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  • Hillels of Georgia

Leah Bader - 6/26/2020

This week’s Parsha was Parshat Korach. In the reading of this week’s Torah portion, Korach, one of the priests from the tribe of Levi, comes to Moshe to complain. He criticizes Moshe’s brother Aharon’s appointment to be Kohen Hagadol, or the highest of the Priests, and complains that he was never given the opportunity to serve in a greater capacity. Moshe tells him that if he is unable to accept Moshe’s answer, then they will see G-d’s answer through an event where both Korach and Aharon bring incense offerings. If G-d accepts Korach’s incense offering, then his complaint was valid, and Moshe was wrong to dismiss it. But if G-d accepts Aharon’s offering, then Korach was wrong to complain, he will suffer repercussions for beginning the conflict. Korach and all of his followers bring their offerings, while Aharon brings his. Moshe warns those who stand with Korach that they will suffer his fate and entreats that they distance themselves from him. In the end, G-d accepts Aharon’s offering, and the ground opens up and swallows up Korach, his followers, and all of their families and properties. 

This story prompts a lot of questions. Were Korach’s intentions inherently wrong? Or was it the way that he went about questioning Moshe that was incorrect? Did he truly deserve his punishment? Why were so many other people punished for standing with him? In order to more closely examine this story, I wanted to discuss two concepts that I was always taught when learning this story. The first of these concepts is the concept of “Machloket Lshem Shamayim,” or an argument for the sake of heaven. This concept concerns conflict and outlines worthwhile or correct arguments for the sake of heaven, and incorrect arguments for the sake of ego, personal gain, or other, less righteous purposes. Pirkei Avot, or Ethics of our Fathers expounds on the concept of “Machloket Lshem Shamayim”, giving the example of such a conflict in the arguments of Hillel and Shamai, two Talmudic commentators who consistently disagreed with each other as to what the correct ruling of the law was. Despite their constant disagreement, the conflict between the two traditions of Hillel and Shamai was seen to have been for the sake of heaven and thus was a worthwhile and righteous conflict. Conversely, Pirkei Avot gives Korach and his complaint as the example of a conflict that was not “Lshem Shamayim,” or for the sake of heaven. In examining this concept and reflecting on Pirkei Avot’s interpretation of this concept in the context of Korach, we can gain a deeper insight into where he went wrong.

The second concept that I was taught when learning about the torah portion of Korach was “Oy L’rasha, Oy Lshcheino,” or “Woe to an evil person, woe to his neighbor.” As seen in the story of Korach, the concept warns that people’s environments can have serious effects on them. The people who stood with Korach and shared his punishment were from the tribes that camped close to Korach, teaching us that our environments can have large effects on us. Beyond teaching a responsibility to be aware of the environments that we find ourselves in, I think that this concept also raises the important idea of social responsibility and that our actions can have implications on those around us. The recognition of the responsibility that we have towards others is especially important in this time, as we as a society are engaged in unprecedented discussions of social responsibility as a result of the pandemic and protests. We need to evaluate the social responsibility that we have to the health, rights, and opportunities of others. By looking at the story of Korach and his complaint and eventual fate through the two concepts of Machloket Lshem Shamayim and Oy Lrasha Oy Lshcheino, we can better understand what happens in the parsha. Additionally, we are reminded to examine the level of social responsibility we must exercise to ensure that we have only positive impacts on those around us. 

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