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Sukkat Shalom B'nei Noach





Don’t Be Like Korach

In the narrative of Korach’s rebellion, we encounter two allied factions opposing Moses: the group led by Korach and another led by Dathan and Abiram, supported by 250 “chieftains.” Both groups challenge Moses’ authority, questioning why he should place himself above the rest of the community. Their argument hinges on the claim that the entire congregation is holy and unique, and therefore, no one should assume a higher position or role. This discussion particularly focuses on Numbers 16:3-4, about Korach:

and they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them: ‘Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the L-RD is among them; wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the assembly of the L-RD?’וַיִּֽקָּהֲל֞וּ עַל־מֹשֶׁ֣ה וְעַֽל־אַהֲרֹ֗ן וַיֹּאמְר֣וּ אֲלֵהֶם֮ רַב־לָכֶם֒ כִּ֤י כׇל־הָֽעֵדָה֙ כֻּלָּ֣ם קְדֹשִׁ֔ים וּבְתוֹכָ֖ם ד’ וּמַדּ֥וּעַ תִּֽתְנַשְּׂא֖וּ עַל־קְהַ֥ל ד’׃
And when Moses heard it, he fell upon his face.וַיִּשְׁמַ֣ע מֹשֶׁ֔ה וַיִּפֹּ֖ל עַל־פָּנָֽיו׃

Korach presents himself as a man of dual nature. Initially, his proposal appears constructive and aligned with earlier advice given to Moses by Jethro. Jethro suggested that Moses delegate responsibilities to others to avoid being overwhelmed (Exodus 18:17-23). Korach seems to echo this advice, suggesting that the tasks of leadership and Temple service could be distributed among all the firstborn, as they are holy (Exodus 13:2 and Deuteronomy 14:2). It appears as though Korach is advocating for a fair distribution of duties to prevent Moses from being overburdened and to ensure everyone’s happiness.

However, an examination reveals Korach’s true motives. Rashi interprets Korach’s words as an accusation that Moses has taken too much power for himself. The Hebrew phrase רַב־לָכֶם (it is too much for you) implies that Moses has usurped an oversized portion of leadership. Korach’s challenge—” wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the assembly?” suggests envy and ambition rather than genuine concern. Korach is not the warm, empathetic individual he portrays himself to be; rather, he is cold (קרח, which also means ice in Hebrew) and self-serving.

Upon hearing Korach’s accusations, Moses immediately falls on his face. This act, וַיִּפֹּ֖ל עַל־פָּנָֽיו, contrasts sharply with Korach’s “raising.” Moses’ reaction can be seen as an expression of deep humility and a plea for Divine Guidance . He recognizes the public rebuke and shame is directed at Aaron more than at himself. While Moses prostrates himself, Aaron does not, reflecting his modesty and his ability to absorb the insult with grace.

G-d responds to Moses by instructing him to set a test that will demonstrate to the people who He has chosen for the sacred duties of the Temple and leadership. This Divine intervention aims to clarify the rightful leaders and the rest of Israel to the followers of Korach, Dathan, and Abiram. Korach’s public criticism and confrontation revealed his lack of true holiness and disqualified him from any sacred role. Ultimately, the ground opened up and swallowed Korach and his followers, serving as a stark divine judgment against their rebellion.

Lessons from the Story of Korach

  1. Be Sincere and Honest with Others.

We must strive to be genuine in our interactions, avoiding the duplicity that Korach exemplified. Deceiving others with our words, even under the guise of concern, is a form of theft known as “geneivat daat,”[1] or stealing someone’s mind. If we inquire about someone’s life without genuine interest, we create a false sense of care, much like Korach did with Moses. This serves as a warning: people do not always mean what they say.

Imagine walking into a store, and a salesperson approaches you with enthusiasm. He warmly greets you and offers various services. The salesperson seems genuinely interested in you as a person, asking about your job, family, and interests. You feel welcome and valued. Over time, however, you discover that the salesperson uses the same warm and personal approach with every customer, regardless of who they are. His interest is purely professional and strategic, intended to make you feel good and persuade you to make a purchase. He has no real interest in your personal life.

Similarly, consider receiving a call from an old friend you haven’t spoken to in years. He asks how you’re doing, shows genuine interest in your life, and inquires about your job and family. You feel flattered and happy that he has taken the time to reconnect. At the end of the conversation, it turns out that your friend has become a salesperson and actually contacted you to sell a product or service. His interest in your life wasn’t real; it was a means to gain your trust and use it for his sales goal.

Both scenarios illustrate the essence of “geneivat daat”. The interactions give a false sense of genuine concern and interest, but they are motivated by hidden agendas. In the case of Korach, his apparent concern for equality among the Israelites was actually a guise for his own desire for power and prestige. This type of deception can erode trust and leave people feeling manipulated.

To avoid falling into the trap of geneivat daat, we must be sincere in our dealings with others. Genuine care and transparency are essential in building authentic relationships. Let us strive to ensure that our words and actions reflect true concern and integrity, rather than a facade of interest with underlying selfish motives.

  1. Never Publicly Humiliate or Shame Anyone.

Just as it is forbidden to cause physical harm, it is equally prohibited to inflict emotional suffering with our words. Public humiliation, as Moses experienced, is a grave offense. The Sages said: “One who causes his fellow to pale in public does not have a portion in the World to Come,” meaning that (a) one is forbidden to insult another person with words to an extent that his facial appearance changes, and (b) this is punishable by G-d.[2] Moses’ act of falling on his face is sometimes interpreted as a sign of his deep distress, his face turning pale from the shame imposed by Korach.

  1. Jealousy, Desire, and the Pursuit of Honor Can Destroy Lives.

The Talmud warns that jealousy, lust, and the quest for honor can drive a person out of this world. Korach’s desire for power and recognition led to his downfall. His story is a cautionary tale about the dangers of letting such emotions govern our actions.[3]

By Angelique Sijbolts

Notes and Sources:

This piece was inspired by:

Two-Faced Korach

Art of Revelation
by Yoram and Meira Raanan

[1] Let’s Do Lunch!

by Emuna Braverman

[2] Moral obligations as discussed in The Divine Code by Rabbi Moshe Weiner, 4e edition, p. 374
[3]The dangers of negative traits outlined in The Divine Code by Rabbi Moshe Weiner, 4e edition, p. 97.

Texts Mechon Mamre

With thanks to Rabbi Tani Burton and Dr. Michael Schulman for the feedback

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