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Parshas Korach

21/10/09 10:39:58


Rabbi Pesach Siegel



Moshe Rabeinu proclaims that the congregation of Korach will not die a natural death, rather, they will be swallowed up alive by the mouth of the earth. Their death in this manner provides the proof that Moshe is the true messenger of Hashem.

What is so unique about this form of punishment that it clarifies, once and for all, Moshe's role amongst the Bnei Yisroel? Why is it the appropriate way of meting out divine retribution to Korach and his followers?

An insight can be gained by delving into the instance of the first time the earth opened up its mouth to swallow a human being.

The Ohr HaChaim in his commentary to Parshas Breishis (perek 4, posuk 8) comments on the verse "Kol d'mei achicha tzoakim eilai min ha'adama" - The voice of your brother cries out to me from the ground. Hashem is challenging Kayin for the murder of his brother Hevel, whom he subsequently buried under the ground. Why the stress on his voice emanating from the ground? Furthermore, the posuk relates how the ground was cursed for absorbing Hevel's blood. From hence on it would only produce its fruits through tremendous effort. Would it have been preferable for the ground to allow Hevel's body to lie in shame? What is the ground's complicity in the murder of Hevel?

The Ohr HaChaim explains that Kayin actually used the ground to murder his brother Hevel. Kayin was an "Ish HaAdama" a man of the ground. He knew the secrets of the ground. He knew where the mouth of the ground was situated and by manipulation he caused his brother to fall into and be swallowed up by the ground.

The gemorra in meseches Sanhedrin (daf 37b) states that although all of Hashem's creations have their own particular mode of singing His praises (expressing "shira"), from that moment on the earth no longer opened its "mouth".

Until the time of Korach.

There seems to be a connection between the murder of Hevel and the "machlokes" of Korach with Moshe.

The death of Hevel by the hands of Kayin was the direct result of an argument, an argument concerning the acceptance of their sacrifices. Kayin offered up a "korban" to Hashem of non-edible flax. An inferior "korban". Hevel, upon, witnessing this, is moved to bring a "korban" of his own, an offering of choice sheep. Hashem receives the offering of Hevel with favor, while seemingly ignoring that of Kayin's.

What lay behind their distinctly separate modes of worship? The word "korban" means to bring close. The two components of our existence, known as "shamayim" and "aretz" (spirituality and physicality) have the appearance of being two totally separate entities. This is but a facade. They are but two halves of a whole. We facilitate the bonding of the two together by taking from our physical world, bringing it to the "Bais HaMikdash" and by burning it in fire cause the physical to be consumed in the service of the spiritual.

Man was created upon this world to bring "korbanos". To harness the physical with the non-physical and forge one unit. Kayin being an "Ish Adama", one who has a particular bond with the "aretz" (the lowly things in creation), believed that he was uniquely suited for this role. Only he can elevate even the lowest things in creation to their lofty purpose. He brought flax, one of the lowest of things on the vegetation scale. (The Kli Yakar points out that when the word korban is spelled out - kuf, reish, beis, nun - the last letter of the word "kuf" is "pheh", the last letter of the word "reish" is "shin", of the word "beis" is "sav", and of the word "nun" is "nun" - forming the word "pishtan" - flax).

Hevel, on the other hand, had a more lofty nature. One must give of his choice possessions. Hashem accepted Hevel's offering. This was a direct threat to Kayin's "derech avoda" (way of serving Hashem). It was at that moment that the path to successfully serving Hashem was being forged. Kayin believed that only through his way of serving Hashem would the entire "aretz" be elevated. Hevel's path would lead to elements of creation remaining in a lowly state, remaining "aretz". Kayin believed that he is the one to unite shamayim and aretz, Hevel has no place in the service of "korbanos", and therefore should be swallowed up by the "aretz". It wasn't just a convenient way of getting rid of his brother. He was placing him where he felt that he belonged.

Kayin was a murderer. Despite all of Kayin's calculations, it is Hashem who determines how we serve Him. The self sacrifice of giving up one's choicest belongings is the essence of our korbanos. The korban is not merely the object that is being burned but it is the part of ourselves that we offer to Hashem when we give up things that are precious to us.

The "aretz" was an active participant in eliminating Hevel, the true "eved Hashem", the one who was meant to bring Hashem's glory upon this world. The "aretz" is effected by its role in the affair. A creation of Hashem that was used as a tool to eradicate a source of Hashem's honor is no longer a source of "shira" (praise) in this world.

Until the time of Korach.

Korach's argument with Moshe focused on the common man's inability to express himself through the offering of sacrifices. Why is Moshe setting up a hierarchy where only the chosen few are capable of coming close to Hashem through the "avodas hakorbanos"? We find Korach is echoing the words of Kayin. Who is he arguing against? Moshe Rabeinu. Our sages reveal to us that Moshe's "neshama" was that of Hevel. (Moshe's name is formed by the letters - mem, shin, heh - that stand for Moshe, Shes, Hevel).

When the earth swallowed up Korach and his assemblage, the Ohr HaChaim states in his commentary to parshas Korach, that was perhaps a "tikun", a correction, of its role in the swallowing up of the tzaddik Hevel. This was the vindication that Moshe Rabeinu is the ultimate "eved" of Hashem, while Korach's path leads to being swallowed up by the earth. This was a forerunner of the "shirah" which the earth will ultimately sing in the time of our final redemption, may it come speedily in our times.

Sat, August 15 2020 25 Av 5780