and On, the descendants of Reuven. He uses them because they are placed close to him in the south of the camp. See table.
he claims that Elzafan - who is the second of 4 sons - has no rights.
he uses every form of attack against Moshe, whom he accuses of having sexual relations with many men's wives (see Psalm 106, 16), so much so that Moshe has to pitch his tent outside of the camp (Shemot 33, 7).
In all of this, Korah rejects the word of God.

The nature of the quarrel
Korah chose to mount his attack at the difficult time when the people were in the desert, when they were feeling helpless and had begun to doubt Moshe's promises (where is the land of milk and honey?).
Then, instead of analyzing the situation according to the Torah, he assembles a group of frustrated men and attacks Moshe with false demagogic arguments disguised in logical, democratic terms, i.e.we are all equal, we are all holy. His main treachery was in claiming that he was championing the cause of the people, not his own. Korah was in fact one of the richest men among the people. It is written (Sanhedrin 110a) that he discovered one of the three treasures hidden by Yosef and that 300 mules were needed just to transport the keys of his coffers. He was Pharaoh's treasurer while his brothers were in bondage.
Political and union leaders similarly claim today to represent the people, while they are in fact rich dictators. And the same moral and democratic terms are used today to achieve power, as though these values are no more than a tool in the battle to gain power.

Many similar attacks have and are being waged against Israel, both from within and outside the country. Rashi describes the attack (16, 19-22), basing himself on Middrash Tanhuman (7): "Korah incited the people against Moshe and Aharon throughout the night, claiming: do you think I care just for myself? I am defending the interests of the whole people. These men have taken over all the top positions, Moshe the royalty, Aharon the priesthood. And everyone was convinced."


D - Moshe's response

Moshe does not respond to Korah in kind. He remains faithful to Hashem, to the fear of Hashem, to humility (he falls on his face, he prays) and he proposes another form of combat - that of the censers placed at the tent of meeting with Hashem (see poem).
Why? Moshe wants to maintain the quarrel at a spiritual level, for this is the raison d'etre of his role as leader. He stresses the fact that Korah's attack is against Hashem.
In this, Moshe displays a uniquely Jewish response: he does not fall for the false arguments with which power struggles are waged in the name of high moral ideals. He affirms: I am accused of not acting on behalf of Hashem, but on behalf of my own interests, but this attack is an attack against Hashem and it is the plan of Creation and of kedusha (holiness) which is being put into question. And if you attack creation, it will devour you.
As in creation, women played an important role in this story (Tractate Sanhedrin 110a): Korah's wife encouraged him in his plot, as did Aman's wife; Moshe was accused of neglecting his wife; while On's wife helped him to disentangle himself from Korah's plot.

We must not despair because of such human perfidy: indeed, Korah's sons were great sages and 9 Psalms are dedicated to them (see the beginning of Psalms 45, 46, 47, 48, 49, 84, 85,87, 88).


E. Conclusion

Readers should reflect at length on this story and on the personal implications it has for them.
Rabbenu Bahya teaches us some moral lessons based on the Book of Proverbs and other sources:
he who trusts in his wealth will fail (Korah and Aman were the richest men in the world), but the tzaddik will reap his fruits;
he who prays for his friend, while he himself is in need, will be recompensed: he who does not pray for his friend will be punished;
the tzaddik who always has faith in Hashem will have his prayers fulfilled. See Mishle, Proverbs 1, 27-28.

It is important for all of us to erase, from our minds, thoughts and attitudes akin to those of Korah. This is the exercise we must do at the end of the parasha. You can discuss how to do this with your spouse, friends, colleagues or study partners.
Identify the teachings of the parasha in the story of On's wife and Korah's wife.

This story should also be analyzed from the perspective of current, social implications.
It is important to erase, from our social and political life, all thoughts and attitudes akin to those of Korah.
This should make us think about our role as Jews. Our values should not be reduced to simple collective, democratic values, and our actions should not be based on laws other than those of the Torah. How often have Jews been attacked with the same tactics as those used by Korah and how often have Jews themselves attacked those who teach the Torah, in order to avoid adhering to its message.


Second level for advanced students

Read: Bemidbar Rabba ch. 18. Tractate Pessahim 119a. Tractate Sanhedrin 110a.

The remez level of interpretation
This level is no different to what has been written above, but requires knowledge of the references cited in the commentaries, the middrashim and the Talmud.
Those who have acquired this knowledge will find many connections in other passages of the Torah and other works. These connections or allusions (remez) are based on letters and their numerical value (gematria).
Here is one example: Korah's attitude to Moshe recalls Cain's hatred for Abel (Hevel). Moshe is aware of this and succeeds in creating a reparation, tikkun. We can see this in the following gematriot: Hevel (37) + Korah (308) = Moshe (345). This is our mission: whatever our faults or sins, we are here in order to improve the world and make a tikkun (reparation), and teshuva (return).
Many combinations of letters in the Torah show clearly that Korah, in contrast, took the bad sides of both Cain and Abel. This is summarized in the first word of the parasha: Korah "took" vayakah Korah.
Are we people who "take" or are we people who give and receive? This is the essential question.


The Incense Battle

Against the uncouth barbarian
who tramples on flowers
against the rich upstart
who humiliates the poor
against the brainy know-all
drunk on his sophistry
and valet to our princes

I shall always set the incense
impalpable and troubling
which penetrates and intoxicates
and strips all masks.

Son of the people of the dew
and of the incense
I recite every day its composition
of three hundred and sixty eight
secret ingredients
which dispel the death
of words.

We shall see who wins.


- Psychology and Repentance
   (in french)

Part 15

Part 16

- Jerusalem excavations
- Terror and counseling
- Peace and peoples
- Israel and Iran
- Visual study & song on snow
for, through our union with the song of nature, the plan of Creation will be fulfilled

Poem: to be moon

In french

Avec Modia, vivez
vos vacances en Israël,
Texte et photos

- Par Modia, arrivez au Kotel
- La vie du Kotel
- Prières au Kotel
- Fête au Kotel
- La destruction du Temple
- Photos rares et émouvantes des abords du Temple
- Synagogues de Jérusalem
- Maisons de Jérusalem
- Les fleurs de Jérusalem
- Ici, tout sur Jérusalem
- "Le" texte sur Jérusalem
- Voir et visiter Israël
- Voyage dans le Nord d'Israël
- Belle carte d'Israël
- Jérusalem et les nations

- Vacances en Israël sur Modia
- Le Kotel en film direct
- et ici aussi, autre caméra

- Trahison historique:
L'antique synagogue de Jéricho


Part 17

- Love towards all people
- Light in war
- Before the hanukiah
- Land of Israel
- Jerusalem excavations 2007
  Proof of the lies propagated
  by the media

In french - Hope in Israel

Part 20
"Encounters with God
in the real"

- You are planning a tour in Israel - Photos
- My photos and judaism
- New year of beauty
- Flowers
Gallery photos

Part 21

- My english songs


Rav Professor
Yehoshua Rahamim Dufour
(Dipur, in hebrew)

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