Insights into Parshat Korach of Mr. Nachum Lichtman of Yeshivat Sha’alvim, by Rav Re’uven Ungar of Sha’alvim.
Klal Yisrael after having the spiritually elevated experience of the Matan Torah, unfortunately went on the decline. The last couple of Parshiot detail some of the lowest points of the nations history. The Parsha gives over the narrative of Korach, a rebel who harbored intense jealousy to the Jewish lay leaders. He rallied 250 “princes of the assembly” and convinced them that Moshe and Aron were power hungry. He influenced them by telling them that they are all holy for they were all present at Matan Torah. This elaborate scheme was done in order to try to attain the status of Kohen Gadol for himself. The story continues with Moshe Rabbeinu telling all the 250 princes to make “Machtot” (“fire-pan offerings”) to Hashem along with Aron Hakohen to see who is the real head honcho. In the end Hashem accepts Aron’s offering, and kills the 250 other people. Hashem created a miracle in which the ground opening up under Korach and swallowed him up, leaving a profound impression of the rest of Klal Yisrael.
Rashi comments on the Pasuk (16:6) which quotes Moshe’s response of “take fire-pans …and put them in front of Hashem tomorrow”. He explains that Moshe chose this test specifically because “among the other nations they have many rites, and many clergymen… we have one Hashem, one ark, and one Torah, one alter, and one Kohen Gadol, yet all 250 of you are trying to get it”. The question is what is the meaning of this nebulous response that Moshe gives after Korach claims that the 250 people are all holy?
A second question arises from the Gemara in Bava Batra 74a. The Gemara is in the midst of listing 21 aggadic stories teaching a variety of lessons in Mussar and Avodat Hashem. The 14th story is about Rabbah bar bar Chanah who is taken by an arab merchant to see that exact location of ground that swallowed up Korach and his followers! Rabbah describes seeing 2 cracks in the ground that emitted smoke. It was so hot (representing their eternal Gehenom) that even when he trying placing some wet wool over the crack it was still singed. Furthermore, he describes that when he listened closely he could hear the faint words of ” Moshe v’Torato emet v’hen badain” meaning Moshe and his Torah are true and they are contrivers. The Gemara continues to say that every 30 days they were stirred around like a cauldron and on every 30th day, it is possible to hear then screaming this phrase. Rashi explains that every 30th day means every Rosh Chodesh. The second troubling question is what’s the significance of this story and why does Rashi have to go out of his way to comment that its specifically on Rosh Chodesh that the sinners said that they were wrong?
To answer these questions we first must look at the reason for Rosh Chodesh. It starts from the famous story of when the Boreh Olam created both the sun and the moon. The Gemara in Chullin 60b relates how the moon complained to Hashem that there can’t be 2 rulers simultaneously . The moon wanted to get rid of the sun. In response Hashem said you’re correct moon, “go shrink yourself”. Hashem ultimately gave the moon Rosh Chodesh as a sort of kapara for it’s whining.
Thus we are back to the Chumash. Rashi’s interpretation of Moshe’s response was explaining what the dispute was predicated on. Korach insisted that similar to gentiles, there could be many leading holy figures under one crown while Moshe said that there could only be one Kohen Gadol.
Furthermore in the Gemara when it said that Korach admitted that Moshe and his Torah is emet, its because he realized that Moshe was in fact right that there can’t be two ultimate leaders at once. That also explains the significance of Rosh Chodesh being the day on which Korach repents because that’s the day that Hashem made for Kapara for the moon when we he showed him that only one entity could rule at once.