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Friday, June 19, 2015

Parashat Korach 5775

In this week’s parasha, Korach rebels against Moshe and Aharon and is killed along with his followers. However, in parashat Pinchas we learn that his sons were not killed. In fact, several Psalms (beginning with 42) are attributed to them. The idea of children who different from their parents is not rare in Tanakh, but since our parasha seems to say that every person in Korach’s domain was destroyed, it gives our Rabbis room to explain what his sons did to live and, more so, to become the root of songs in the Holy Temple.

במדבר סיני פרשת קרח פרק טז
Numbers, Chapter 16
(32) Then the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, their houses, and every person who was with Korach and all of the possessions.
(לב) וַתִּפְתַּח הָאָרֶץ אֶת־פִּיהָ וַתִּבְלַע אֹתָם וְאֶת־בָּתֵּיהֶם וְאֵת כָּל־הָאָדָם אֲשֶׁר לְקֹרַח וְאֵת כָּל־הָרֲכוּשׁ:

במדבר סיני פרשת פינחס פרק כו
Numbers, Chapter 26
(11) But the sons of Korach did not perish.
(יא) וּבְנֵי־קֹרַח לֹא־מֵתוּ: ס

Chizkuni, below, explains that the people with Korach could not have been his sons. His commentary shows that we might have thought his sons were included in the list of those who perished.
חזקוני במדבר סיני פרשת קרח פרק טז
Chizkuni on Numbers, Chapter 16
Chezkiyah ben Manoach, 13th Century Provenzia
(32) “And every person who was with Korach.” What is meant by “every person”? If it is the sons of Korach, it is written, “But the sons of Korach did not perish.” And “the family of Korach” is written in several places. And if it means the two hundred and fifty men, they were conflagrated. Rather, it is the wives, the young children, servants, and maid-servants.
(לב) ואת כל האדם אשר לקרח מהו כל האדם אם בני קרח הרי כתב ובני קרח לא מתו ומשפחת הקרחי נכתבה בכמה מקומות ואם חמשים ומאתיים איש הרי הן נשרפו אלא היינו הנשים והטף ועבדיו ושפחותיו.
שמות פרשת שמות - וארא פרק ו
Exodus, Chapter 6
(16) And these are the names of the children of Levi according to their genealogies: Gershon, K’hat, and M’rari; and the length of the years of Levi was one hundred and thirty seven.
(טז) וְאֵלֶּה שְׁמוֹת בְּנֵי־לֵוִי לְתֹלְדֹתָם גֵּרְשׁוֹן וּקְהָת וּמְרָרִי וּשְׁנֵי חַיֵּי לֵוִי שֶׁבַע וּשְׁלֹשִׁים וּמְאַת שָׁנָה:
(18) And the sons of K’hat were Amram, Yitzhar, Chevron, and Uziel; and the length of the years of K’hat was one hundred and thirty three.
(יח) וּבְנֵי קְהָת עַמְרָם וְיִצְהָר וְחֶבְרוֹן וְעֻזִּיאֵל וּשְׁנֵי חַיֵּי קְהָת שָׁלֹשׁ וּשְׁלֹשִׁים וּמְאַת שָׁנָה:
(21) And the sons of Yitzhar were Korach, Nepheg, and Zikhri.
(כא) וּבְנֵי יִצְהָר קֹרַח וָנֶפֶג וְזִכְרִי:
(24) And the sons of Korach were Asir, Elkanah, and Avisaf; these are the families of Korach.
(כד) וּבְנֵי קֹרַח אַסִּיר וְאֶלְקָנָה וַאֲבִיאָסָף אֵלֶּה מִשְׁפְּחֹת הַקָּרְחִי:

The Talmud Yerushalmi, in a discussion of apportioning the land, tells us that the sons of Korach received Korach’s portion for the sake of their ancestors who we saw above in the genealogy in Exodus. While not a necessary conclusion, this might imply that his sons survived because of the merit of their ancestors and not anything they did on their own.
תלמוד ירושלמי (וילנא) מסכת בבא בתרא פרק ח, הלכה ב
Palestinian Talmud (Vilna Printing), Tractate Bava Batra, Chapter 8, Halakhah 2
Joshua and Caleb took three portions [of the land]: their portion from among those who exited from Egypt, their portion from those who stood at Arvot Mo’av, and took the portion of the spies. This it is written by, “And Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Yephuneh survived from the men [who spied]…” (Numbers 14:38).
יהושע וכלב נטלו שלשה חלקים חלקן עם יוצאי מצרים וחלקן עם העומדים בערבות מואב ונטלו חלק מרגלים הדא הוא דכתיב ויהושע בן נון וכלב בן יפונה חיו מן האנשים וגו' (במדבר סיני יד לח).
But the portion of the murmurers and the congregation of Korach fell to within the nation.
אבל חלק מתלוננים ועדת קרח נפל לאמצע.
But their sons, for the merit of their grandparents [received a portion], thus it is written, “But the sons of Korach did not perish.”
ובניהם בזכות אבי אביהן ואמותיהן הדא הוא דכתיב [שם כו יא] ובני קרח לא מתו.

The Bavli, however, implies that a miracle within a miracle saved the sons of Korach, during which they sang poetry - presumably the Psalms associated with them. It is as if God knew they would repent and gave them the chance. So, they were among the sinners, but they later separated themselves from the group.
תלמוד בבלי מסכת סנהדרין דף קי עמוד א
Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin, 110a
“But the children of Korach did not perish.” It was taught, in the name of our teacher that they said, “A place was set apart for them in Gehennom and they sat upon it and sang a poem.”
ובני קרח לא מתו, תנא, משום רבינו אמרו: מקום נתבצר להם בגיהנם, וישבו עליו ואמרו שירה.

The Midrash on one of the Psalms of the sons of Korach explains that they were always good: roses among thorns. (Note: I translate שושן as “rose,” which is the colloquial, as opposed to the more accurate “lily.” I think this translation makes more sense in this context). Here we see Korach’s sin as assuming God wants flashy goods for His service and the sons of Korach, in contrast, as good but not flashy.
מדרש תהלים (בובר) מזמור מה
Midrash T’hillim, Psalm 45
“For the conductor on roses for the sons of Korach, a contemplative poem, a song of friendship.” This is what the verse says by, “My beloved descended to his garden… and to collect roses,” (Song of Songs 6:2). But they were not recognized, and anyone who say them said, “They are thorns.”
למנצח [על שושנים] לבני קרח [משכיל] שיר ידידות. זהו שאמר הכתוב דודי ירד לגנו [וגו'] וללקוט שושנים (שה"ש =שיר השירים= ו ב),
Why? For they were amongst thorns. And what is the fate of thorns? To the flame, as it says, “Cut away thorns will burn in flame,” (Isaiah 32:12). And it is written, “And fire came from Hashem and consumed the two hundred and fifty men,” (Numbers 15:35).
ולא היו ניכרים, וכל מי שהיה רואה אותם אומר קוצים הם, למה שהיו עם קוצים, ומה דרכן של קוצים, [לאש, שנאמר קוצים] כסוחים באש יוצתו (ישעיה לג יב), [וכתיב כי תצא אש ומצאה קוצים (שמות כב ה)], וכתיב ואש יצאה מאת ה' ותאכל את החמשים ומאתים איש (במדבר יו לה),
But the sons of Korach, who were roses, were collected from amongst the thorns, for they were not consumed with the thorns. Thus the Holy One, blessed be He, jumped up and saved them.
ובני קרח שהיו שושנים נלקטו מבין הקוצים, שלא יאכלו עם הקוצים, כך קפץ הקב"ה והצילם,
A parable to a king who went to the nation and the people of the nation came to crown him with a golden crown set with nice stones and pearls. They went out and said to them, the king only requires from you a crown of roses. Immediately the people of the nation were happy.
משל למלך שנכנס למדינה, ובאו בני המדינה לעטרו עטרה של זהב, מקובעת באבנים טובות ומרגליות, יצאו ואמרו להם אין המלך מבקש מכם אלא עטרה של שושנים, מיד שמחו בני המדינה,
Thus were the sons of Korach and his congregation. They said [the congregation], “The Holy One, blessed be He, seeks firepans of gold from you.” The Holy One, blessed be He said to them, “What does gold matter to Me, ‘The silver is mine, the gold is mine,’ (Haggai 2:8)? And even the incense; ‘Incense is repulsive to me,’ (Isaiah 1:13). Rather, what do I seek? Roses.”
כך היו בני קרח ועדתו, אמרו הקב"ה מבקש מכם מחתות של זהב, אמר להן הקב"ה מה לי של זהב, לי הכסף ולי הזהב (חגי ב ח), ואפילו הקטורת, קטורת תועבה היא לי (ישעיה א יג), אלא מה אני מבקש, שושנים,
The children of Korach said, “We are roses.” The Holy One, blessed be He, said to them, “You have succeeded [also ‘conducted’], as it says, “For the conductor, on roses, from the sons of Korach.”
אמרו בני קרח אנו שושנים, אמר להם הקב"ה נצחתם, שנאמר למנצח על שושנים לבני קרח.

A Midrash on Psalm 1 brings a different perspective on the sons of Korach. First we need to have knowledge of the Psalm as the Midrash uses the story around Korach to interpret the Psalm’s contrast of righteous and wicked.
תהלים פרק א
Psalms, Chapter 1
(1) Happy is the man who did not follow the counsel of the wicked, in the path of sinners he did not stand, and in the seat of the scornful he did not sit.
(א) אַשְׁרֵי־הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר לֹא הָלַךְ בַּעֲצַת רְשָׁעִים וּבְדֶרֶךְ חַטָּאִים לֹא עָמָד וּבְמוֹשַׁב לֵצִים לֹא יָשָׁב:
(2) Rather, the Torah of Hashem is his desire, and in His Torah he muses day and night.
(ב) כִּי אִם בְּתוֹרַת יְקֹוָק חֶפְצוֹ וּבְתוֹרָתוֹ יֶהְגֶּה יוֹמָם וָלָיְלָה:
(3) Then he will be like a tree planted on streams of water whose fruit will deliver at its proper time and whose leaves will not whither, and all that he does will succeed.
(ג) וְהָיָה כְּעֵץ שָׁתוּל עַל־פַּלְגֵי מָיִם אֲשֶׁר פִּרְיוֹ יִתֵּן בְּעִתּוֹ וְעָלֵהוּ לֹא־יִבּוֹל וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר־יַעֲשֶׂה יַצְלִיחַ:
(4) It is not so for the wicked; rather [they are like] chaff cast aside by the wind.
(ד) לֹא־כֵן הָרְשָׁעִים כִּי אִם־כַּמֹּץ אֲשֶׁר־תִּדְּפֶנּוּ רוּחַ:
(5) Therefore the wicked will in stand in the judgement and sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
(ה) עַל־כֵּן לֹא־יָקֻמוּ רְשָׁעִים בַּמִּשְׁפָּט וְחַטָּאִים בַּעֲדַת צַדִּיקִים:
(6) For Hashem knows the way of the righteous, and the way of the wicked will be destroyed.
(ו) כִּי־יוֹדֵעַ יְקֹוָק דֶּרֶךְ צַדִּיקִים וְדֶרֶךְ רְשָׁעִים תֹּאבֵד:

The Midrash sees Korach’s sin in telling a story about how Moshe’s laws are painful to a poor widow and her sons who are just trying to get by in life. In fact, it is a heart wrenching story. But it is not so much the story as its purpose that is the problem. Korach tells it in a mocking manner. In contrast, his sons support him, but do so while showing humility to Moshe. In fact, they even refer to him as “Moshe our teacher.” (This has echoes of Debbie Fiderer’s letter about President Bartlett, for those fans of the The West Wing.) In fact, they are so great they are one of the three possible groups upon which the world rests; the other two are our forefathers and the three people around Daniel’s circle who cast themselves into a furnace for God. In the end, this may be a lesson that dispute is fine as long as it is done in a humble manner.

מדרש תהלים (בובר) מזמור א
Midrash T’hillim, Psalms 1
“Happy is the man who did not follow the counsel of the wicked,” . These are the sons of Korach who did not follow the counsel of their father, as it says, “Turn, please, from the tents of these wicked men,” (Numbers 16:26).
אשרי האיש אשר לא הלך בעצת רשעים. אלו בני קרח, שלא הלכו בעצת אביהם, שנאמר סורו נא מעל אהלי האנשים הרשעים האלה (במדבר סיני טז כו).
“In the path of the sinners he did not stand.” As it says, “The firepans of these sinners,” (Numbers 17:3).
ובדרך חטאים לא עמד. שנאמר את מחתות החטאים האלה (במדבר סיני יז ג).
“And in the seat of the scornful he did not sit.” This is Korach, who mocked Moshe and Aharon. What did he do? He gathered the entire congregation against them, as it says, “Korach assembled the entire congregation,” (Numbers 16:19). He began speaking mocking words in front of them. He said, “There is one widow in my region, and with her are two orphaned children. And she had one field and she came to plow it. Moshe said to her, ‘You shall not plow with an ox and donkey together,’ (Deuteronomy 22:10). [She came to sow. He said to her,  ‘You shall not sow mixed crops in your field,’ (Leviticus 19:19).] She came to harvest and bundle, he said to her [to leave] the leket, shikhchah, and pe’ah [note: parts of the harvest left for the poor]. She came to prepare it for threshing. He said to her, ‘Give me t’rumah [note: tax to the priests], first tithe and second tithe.’ The law triumphed over her and she gave.
ובמושב לצים לא ישב. זה קרח, שהיה מתלוצץ על משה ואהרן, מה עשה, כינס עליהם כל הקהל, שנאמר ויקהל עליהם קרח את כל העדה (במדבר סיני טז יט), התחיל לומר לפניהם דברי ליצנות, ואמר אלמנה אחת יש בשכונתי, ועמה שני נערות יתומות, והיה לה שדה אחת, באתה לחרוש, אמר לה משה לא תחרוש בשור ובחמור יחדו (דברים כב י), [באת לזרוע, אמר לה שדך לא תזרע כלאים (ויקרא יט יט)], באתה לקצור ולעשות ערימה, אמר לה לקט שכחה ופיאה, באתה לעשות גורן אמר לה תני לי תרומה ומעשר ראשון ומעשר שני, הצדיקה עליה את הדין ונתנה לו,
“What did this poor woman do? She sold the field and purchased two sheep to make clothes from their shearings and to benefit from their produce. When they gave birth. Aharon came and said to her, ‘Give me the first born, for such said the Holy One, blessed be He, ‘Every first born that is born among your male cattle and sheep you shall sanctify to Hashem your God,’ (Deuteronomy 15:19). The law triumphed over her and she gave the offspring. The time came to shear and she sheared them. Aharon came and said to her, ‘Give me the first shearing.’
מה עשתה עניה, מכרה את השדה, וקנתה שתי כבשות, כדי ללבוש מגזותיהן, וליהנות מפירותיהן כיון שילדו, בא אהרן ואמר לה תני לי את הבכורות, שכך אמר לו הקב"ה, כל הבכור אשר יולד בבקרך ובצאנך הזכר תקדיש לה' אלהיך וגו' (דברים טו יט), הצדיקה עליה את הדין, ונתנה לו את הולדות, הגיע זמן גזיזה וגזזה אותן, בא אהרן ואמר לה תני ליראשית הגז,
“She said, ‘I do not have the power to stand up to this man. I will slaughter them and eat them. When she slaughtered them, Aharon came and said to her, ‘Give me the foreleg, cheeks, and maw.’ [Note: gifts from every slaughtered animal given to the priest.] She said, ‘After I slaughtered them I was not saved from your hand. They are cherem [devoted goods].’ He [Aharon] said to her, ‘If they are cherem, they are all for me, as it is written, ‘All cherem from Israel should be for you [Aharon],’ (Numbers 18:14). Then he took then, went on his way, and left her to cry with her two sons.

אמרה אין בי כח לעמוד באיש הזה, הריני שוחטתן ואוכלתן, כיון ששחטתן, בא אהרן ואמר לה תני לי הזרוע והלחיים והקבה, אמרה אחר ששחטתי אותן לא נוצלתי מידך, הרי הם חרם עלי, אמר לה אם חרם הן כולן שלי, דכתיב כל חרם בישראל לך יהיה (במדבר סיני יח יד), ונטלן והלך לו, והניחה בוכה עם שתי בנותיה,
“Is this ruling fit to tread upon her pitiable condition? All of them are executed and rely upon the Holy One, blessed be He.”
אריך כדין הא בזתה עלובתא, כלהן עושין ותולין בהקב"ה.
“Rather, the Torah of Hashem is his desire.” There are the children [of Korach] who recited a song and said, “We are obligated to honor our father, let us dispute with Moshen our teacher.” They stood up and humbled themselves for the sake of the honor of Moshe.
כי אם בתורת ה' חפצו. אלו בניו שאמרו שירה, ואמרו אנו חייבין בכבוד אבינו, נחלוק על משה רבינו, עמדו והכריעו עצמן בשביל כבודו של משה.
“And in his Torah he muses.” These are the sons of Korach. “Then he will be like a tree planted on streams of water.” These are the sons of Korach. When Korach and his assembly were swallowed, his sons were found standing like the mast of a ship, as it is stated, “Then they were like an ensign,” (Numbers 26:10).
ובתורתו יהגה. אלו בניו של קרח. והיה כעץ שתול [על פלגי מים]. אלו בניו של קרח, כיון שנבלעו קרח ועדתו, נמצאו בניו עומדין כתורן הזה של ספינה, שנאמר ויהיו לנס (במדבר סיני כו י).
Rebbi says, “All of the land around them was torn, and the land beneath them was not.” Rebbi Shmuel son of Nachman said, “The three of them were not standing in one place, but each alone, and they stood like three pillars. And that is what the outside text says, ‘On what does the world stand? On three pillars. Some say Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And some say Chananyah, Mishael, and Azaryah. And some say the three sons of Korach.’”
רבי אומר נקרע כל מקום סביבותיהן, ואותו מקום שהיה עמד תחתיהן לא נקרע. ר' שמואל בר נחמן אמר לא היו שלשתן עומדים במקום אחד, אלא כל אחד ואחד בפני עצמו, והן עומדין כשלשה עמודים, והוא דאמרי ברייתא על מאן קאים עלמא, על שלשה עמודים, אית דאמרי אברהם יצחק יעקב, ואית דאמרי חנניה מישאל ועזריה, ואית דאמרי תלתא בני קרח.
“It is not so for the wicked.” This is Korach and his congregation. “Therefor ethe wicked will not stand in the judgement.” This is Korach and his congregation. “For Hashem knows the way of the righteous.” These are the sons of Korach. “And the way of the wicked will be destroyed.” This is Korach and his congregation.
לא כן הרשעים. זה קרח ועדתו. על כן לא יקומו רשעים במשפט. זה קרח ועדתו. כי יודע ה' דרך צדיקים.אלו בניו של קרח. ודרך רשעים תאבד. זה קרח ועדתו.

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