My time learning in Eretz Yisrael is filled with vivid memories. I ate out one Friday night with a friend and as we were walking back to Har Nof we heard such beautiful singing coming through an apartment window. Pausing to savor the moment, I said to my friend, “Let’s see where the zemiros are coming from. We have to join them!” We followed the music, knocked on the door and just like that, we were inside singing with them. The wonders of living in Eretz Yisrael!
Music and song are spiritually powerful. People play music all the time—in their home, when they drive, in stores and waiting rooms. But music is more than entertainment. It can channel our emotions and lift us up to higher levels. Many of our tefillos (prayers) have become songs with various melodies. Many of these songs come from Tehillim, compiled by Dovid Hamelech. Still, Dovid was not the originator of all of the chapters; many were composed earlier by different people. Twelve of the 150 chapters of Tehillim were composed by the children of Korach! Yes, the Korach who instigated a coup against Moshe and Aharon; the Korach who met his demise when the Earth opened up and swallowed all the people involved in his attempted coup.
When and how did the sons of Korach become the composers of these songs of prayer? How did they merit to be included in Tehillim? The Torah in Parshas Pinchas tells us that the sons of Korach did not perish. At the last moment, says the Gemara, the sons of Korach did teshuva, so when the ground swallowed up Korach and his followers the sons were left standing atop an outcrop within the opening, from where they sang songs to Hashem. The Midrash says that after these songs, they emerged from the Earth.
When the ground opened up and swallowed them and their homes, all the Bnei Yisrael in the surrounding area “…nasu l’kolom,” which Rashi translates as “…they fled from the sound of the Earth swallowing them.” But the prefix letter “lamed” literally means “to,” which would mean that everyone ran to the sound!
Rav Moshe Wolfson explains, based on the above Gemara, that when the sons of Korach were saved they sang a song to Hashem (chapter 98 of Tehillim, one of the 12 chapters of Tehillim that they composed). The same was true with Adam, when he did teshuva for the sin of eating from the eitz hadas (tree of knowledge) and then composed Tehillim 92, Mizmor Shir L’yom HaShabbos.
The Bnei Yisrael heard the sweetest sounds of song coming from “the ground” and they ran to hear the song sung by the sons of Korach. This song inspired the rest of the Jews to do teshuva for their complaints about Moshe and Aharon and to strengthen their emunah (faith) in Hashem. This is alluded to in the word “kolom” in which each letter creates the first letter of the words “uvnei Korach lo meisu,” The sons of Korach didn’t die.”
On Rosh Hashanah, prior to sounding the shofar, the 47th chapter of Tehillim is recited seven times by the entire congregation. Surprisingly enough, this is one of the chapters composed by the sons of Korach! Why was this song specifically chosen as the preparation for the mitzvah of shofar? It’s because the sons of Korach repented at the last moment and Hashem accepted their teshuva. This is the message for us to awaken ourselves and make sure we have done teshuva before the sounding of the shofar—that it is never too late! Hashem will accept us with open arms and longs to hear our song. Each of our lives is a continuous song, and when we channel our energies and live our lives for Hashem, even our past misdeeds turn into the sweet sounds of beautiful songs to Hashem.
What prompted the last-minute change of heart of the sons of Korach? Rav Hirsch explains that Moshe told the group of Korach, “In the morning, the matter shall be resolved.” Moshe pushed off the proof of his words to let the day and night pass. Moshe wanted to give all those involved in the dispute time to go home and sleep on the matter. He gave them quiet time with their families to reflect on their involvement without the influence and pressures of the others involved in the coup. Indeed, four people were saved because of this delay—Onn ben Peles and the three sons of Korach.
Let us utilize some “quiet time” to reflect on our goals and our paths in life, unaffected by outside negative influences. Let us gravitate to the places where the sweet sounds of the songs of prayer and Torah emanate to elevate ourselves and bring us closer to Hashem.
Rabbi Baruch Bodenheim is the associate rosh yeshiva of Passaic Torah Institute (PTI)/Yeshiva Ner Boruch, where he leads a multi-level Gemara-learning program. PTI has attracted adult Jews of all ages from all over northern New Jersey for its learning programs. Fees are not charged but any contributions are always welcome. Beyond PTI, Rabbi Bodenheim conducts a weekly beis midrash program with chavrusa learning in Livingston plus a monthly group in West Caldwell. Rabbi Bodenheim can be reached at [email protected] For more info about PTI and its Torah classes, visit www.pti.shulcloud.com.