Parashas Korach

This week’s parashah recounts the rebellion of Korach and his followers against Moshe and Aharon. Moshe responds to the rebels as follows (Bamidbar 16:8-11):
Listen now, sons of Levi! Is it too little for you that the God of Israel has set you apart from the assembly of Israel to draw you near to Him—to perform the service of the Sanctuary of Hashem, and to stand before the assembly to minister to them? And He drew you near … yet you seek the priesthood as well! Thus, you and your entire assembly are joining against Hashem – and Aharon, who is he, that you protest against him?
The Midrash elaborates as follows (Bamidbar Rabbah 18:9):
Moshe said to them: “Had my brother Aharon taken the priesthood for himself, it would have been proper for you to protest against him. But since the Holy One Blessed Be He gave him his greatness, power, and kingship, whoever stands against Aharon is standing against none other than the Holy One Blessed Be He.” Thus it written: “And Aharon, who is he, that you protest against him?” Come and see the piety of Aharon the righteous one. When Moshe poured the annointing oil on his head, Aharon was shaken and reeled back. He said to Moshe: “My brother, perhaps … I have embezzled the annointing oil?” … Hence Scripture testifies about him (Tehillim 133:1-3): “Behold, how good and how pleasant, two brothers dwelling together. Like fine oil upon the head, flowing down upon the beard, the beard of Aharon, like the dew of [Mount] Hermon ….” The verse juxtaposes the annointing oil with the dew of Hermon – just as there is no embezzling of the dew of Hermon, so, too, there was no embezzlement in the oil that flowed down upon Aharon. Hence [Korach’s assembly was] “joining against Hashem.”
I present here the Maggid’s explanation of this Midrash.
The Maggid defines two basic types of mitzvos. One type is a mitzvah that poses a hurdle, such as fasting on Yom Kippur or giving charity. The second type is a mitzvah that gives a person pleasure, such as eating sumptuous meals on Shabbos and Yom Tov. With the first type, it is clear that a person doing the mitzvah act is doing it for the sake of the mitzvah. But with the second type, it is not so clear: Is the person who sits down for a Shabbos meal doing so in order to honor Shabbos, or in order to please his palate? Maintaining the proper intent when doing mitzvos of this second type is one of greatest challenges in mitzvah performance.
Taking up the position of Kohen Gadol was a mitzvah of this second type. Aharon was therefore afraid that his intent was tainted – that some part of his mind was taking pleasure in the greatness that he was receiving. This is why he was worried about having embezzled the annointing oil. But the Scripture testifies that his intent was pure. And this is what Moshe told Korach and his group. Aharon did not take the priesthood for himself – he took it at Hashem’s behest, without any trace of personal interest. Hence Korach and his group had no grounds for protesting against Aharon, and in so doing they were joining against Hashem.
The Maggid links the phrase “joining against Hashem” (noadim al Hashem) with the constrast our Sages draw between the dream of Yaakov and the dream of Pharaoh. Yaakov saw Hashem standing over him (alav). Pharaoh, on the other hand, saw himself standing over the Nile (al ha-Yeor), which was a major Egyptian deity. In Bereishis Rabbah 89:4, the Sages remark that righteous people set Hashem over themselves, while wicked people set themselves over their gods. That is, the righteous try to spur themselves to serve Hashem, while the wicked try to spur their gods to cater to their desires. Similarly, Aharon took the priesthood in order to serve Hashem, while Korach and his group wanted the priesthood for their own self-aggrandizement.
The Maggid then analyzes the phrase “is it too little for you.” In Hebrew, this phrase is ha-me’at mi-kem, which can be read “the little you have, shall be taken from you.” The Maggid explains the idea behind this through an analogy about a lord who owned many fields, which he put under the care of a number of his peasant servants. The servants would bring in all the grain into the lord’s storehouses, without being given any portion. Yet the lord was not worried about theft, for he trusted his servants, and thus he did not take any steps to ensure accountability. The lord would apportion the workload according to the servant’s strength – some would work one field, some two, and so on. Once one of the servants complained to the lord about having received only one field, while other servants received two or three. The lord responded by taking the servant’s one field away from him. The servant then approached the lord, saying: “It wasn’t enough not to give me more fields, you had to take the one I had away from me?” The lord replied: “From the fact that you pleaded with me for more fields, I knew that you are a thief. If you were loyal, and your sole intent was to carry out your duties faithfully, you would not have asked for an added load. You asked for more fields for your own benefit, in order to be able to steal more. Hence I took away the field you had.”
Similarly, Moshe told Korach and his group that if they were loyal servants of Hashem, setting Hashem over themselves, they would not have asked for more responsibilty than Hashem had given them. The fact that they did seek more responsibility was a sign that their intent was to use their position to serve their own interests. They were, in essence, embezzlers. Hence they deserved to be removed from the positions they had been given.
PS: This piece reminds me of a story I once saw about Reb Zusha of Anapoli. Reb Zusha was asked whether he would have liked to trade places with Avraham Avinu. Zusha replied: “What difference does it make? Either way, there’d be one Avraham Avinu and one Zusha.” This attitude typifies the humble servant of Hashem.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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