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The articles in this column are transcriptions and adaptations of shiurim by Rav Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, zt”l. The Rav’s unique perspective on Chumash permeated many of the shiurim and lectures he presented at various venues over a 40-plus-year period. His words add an important perspective that makes the Chumash in particular, and our tradition in general, vibrant and relevant to our generation.



There were several episodes prior to the Korach event where the people complained spontaneously in reaction to challenging situations. The encounter with Amalek, drought, the wilderness itself, were catalysts for the people to complain. These complaints could be understood in the context of primitive man reacting to being challenged by stressful situations. They reacted out of fear when they saw Egypt pursuing them and when they could not drink from the bitter waters of Marah. The people complained to Moses about the loss of the fleshpots of Egypt. In Rfidim they again quarreled with Moshe over the lack of water. These were not political or ideological controversies, but complaints by former slaves presented with uncomfortable situations they were simply unprepared for. Even the golden calf episode was precipitated by the perception of terror motivated by the loss of their leader Moshe. These episodes portray a mob mentality that quickly regains equilibrium after the episode. Even with the episode of the spies, there was no pre-meditated conspiracy among the people. It was a spontaneous reaction to their fear of failure to conquer Eretz Yisrael, motivated by the spies.

The Korach Rebellion was not precipitated by a mob experiencing physical discomfort. The people in general did not participate in the Korach controversy. The Korach conspiracy was a well-planned rebellion that involved some 250 individuals, mostly of the intellectual aristocracy. What prompted Korach to rebel? According to Ramban, Korach’s hatred of Moshe began when Aaron was selected as high priest while the rest of the Levites were designated to serve in the Tabernacle. Korach felt Moshe and Aaron usurped the prized roles, depriving him of a more significant role. Aaron’s selection coincided with the Tabernacle consecration, approximately one year prior to sending the spies. Korach realized the people were very devoted to Moshe and would resist any attempt to unseat him. Korach decided to wait patiently for an opportunity to undermine Moshe’s authority.

Korach’s moment arrived sooner than he anticipated with the meraglim incident. The decree that the current generation would not enter the land was a severe blow to Moshe and his prestige. Moshe promised, on behalf of Hashem, that those who felt the lash of their Egyptian taskmasters would inherit the promised land of milk and honey. When they sent the spies, they were prepared to invade from the south. Suddenly their sojourn in the wilderness was extended 38 years. All their hopes and dreams were shattered. No land of milk and honey, no fulfillment of V’heiveisi. Many more difficult years would pass before they would enter the Promised Land. They asked each other, “What of Moshe’s promise?” How could they endure the desert for another 38 years? The people complained spontaneously. Moshe’s popularity plummeted.

Korach realized that his opportunity to reveal his plot against Moshe arrived. Until Korach’s rebellion, no one dared challenge Moshe’s authority. They stood in awe of Moshe, despite all the hardships. Korach was the first to argue with Moshe and separate himself from the community that revered and loved Moshe. He recruited others to join him in challenging Moshe.

Rashi interpreted “Vayikach Korach” two ways. He “separated himself” to one side with the intention of arguing over the priesthood. Vayikach implies he dedicated himself completely to unseating Moshe and undermining his exalted position among the people. Korach pursued a personal vendetta. Once the 40-year sojourn in the wilderness was decreed, Korach revealed his plans to Dathan and Aviram and other aggrieved individuals. According to Ramban, the Reuvenites felt slighted by Jacob’s stripping the birthright from Reuven and granting it to Joseph. They were angry that the monarchy was given to Judah and the high priesthood to Levi and Aaron. Jacob was no longer extant, so they transferred their enmity to Moshe. Reuven was therefore attracted to Korach as it says woe to the wicked and woe to his neighbor.


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Rabbi Joshua Rapps attended the Rav's shiur at RIETS from 1977 through 1981 and is a musmach of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan. He and his wife Tzipporah live in Edison, N.J. Rabbi Rapps can be contacted at [email protected].