April 15, 2024
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Parshat Korach

As in numerous readings of past weeks, we find the message left by our haftarah to be taught by both comparison and contrast. In our parsha of Korach we read of the rebellion led by Korach (actually by two separate groups) against the leadership of Moshe and Aharon respectively, just as the haftarah relates the nation’s subtle opposition to the leadership of Shmuel HaNavi, expressed through their request for a king. Beyond the basic similarity of the episodes themselves, we find similar expressions used in both stories: Moshe crying to Hashem that he never misused his power by forcibly taking “chamor echad,” even one donkey, while Shmuel challenges the people by asking “vachamor mi lakachti,” “whose donkey have I taken?” Moshe proves to the people that he was chosen by God through the miracle of fire descending from heaven to consume the rebels, while Shmuel proves to the people how their “rebellious” request for a king had angered God by having Hashem send down a powerful thunderstorm from heaven. And beneath it all is the fact that Shmuel, the target of the people’s dissatisfaction, was a direct descendant of Korach, the leader of the attacks against Moshe Rabbeinu.

But there are important contrasts as well, none more stark that the fact that the rebels in the Torah were punished and destroyed while, as our haftarah’s opening words indicate, the complaints expressed in Shmuel’s time were heeded and Hashem agrees to choose a king. Why this difference?

There are a number of responses we can suggest to this question, responses that will underscore the differences between the two stories—the sharp contrast between these episodes. Whereas the rebellion against Moshe was precisely that—it was a rebellion and it was against—the request to Shmuel HaNavi to appoint a king was not a rebellion nor was it against. The nation’s request for a new leader was not directed against Shmuel for it was a desire for a new type of leadership: a king who, as was common in the ancient world, would gather a national army (not simply a tribal military force) and lead the people against the enemies that threatened the entire nation. Furthermore, it was clear that the people in the time of Shmuel desired God’s approval, even offering sacrifices of thanksgiving to God when crowning Shaul as king in Gilgal.

Rav Yehuda Shaviv offers another reason why the opposition succeeded in their efforts to anoint a king while the opponents of Moshe did not. Rav Shaviv points out an easily ignored fact that I find enlightening: When the rebellion against Moshe began, he cried out to God for help because his efforts to negotiate and reason with the rebellion’s leaders failed. There simply could not be any discussion of their grievances because they opposed Moshe and were blinded by their anger and hatred. Shmuel, however, kept an ongoing conversation with the people. The lines of communication remained open as the navi and the nation spoke to each other, argued with each other and reasoned with each other. The people respected—and indeed loved—Shmuel, and with that respect and love problems could be resolved.

When respect is missing, so is reason; and when reason is silenced, resolution of differences is impossible.

By Rabbi Neil N. Winkler


Rabbi Neil Winkler is the rabbi emeritus of the Young Israel of Fort Lee and now lives in Israel.

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