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Numbers 16:1-2 – Disputes

2 Tammuz 5783 – 21 June 2023

“And Korach took…and Dasan and Aviram the sons of Eliav, and On the son of Peles, the sons of Reuven. And they rose up before Moses…”

Our sages teach in Pirkei Avot (5:17) that, “Any dispute that is for the sake of Heaven will have enduring value. But a dispute that is not for the sake of Heaven will not have enduring value. What is an example of a dispute that is for the sake of Heaven? The disputes between Hillel and Shammai. And which was not for the sake of Heaven? The dispute between Korach and his company.”

The last phrase of this Mishnah is obviously problematic. Initially, the Mishnah mentioned Hillel and Shammai, who opposed each other’s views in the House of Study. Therefore, the later part of the Mishnah should have listed the antagonists as Korach and Moses rather than Korach and his cohorts.

There is a profound insight being taught here according to the Malbim. When there is a dispute for the sake of Heaven, both sides are united in their mutual striving for spiritual goals and ultimate truth. But a conflict not for the sake of Heaven is a fight for personal advancement and self-interest. The rebels themselves are really in conflict with each other because they are all selfishly only looking out for their own ambitions. So the dispute was really between Korach and his co-conspirators and surely not for the sake of Heaven.

This helps us understand something peculiar about the peculiar construction of these first two verses in this parasha. The Hebrew word for ‘took’ here is vayikach, which is a singular form of the verb. However, because there are three other people with him, the plural form of the verb, va’yikchu, should have been used. The second verse appropriately uses the plural form for ‘rising up’ – va’yakumu, since it speaking about the group rising up against Moses.

R’ Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer explains that Torah uses the singular form of the verb ‘took’ here to emphasize that each of the rebels was only out for himself. They didn’t really constitute a united group.

By Rabbi Michael Skobac

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