Friday, June 19, 2015

Who Shall Die and Who Shall Live (Parshas Korach 5775)

1. How did Korach Die?

According to the simple reading of the Torah, Korach seems to have perished with the rest of his associates when the earth opened up (Bamidbar 16:31-33; 26:10). The Gemara (Sanhedrin 110a), cites an anonymous Braisa that Korach was burned with the 250 men that were bringing ketores and swallowed by the earth:
במתניתא תנא קרח מן השרופין ומן הבלועין מן הבלועים דכתיב (במדבר כו, י) ותבלע אותם ואת קרח מן השרופין דכתיב (במדבר טז, לה) ואש יצאה מאת ה' ותאכל את חמשים ומאתים איש וקרח בהדייהו
As Rashi explains (Sanhedrin 110a) (see also Rabbeinu Bachaya 16:31-33), his soul was burned first with his body remaining intact, and the body then rolled until the place where the earth opened, and it was swallowed:
שנשרפה נשמתו וגוף קיים ואח"כ נתגלגל עד מקום הבלועין ונבלע

However, the same Gemara (Sanhedrin 110a) also cites another opinion, of Rabbi Yochanan, who says that Korach was not burned with the 250 men or swallowed by the earth:
וא"ר יוחנן קרח לא מן הבלועים ולא מן השרופין לא מן הבלועין דכתיב ואת כל האדם אשר לקרח ולא קרח ולא מן השרופים דכתיב באכול האש את חמשים ומאתים איש ולא קרח
The question is that if Korach wasn't burned or swallowed, how did he die? According to Rashi (Sanhedrin 110a), he lived until the next day when he died in the plague (described in Bamidbar 17:11-14):

לא מן הבלועין ולא מן השרופין - אלא במגפה מת
See also the Ralbag (as cited by Josh Waxman in his ParshaBlog) and the Maharsha that explain that Korach did not sin as greatly as Dathan and Aviram and therefore was not punished as severely.

However, the Ben Yehioda (Sanhedrin 110a) objects to this Rashi, and explains that Korach did die as the other opinion in the Gemara describes with his soul being burned first and his body rolling to the earth opening. He explains that since Korach's entire body did not get burned like the 250 men, and his body was not swallowed alive like Dathan and Aviram, he is "לא מן הבלועין ולא מן השרופין" like Rabbi Yochanan.

2. How did the Sons of Korach Survive?

While the Torah tells us that the entire households belonging to Korach and others with him were killed (Bamidbar 16:31-32; 26:10), later on we see that the sons of Korach did not die (Bamidbar 26:11). How do we explain this disrepency?

According to Rashi (Bamidbar 26:11) and Sforno (Bamidbar 16:32), they were originally together with their father, but they ended up doing teshuva and did not die.

However, the Sifsei Chachamim (26:11) asks how is it possible that they did not die since the Torah tells us that “all of their households” were swallowed up. He answers that they were indeed swallowed up, but Hashem allowed them to escape as the Gemara says (Megillah 14a and Sanhedrin 110a) that a high place was made for them so they were not lost. Rabbeinu Bachaya (Bamidbar 16:32) adds that other people were able to pull them from this high place.

3. Who were the 250 Men who Joined Korach?

The Torah (Bamidbar 16:2) tells us of 250 men, who joined Korach but their names are not mentioned. Who were they?

According to Rabbeinu Chananel (as cited by the Ramban 16:5), they were from the tribe of Levi, which is why Moshe later on addresses them as "children of Levi" (Bamidbar 16:7-8) (also see the Ramban who objects to this):
וכתב רבנו חננאל:כי אלה הנקהלים כולם היו לווים משבט קרח, וזה טעם רב לכם בני לוי (פסוק ז), שמעו נא בני לוי (פסוק ח), אולי חשבו כי כל שבטם נבחר לכהונה ומשה מעצמו חלק כבוד לאחיו, ע"כ.

However, according to the Ibn Ezra (16:1), they were bechorim who were replaced by the tribe of Levi and could no longer bring the korbanos:

אלה נשיאי העדה היו בכורים והם היו מקריבים את העולות, על כן לקחו מחתות, והראיה על זה הפירוש מופת המטה, שראו כל ישראל כי השם בחר שבט לוי תחת הבכורים, על כן כתוב: ותכל תלונתם, כי התלונה על זה היתה
 (See Sefer Shaarei Aharon for a more extensive discussion of additional opinions)

Bonus Question: Why was Korach Have the Same Name as a Rasha?

The Chasam Sofer asks why Korach's name is the same as one of the grandson's of Eisav in Parshas Vayishlach (Bereishis 36:5; 36:14; 36:16; 36:18) and says that perhaps this is what influences him to be a Rasha.

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