In this week’s parsha, we read about Korach’s rebellion. Rashi tells us that Korach was disturbed that Moshe appointed Eltzafun ben Uziel to be the nasi of bnei Kehas when Korach felt he rightfully deserved the position since his father, Yitzhar, was older than Eltzafun’s father, Uziel.
What Korach failed to understand was that Moshe didn’t pick him; rather, as Rashi says, he was chosen al pi ha’dibur – by Hashem. We find similarly that when Shmuel Hanavi went to anoint one of Yishai’s sons to become the future king of Klal Yisrael, Shmuel first thought it was Eliav; but Hashem told him “It is not as man sees, man sees what his eyes behold, but Hashem sees into the heart” (Shmuel I 16:7). For some divine reason Hashem chose Eltzafun to be the nasi instead of Korach who would have been the birthright choice. Hashem sees the heart while we can only see what our eyes behold.
The only other time the Torah talks about Eltzafun is when Nadav and Avihu died at the inauguration of the Mishkan after they had brought a foreign fire that they were not commanded to. Moshe called to Eltzafun and his brother Mishael to remove the bodies from the Mishkan. We see from this that Eltzafun was called upon to help others and did as he was told. Perhaps, this is an indication of Eltzafun’s humility and that his heart was in the right place.
Because Korach did not trust that Moshe had appointed Eltzafun al pi ha’dibur he rebelled – taking issue not only regarding the position of nasi, but also about Moshe and Aharon’s positions as well.
In pointing out Korach’s error, many point to the fact that Korach said, “Why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of Hashem?” However, R Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (Meged Givos Olam I page 37) suggests that his mistake was when he said earlier, “The entire assembly – all of them – are holy.” We find a similar wording in davening on Rosh Hashanah, “[Hashem] Rule over the whole world – all of it – with your honor.” The Levush in fact wonders about the double wording of the whole and all of it, and actually says that we should not say the second word “kulo – all of it.” Rav Soloveitchik suggests that the meaning of the double wording is to indicate that everyone will be on the same level. In that part of davening we ask that Hashem rule over the entire world and everyone will realize equally that He is the king.
Similarly, in Korach’s rebellion when he states that “the entire assembly – all of them – are holy,” he was saying that everyone in Klal Yisrael are equally holy. Everyone was on the same level. Therefore, he concluded with the natural question, Why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of Hashem? However, therein lies Korach’s sin. For there are many different levels in Klal Yisrael; there are talmidei chachamim on many different levels, and there are neviim and on top of all the nevi’im was Moshe Rabbeinu. In fact, one of the 13 ani ma’amin is the we believe that no one was or will be greater than Moshe Rabbenu in nevu’ah. The bottom line is there are many levels in Klal Yisrael and if one equates everyone, then he will not be able to respect those who are in fact holier than he is.
The Rambam at the end of Hilchos Tumas Tzaras writes that one who speaks lashon hara will ultimately come to speak ill of the tzadikim, and then the nevi’im and then even against Hashem himself and become a kofer. How is it that one who speaks lashon hara can come to these levels? It is because speaking ill of other people means that they fail to recognize the levels that people are on, they intend to portray the sweet as bitter and the bitter as sweet. As the Rambam there writes, this was Miriam’s sin when she spoke about Moshe to Aharon. She didn’t recognize that he was indeed on a higher level than she. And the Rambam points out that this was despite the fact that she raised him when he was young, she risked her life for him, and she did not mean him any harm when she spoke about him, and he didn’t care that she spoke about him. Nonetheless, she was punished with tzaras because she erred in equating him to herself.
May we remember what happened to Miriam and to Korach and learn to respect the echelons of Klal Yisrael.