THOUGHT FOR PARSHAT KORACH 5779
BY RABBI CHAIM FACHLER
The Korach Rebellion is well documented. Power-seeking Korach persuaded consistent troublemakers Datan and Aviram and 250 Princes from various Tribes, to rise up against Moshe, blaming him for the sudden turn of events and the decree that delayed arriving in the Promised Land by 40 years.
This uprising is quickly quashed by Heavenly Intervention, but the punishment meted out to Korach, Datan and Aviram on the one hand, and the 250 Princes on the other, differed substantially. While the former suffered the public humiliation of being swallowed up alive, the 250 were instantly consumed by a Heavenly Fire.
The Netziv points out that this same punishment by fire was given to Nadav and Avihu, Aharon's two sons. The Netziv explains that in both instances, the intentions of the “sinners” were actually "Leshem Shamayim" – for the Sake of HaShem. They desperately wanted to serve HaShem in the highest possible form. As a result, they were "honoured" by dying by a Heavenly-sent fire, and not in the dishonourable way that Korach and his cohorts suffered.
The error of the 250 Princes was identical to that of Nadav and Avihu. They did not understand that serving HaShem has to be according to HaShem's dictates, rather than according to our own usually mistaken interpretation. Too often, we "justify" our actions by claiming that they are intended to please HaShem. This can hold water only if HaShem has thus prescribed.
The Netziv refers to this misguided activity as trying to "bribe" HaShem. If HaShem has given us a mitzvah to perform, then performing it is what is expected of us. If the action is forbidden, then there can be no justification, even when the intention might be honourable.
There are some who seek to make Judaism more populist by moving the goalposts. Similarly, we Jews tend to bend over backwards to "explain" our Judaism to the outside world, or worse, show a willingness to compromise our Jewish beliefs and principles, hoping that the world will accept us, and even love us a little better. This never works. The more we compromise, the less we are respected. The stronger we are in our Torah-based beliefs, the more respect we will command.
Korach’s motives were personal and political. Datan and Aviram’s motives were simply malicious. The 250 Princes’ motives were much purer than any of the other protagonists. But ultimately, due to the rebellious elements to HaShem’s Authority of all the individuals party to this insurrection, HaShem deemed it necessary to intervene personally and dramatically on Moshe’s behalf.