May 28, 2024
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Korach throws a rebellion, and of course, Datan and Aviram are right up there with him. As the parsha begins (16:1-2), “And Korach…and Datan and Aviram…and Ohn ben Pelet…and they stood before Moshe….” This is no surprise as this was quite consistent with Datan and Aviram’s general behavior throughout the Torah. As the Midrash Tanchuma (Shemot, 10) comments, they were the ones who said “let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt”; they were the ones who rebelled at the sea; they were the ones who disobeyed Moshe and left over from the manna; they were the ones who went to collect the manna [on the seventh day]; and finally, they were the ones who were right there with Korach in his rebellion. Indeed, concludes the midrash, “they were the ones who remained steadfast in their wickedness from beginning to end.”

Ultimately, they went down in the ground with Korach and the rest, as stated in our parsha.

The question is, where did Datan and Aviram go wrong? Why did they lead this life and end up where they ended up?

Rav Chaim Mintz (“Etz Hachayim,” Parshat Korach) suggests that if we go back to the time in Mitzrayim, we are made aware of Datan and Aviram fighting, and Moshe rebukes them. He reproves them, questioning and calling them out on their behavior (Shemot, 2:13). Yet, it appears that they didn’t heed his voice. Because they disliked hearing rebuke, they ignored him and didn’t improve. And instead, they continued with their way of life, even opposing Moshe till the day of their doom.

We may thus see from here that a disliking of rebuke and constructive feedback can lead one—as it perhaps did for Datan and Aviram—on a downward spiral. On the other hand, we have Ohn ben Pelet, who was originally right up there in Korach’s rebellion, as we see above. However, Ohn had a very different fate than the rest. The Gemara (Sanhedrin, 109b) notes that although Ohn was originally part of the rebellion, his wife approached him and reproached him, questioning his decision: What do you even have to gain from this, for even if Korach wins, you won’t gain any high position! Ohn accepted her words, and with her help he was spared. We perhaps see from here that Ohn’s ability to accept constructive feedback may have saved his life, which ultimately led to a seeming personal teshuva movement, as the midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah, 18:20) says that for the rest of his life he was mourning his original decision to join Korach.

The blatant contrast between Datan and Aviram’s fate versus Ohn ben Pelet’s continuity perhaps shows how one’s ability or lack of ability to accept and grow from constructive feedback, can have long lasting repercussions. In Datan and Aviram’s case, they perished not only in this world but possibly may have also lost their share in olam haba, (see Gemara Sanhedrin 109b), and in Ohn’s case, or it caused tremendous growth and change for the better, (and also may have spared his life here and possibly in olam haba).

The approach towards being open to constructive feedback is even displayed by Moshe in this very parsha itself. In commencing their rebellion, Korach and his crew confront Moshe and accuse him, saying (16:3), why do you exalt yourself over the congregation of Hashem?! Moshe’s reaction was that “he fell on his face” (v. 4), to which the Ba’al haTanya comments (Seen in “Twerski on Chumash”) that although Moshe knew he was designated by Hashem as the leader, however, he thought that maybe he in fact had let his position of leadership “go to his head.” Thus, he thought maybe Korach was right, at least in this regard, and therefore deserved this rebuke. However, after he “fell on his face,” i.e. after he did some soul-searching, he concluded that he wasn’t adversely affected.

Not only that, but Moshe was seemingly open to hearing “rebuke” from Datan and Aviram themselves! Talk about irony. Unable to persuade Korach, Moshe tried a different strategy by summoning the other leaders of the revolt—Datan and Aviram—in an attempt to persuade them. However, not only did they remain headstrong, they even further accused Moshe, saying (v. 13), You seek to dominate us, even to dominate further?!

Would a humble person like Moshe Rabbeinu, who is characterized as the “humblest of all men” try to dominate and control others? So we might think, ignore such a comment! Just let it slide. But, says Rav Yerucham Levovitz (Da’as Torah, Korach), that’s not what Moshe did. Indeed, Moshe’s response was directed not to Datan and Aviram, but to Hashem, and he said (v. 15), “I have not taken even a single donkey of theirs, nor have I wronged even one of them.” Says Rav Yerucham, we see from here that even though such an accusation is totally counter to Moshe’s essence, however, Moshe didn’t let their accusation slide, but he took their words to heart as rebuke, even though their “rebuke” was far from accurate. Thus, he initially self reflected, honestly considering that maybe he in fact wronged them in some way, ultimately concluding that he hadn’t.

Moshe was obviously an extremely growth-oriented and humble person. Hence, if someone was giving him feedback, even if that person considered him an archenemy and even if the feedback seemed audacious and totally uncalled for, in striving to become better, he was able to accept anything that could help him improve.

Someone who values growth and feedback can accept it even if it may seem unnecessary and even inaccurate to his situation. The story is told of the Imrei Emet, who in his younger years, would learn with his father, the Sefat Emet. One day the Imrei Emet came late to their study session, and his father began to reprove and rebuke him about the severity of bitul Torah. His mother entered their room and excused the Imrei Emet, saying to her husband that their son was up learning the entire night last night and that’s why he was late today. The Sefat Emet turned to his son and asked, “why didn’t you tell me of this?” to which the Imrei Emet responded, “what, and I should lose out on the opportunity of hearing rebuke from my father?” (seen in “Olam Hamiddot,” p. 42).

It’s known that even the great Vilna Gaon used to go out of his way to “invite” constructive feedback on his ways of life, as he would ask the famed Dubno Maggid to give him mussar.

Because if feedback feeds growth, then it’s something that isn’t just tolerated, but is even welcomed.


Binyamin Benji is a graduate of Yeshivas Rabbeinu Yitzchak Elchanan and Wurzweiler School of Social Work. He currently learns in Eretz Yisroel, and is the author of the Sephardic Congregation of Paramus’ weekly Torah Talk. He can be reached at [email protected]

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