Korach – “Woe to the Wicked, and Woe to Their Neighbor”

This week’s Torah portion is Korach. The gemara in Sanhedrin 110a states, it is forbidden to hold on to and continue [or lend support to] a dispute, and one who does so transgresses a negative commandment, as the verse states “Do not be like Korach and his people” (Bamidbar 17:5). The Mishna in Pirkei Avos (5:17) goes as far to say that any argument not for the sake of Heaven will not hold up in the end, like the argument of Korach and his followers. The Bartenura explains that it means an argument that is not for the sake of Heaven; just as Korach’s ultimate purpose was the drive for power and love of victory, and this in the end will not last. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The gemara in Sanhedrin 110a further relates, “With regard to the pasuk: ‘Wealth is kept for the owner to his detriment’ (Koheles 5:12), Reish Lakish says: This is referring to the wealth of Korach, which was of no use to him. The fact that Korach was wealthy is derived from the pasuk: ‘And all the substance that was at their feet’ (Devarim 11:6), as Rabbi Elazar says: This is referring to a person’s property, which stands him on his feet. And Rabbi Levi says: The keys alone to Korach’s treasury were a burden requiring three hundred white mules to transport them, and moreover, all the keys [aklidei] and locks were of leather. This conveys the vastness of his wealth. Rabbi Ḥama, son of Rabbi Ḥanina, says: Yosef concealed three buried treasures in Egypt that he accumulated from the sale of grain during the years of famine. The location of one was revealed to Korach, and the location of one was revealed to Antoninus, son of Asveirus, emperor of Rome, and one remains hidden for the righteous in the future, i.e., in the messianic era.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)

In the first Mishna on the fourth perek of Pirkei Avos, it says “Who is rich? One who is joyous with his lot, as it says (Tehillim 128:2) ‘When you eat the toil of your hands, you are praiseworthy, and it is good for you.’ Praiseworthy in this world and it is good for you in the World to Come,” Rashi on this Mishna explains that “one who is joyous with his lot, the portion that Hashem reserves for him, then all of it will be taken with a nice eye. For one will have a free soul and a good heart with that portion that Hashem reserves for him, whether it is good or bad, an abundance or miniscule. He will not be anguished to run after to gather and acquire more than his portion. If he is not happy with the toil of his hands that he eats from, then what praise does he have? Even the richest of the rich who worries and is depressed with his portion is like poorest of the poor…” (Click here for the Hebrew text.)
I humbly believe that Rashi’s explanation of this Mishna can be applied not only to physical wealth, but to honor and respect, of accepting one position in life. That was Korach’s undoing, as can be seen by a Ralbag in this week’s Torah portion. The Ralbag teaches us, “It’s befitting for a leader, when he sees his followers firmly implanted in the wrong path, to put in effort with wisdom to return them to the good and not get angry at them, even if they are rebelling against him. For you see how Moshe put in effort to appease Korach with convincing words, calmly, without getting angry, by showing with his words that Hashem graciously gave [Korach] respect and honor by what He gave the Leviim as part of the service in the Tent of Meeting to praise Hashem with their singing. His family in particular was very much elevated in this service above all the other Leviim, for the job of the family of Kehas (Korach was from) involved working in the Holy of Holies unlike the families of Gershon and Merari. [Moshe] already showed him as well that this wasn’t the choice of Aharon, but rather Hashem gave him the priesthood. Therefore [Korach] should not have escalated the argument. For this reason, Moshe felt compelled to call on Dasan and Aviram to appease them, knowing that they are a strong reason for this strife, and by appeasing them then Korach might be appeased and saved from all this punishment.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
It is apparent from this Ralbag that Korach probably could have realized that he indeed had a high and important position in the hierarchy of the Jewish people, and the only reason why he wasn’t any higher was because what he had was the portion that Hashem had destined for him. The trouble was that he was not happy with the status quo which Hashem had given him, which was his ultimate demise. But it would seem that he potentially could in fact have accepted Moshe’s argument, if not for the fact that Dasan and Aviram were egging him on to not give up hope of finding more power.

The Mesillas Yesharim at the end of the 5th perek and section of Watchfulness warns to be careful against bad neighbors: “There are three factors which cause loss of and distancing from ‘watchfulness’. The first is involvement and preoccupation in worldly affairs. The second is laughter and levity. The third is bad company. We will discuss each one in turn…The third detrimental factor is [evil] company, namely, the company of fools and sinners. This is what scripture says: “he who befriends the fools will be broken” (Prov.13:20). We can see many times, even after the truth of a man’s duty for Divine service and watchfulness of it has been established by him, he becomes lax in it or transgresses certain commandments so that his friends do not mock him or in order to be able to mingle freely in their company.” (Click here and here for Hebrew text.)

Ultimately, Korach’s association with Dasan and Aviram was the nail in his coffin.