“Korah son of Yitshar son of Kehat son of Levi “took”, with Datan and Abiram, sons of Eliav, and On son of Peleth, the offspring of Reuven.”
“Vayikach Korach” – what did he take? There is no inference either in this verse or in the following verse as to what exactly Korach took.
Targum Onkelus translates the Hebrew “Vayikach” into the Aramaic “Veitpaleig”, meaning that Korach and his followers separated themselves from the people in an attempt to overthrow the leadership.
Rashi supports this view – Korach took himself, he placed himself at odds with the rest of the assembly to protest against Aharon’s assumption of the Priesthood.
Ramban takes issue with Rashi. He states that the opinion of the Midrash Tanchuma differs from Rashi’s interpretation. The Tanchuma explains that his heart took control of him. The verse thus does not mean to say that Korach betook himself physically to one side of the camp. The meaning of the verse, according to the Midrash, is that Korach took counsel in his heart, for the term taking applies also to counsel and thought.
However, the Ramban adds that in his opinion the phrase “taking” always occurs at the beginning of an event, being an expression of taking action to do the deed mentioned, i.e. the assembling against Moshe and Aharon. Alternatively the term taking could refer to the object mentioned subsequently, that is to say, that Korach took the two hundred and fifty men.
The Or Hachaim has an exceptional explanation. According to the Or Hachaim the object is mentioned in the verse. What did Korach take? He took the fact that he was “the son of Yitshar”. That is to say, he claimed that he was the son of the second in line in the family of Kehat, and should therefore have been given the presidency of the tribe. In addition he argued that he was “the son of Kehat”, the most esteemed of the three children of Levi. Not only was Korach the son of Yitshar, second only to Amram, he was also a member of the family of Kehat the most esteemed of the children of Levi, in addition he was from the tribe of Levi, the spiritual leaders of Am Yisrael. It is with these facts that Korach challenges Moshe. The verse should therefore be read as follows: Korach took the fact that he was son of Yitshar, son of Kehat, son of Levi, it was with these issues that he confronted Moshe. Convinced of his pedigree, of his hierarchical status he challenged the leadership. He also took Datan and Abiram, as they were leaders from the tribe of Reuven, the firstborn of Yaakov.
The Keli Yakar quotes the Midrash. At the end of last week’s parasha, we were informed of the Mitzva of Tsitsit. Korach “took” the parsasha of tsitsit and challenged Moshe in the realms of Halacha. If a garment is completely made of techelet does it need tsitsit of techelet on its’ fringes? Moshe replied in the affirmative. Korach challenged the answer given by Moshe. If one thread of techelet can be used to exempt a garment of tsitsit, then surely a garment of techelet would not require tsitsit?! Similarly Korach claimed that a house full of sifrei kodesh would surely not require a Mezuza on the outside, once again Moshe disagreed.
Rabbi Zevin, in explaining this Midrash, describes the real dispute that was taking place. Korach claimed that if a person believes in G_d, then that is all that matters. The external expression of ones belief should be left to each and every individual to decide. “We all heard the first two mitzvoth – “I am the L-rd your G-d”, “You should not have any other gods besides Me”. These two mitzvoth refer to belief. The other 611 you told us, we did not hear them for ourselves”. If a house is filled with sefarim is there a need for a mezuza on the doorpost? If a garment is made of techelet, is there a need for extra threads of techelet on the fringes of that garment? If we believe internally, why do we need the external expressions by way of Mitzvot? Korach establishes a philosophy, he creates a “mishkan Korach”. Moshe disagrees, it is not enough to believe, we must realize our beliefs in order for them to have true long lasting meaning. As human beings we are defined in three areas – by our thoughts, by our speech, and by our deeds. Our service of Hashem must be expressed in all three areas, thus Korach’s philosophy cannot be accepted.
Yet when we look more carefully, we can note a phenomenon of great significance. A phenomenon that as human beings we all suffer from. It is clear for us all to see, that what really bothered Korach was that he did not receive a position that he felt was his due. Instead of openly admitting his real claims and in doing so exposing his weaknesses, he established a philosophical issue as a “front”, an “alternative” to Moshe.
More often that not, instead of dealing with our own faults, we create philosophies to “defend” our positions. We rationalize our behavior. We have even been known to adapt our faults into ideologies. Whether Korach did this consciously or sub-consciously is difficult to say. What, however, is clear to us, is that this is a weakness that we must try to deal with. Instead of creating philosophies to cover up our desires, we must admit our faults and deal with them as efficiently as possible. Our so-called defense mechanism is quite the opposite in reality. Taking pain relievers may help in the short run, but if there is something really wrong with a person, they will not offer the solution, they simply avoid dealing with an existing problem that will not go away.
The Chatam Sofer points out that Korach was named after one of the children of Esau (See Bereishit 36/14). Taking this idea we could suggest that “Vayikach Korach” means to infer that he took the essence of his name, and thus demanded what he demanded. We know from our studies in Bereishit that Esau was a “nowist”. Our Rabbis tell us that he was named Esau because he came out of his mother’s womb “Asui” “Ready”. Esau willingly gives up his rights because at present he is hungry. All that interests Esau is now, he cannot take the long run into account. Perhaps we could suggest that this is exactly what happens in the case of Korach. He feels that his standing in the community is lacking, and instead of working on himself, slowly developing himself spiritually, he demands instant elevation. Once again this is an issue that we all have to deal with on a daily basis. More often then not, we are not prepared to put in the necessary effort, in order to achieve what has to be achieved. As our Rabbis tell us, this entire world exists only for the purpose of preparation. Our Avodat Hashem needs immense effort before we will reap fruits from it, yet as the Gemara in Megilla assures us, there is no doubt that he who puts the effort in will surely see the results of his work.
Finally, I would like to mention a suggestion proffered by my late Rabbi and Teacher Rabbi Yitschak Bernstein (of blessed memory). He explained that “Vayicach Korach” is describing who Korach was. Korach was a taker. He was a selfish individual who only had his own interests at heart, and was ready to lead the entire community astray, just in order that he achieve what he wanted to achieve. Korach is the absolute antithesis of Moshe Rabbeinu. Moshe is a selfless giving person, who would willingly give of his life for the sake of Am Yisrael.
In all of us there is both Korach (the taker), and Moshe (the giver). We are told by our Rabbis that “The children of Korach never died” this characteristic – “to take for ourselves” exists in all of us, we must do our very best to emulate Moshe, to give as much as we possibly can whenever we can – Moshe Emet VeTorato Emet.