Bar-Ilan University's Parashat Hashavua Study Center

Parashat Korah 5763/ June 28, 2003

Lectures on the weekly Torah reading by the faculty of Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. A project of the Faculty of Jewish Studies, Paul and Helene Shulman Basic Jewish Studies Center, and the Office of the Campus Rabbi. Published on the Internet under the sponsorship of Bar-Ilan University's International Center for Jewish Identity.
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Parashat Korah 5763/ June 28, 2003

"Come morning"

Dr. Boaz Speigel
The Naftal-Yaffe Department of Talmud

This week's reading opens with Korah and those who followed him rising up against Moses and Aaron. Why did Moses and Aaron take the highest offices for themselves, namely the kingship and the high priesthood? (Num. 16:3). Upon hearing these accusations, Moses fell upon his face and said,

"Come morning, the Lord will make known who is His and who is holy, and will grant him access to Himself; He will grant access to the one He has chosen. Do this: You, Korah and all your band, take fire pans, and tomorrow put fire in them and lay incense on them before the Lord. Then the man whom the Lord chooses, he shall be the holy one" (Num. 16:5-7).

Moses was willing to put Aaron's appointment to the test (16:17) and to prove to Korah and his band, and essentially to all Israel, that this appointment was from G-d.

The Sages raised the question why Moses postponed the test of the fire pans to the morning instead of proposing to do it on the spot. They themselves offered several explanations (Tanhuma, Korah, 5), the most well-known of which is as follows: "He [Moses] said: in case somehow they come to repent." In other words, Moses deliberately postponed the test to the morning to give Korah and his followers time to reconsider their ways overnight and possibly realize their error and recant.

The Sages' remark (Berakhot 19a) relevant to our case is as follows: "It is taught by Rabbi Ishmael: If you see a scholar of the Law who committed a transgression in the night, do not speculate about him the next day, for perhaps he repented. Perhaps? Rather, he surely repented." Now Korah was a "great sage," and the two hundred and fifty men who were with him were "heads of Sanhedrin," and therefore Moses thought that overnight they would repent and even confess their sins.

Another answer in Tanhuma is that Moses thought they had spoken arrogantly out of excessive eating and drinking, and by morning they would become sober and retract their words. Moses did not tell Korah and his gang these reasons for postponing the test. Rather, he said to them that at present there was general drunkenness and therefore it was not fitting to offer incense under such circumstances.

One can add to the Sages' comments in the midrash, that by postponing the test to the next morning he upheld the type of leadership recommended for dayyanim, judges (Avot 1.1): "Be restrained in judgment." Even though Moses had no doubt that he was in the right and that all his words and instructions came from the Almighty, Moses showed extreme restraint even in the way he settled this dispute, to the greater credit of his humility and toleration, out of respect for Korah and his followers, and in order to serve a personal example to all in his admirable leadership.

Other commentators drew on the homily in Yoma 75a (about the manna):

It is written (Numbers 11:9): "When the dew fell on the camp at night, [the manna would fall upon it.]" And it is written (Ex. 16:4): "the people shall go out and gather," as well as (Num. 11:8): "The people would go about and gather it." How so? [Did the manna fall upon them, did they have to go and fetch it, did they have to search for it (shatu)?] For the righteous, it fell at the door of their abode; for the mediocre, they went out and gathered it; for the wicked, they would go about and gather it."

Thus, depending on where the manna settled each morning one could learn about a person's spiritual standing. Accordingly, Moses instructed to wait until the next morning, since the place where the manna fell in the morning would make clear who was righteous and who was wicked. Some people even added that this homily may be read into the verse in our story cited at the beginning of this article, "to the one He has chosen, He will grant access to Himself-yaqriv elav [thus in JPS, but one could literally read: He will bring (it) close to him]." In other words, for the person chosen by G-d and thought by Him to be righteous, He will bring the manna close to him, to the very door of his abode.

Another idea to explain why Moses delayed till the morning we base on a point stressed by the author of Ketav Sofer: in Korah's controversy, as in other sins of the Israelites in the wilderness, the women did not participate. Hence one could say that Moses deliberately postponed clarification of the issue to the next morning out of the hope that in the course of the night the women would persuade their husbands to recant. In actual practice this did not happen, except to one of them - On son of Pelet, of whom the Sages said (Sanh. 109b), "His wife saved him."

We conclude with an interpretation on the verse, "Come morning, the Lord will make known who is His," from Hassidism and the Musar Movement, relating it to Israel in general. The Admor of Slonim said:

When a person goes to bed at night as a Jew and recalls the Lord, blessed be His name, obviously he rises in the morning as a Jew should rise, and likewise he behaves throughout the day as a true Jew. This is hinted in the words, "Come morning, the Lord will make known who is His," that from a person's condition in the morning one can know how attuned his heart was to the Holy One, blessed be He, when he went to bed the night before.

Several great commentators have approached this verse as relating not only to daily life but also to the End of Days. When full Redemption, which has been compared to morning, comes, when G-d shall appear to all the inhabitants of the universe and His kingship be revealed, then everyone will be able to distinguish "the difference between the wicked and the righteous" (Malachi 3:11), and the entire would will come to realize that "the Lord has chosen Jacob for Himself/ Israel, as His treasured possession" (Ps. 135:4).