PARASHAT KORACH - One in a Congregation


הרב שבתי סבתו
ב תמוז תשעו
לרשימת השיעורים לחץ כאן
Moshe Rabbeinu knows that G-d’s supervision over the world is based on righteousness and justice. Hashem declared this quite clearly to Avraham Avinu
PARASHAT KORACH
יחיד בתו עדה One in a Congregation
 Collective Punishment
Moshe Rabbeinu knows that G-d’s supervision over the world is based on righteousness and justice. Hashem declared this quite clearly to Avraham Avinu: ִכּי ְיַד ְ ִתּיו ְל ַמ ַ א ֶשר ְי ַצֶוּה ֶאת ָבָּניו ְו ֶאת ֵבּיתוֹ ַא חָריו  ְו ָש ְמרוּ ֶדֶּר ה' ַל שוֹת ְצָדָקה וּ ִמ ְש ָפּט... For I have known him, that he will command his sons and his household after him to keep G-d’s way, to perform righteousness and justice... (B’reshit 18,19)
King David, too, expressed this outright in his Book of Psalms: ָּפט ְמכוֹ ִּכ ְE ֶא... ֶׁצֶדק וּ ִמ ְש Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne... (Tehillim 89,15)
Moshe well remembers how his forefather Avraham actually stood courageously before G-d and forcefully demanded: ָח ִל ָלה ְלּ ֵמ שֹת ַכָּדָּבר ַהֶזּה ְל ָה ִמית ַצִדּיק ִ ָר ָשע ְו ָהָיה ַכ ַצִּדּיק ָכָּר ָשע,  ָח ִל ָלה ָלּ. השֹ ֵפט ָכּל ָה ָאֶר לֹא ַי  ֶשה ִמ ְש ָפּט? It is profane for You do this, to kill the righteous along with the evil... Shall the judge of the entire world not do justice? (B’reshit 18,25)
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We meet this situation again in Parashat Korach. Korach has declared a rebellion, gathering together 250 men to rise up against the leadership of Moshe and Aharon. At the height of the insurrection, G-d appears and tells Moshe and Aharon in no uncertain terms: “Separate yourselves from this congregation, and I will destroy them in an instant.” (Bamidbar 16,21)
The response from Moshe and Aharon is immediate. Falling on their faces, they cry out in protest, like Avraham: ֵא־ל א־לֹ ֵהי ָהרוּחֹת ְל ָכל ָבּ ָשר, ָה ִאיש ֶא ָחד ֶי ח ָטא ְו ַל ָכּל ָה ֵָדה ִתּ ְקצֹ? “G-d of all living souls: If one man sins, shall you be angered at the entire community?!” (verse 22)
Everyone knows that it was only Korach who instigated and riled up the others; is it not only right that he and his immediate cohorts exclusively should be punished?
Hashem heard and accepted this prayer, and reduced the punishment only to the circle of Korach and his cronies. He told Moshe to tell Israel: ֵה ָלוּ ִמ ָ ִביב ְל ִמ ְש ַכּ קַֹרח ָדּ ָת ַו א ִביָר. Withdraw from the dwelling of Korach, Datan and Aviram. (verse 24)
But let us try to understand the original Divine decree of collective punishment and how it jibes with the values of justice. Is it right for an entire congregation to be punished for the sins of a few? Or was it that Hashem’s plan was merely to arouse Moshe to pray?
 Israel’s Sin
A similar event, a milestone in Jewish history, occurred when Joshua (Yehoshua bin Nun) led the Jewish Nation in its conquest of the Promised Land. One man alone, out of the entire nation, committed a grave sin: He took from the booty of Jericho that Yehoshua had forbidden them to take. This was Achan, son of Carmi, son of Zavdi, son of Zerach, of the tribe of Yehuda.
Yet though he was the only one who sinned, the price was paid by the entire nation, when it was soundly defeated in the battle for the city of Ai. Yehoshua, like Moshe and Aharon before him, falls on his face in heartrending prayer to Hashem, trying to understand what happened:
 One in a Congregation | Korach | 139
א ָההּ א־דָֹני... ָמה ֹא ַמר ַא חֵרי א ֶשר ָה ַפ ִי ְשָר ֵאל עֶֹר ִל ְפֵני ֹאְיָביו...  וּ ַמה ַתּ  ֵשה ְל ִש ְמ ַהָגּדוֹל. Woe, O G-d, why have You at all brought this people over the Jordan...? What shall I say, after Israel has turned their backs before their enemies? ... What will You do for Your great Name? (Yehoshua 7,7-9)
Hashem’s response was sharp and decisive: ֻק ָל, ָל ָמּה ֶזּה ַא ָתּה ֹנ ֵפל ַל ָפֶּני? ָח ָטא ִי ְשָר ֵאל, ְוַג ָ ְברוּ ֶאת ְבִּרי ִתי...  ְוַג ָל ְקחוּ ִמ ַה ֵחֶר ְוַג ָגְּנבוּ ְוַג ִכּ חשוּ ְוַג ָשמוּ ִב ְכ ֵלי ֶה. Arise, why do you fall on your face? Israel has sinned, they have violated My covenant... and also took from the forbidden, stole, and cheated and placed in their bags... (verses 10-11)
Israel as a whole is being blamed with a set of six very weighty accusations – even though it was only one man who could not overcome his avaricious urges. The collective accusation – “they stole... they cheated... they violated My covenant” – is frightening. Why did Yehoshua not cry out at the seeming injustice, just like Moshe and Avraham: “Should everyone be condemned for the sin of one man?”
Furthermore: Instead of telling Yehoshua the name of the man who sinned, G-d tells him to cast lots (verse 13-14). First he was to “catch” the problematic tribe from which the sinner hailed, then he was to find the exact family within the tribe, and then the household within the family, and finally - a lot to find the individual sinner. Why such a long and drawn-out process? Couldn’t the name of the sinner, Achan, be revealed right from the beginning?
The Talmud provides the answer (Sanhedrin 43b):
Yehoshua asked Hashem, “Master of the Universe, who is the sinner?” G-d replied, “Am I a tale-bearer? Go and throw lots to determine his identity.”
Hashem essentially says to Yehoshua, “It’s your job” – telling us that wherever mortal man has the ability to function, G-d does not step in to do it Himself.
Let us note, parenthetically, that some see this Gemara as a source for students not to “tattle” on a fellow student who misbehaves. The errant student then continues to cause damage, educationally and otherwise,
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safe in the knowledge that his friends will protect him. However, when we carefully analyze this Biblical story, we see that for as long as the identity of Achan was not revealed, all of Israel was liable for collective punishment! This means that if students wish not to reveal their friend’s name, they must be willing to share in his punishment; if not, they may not rely on the story of Achan not to tattle.
In any event, the original question still remains: Why should an entire congregation be punished for the sin of one person? Let us return to the Torah, to the Book of D’varim.
 Mutual Responsibility
In Parashat Ki Tavo, when the Children of Israel are about to enter the Land of Israel, Moshe commands them as follows: ְו ָהָיה ַבּיּוֹ א ֶשר ַתּ ַ ְברוּ ֶאת ַהַיְּרֵדּ... ַו הֵקמֹ ָת ְל א ָבִני ְגּדֹלוֹת ְו ַשְד ָתּ ֹא ָת ַבּ ִשיד... ְו ָכ ַת ְב ָתּ  ֵלי ֶה ֶאת ָכּל ִדְּבֵרי ַהתּוָֹרה ַהזֹּאת ְבּ ָ ְבֶר ... On the day you pass over the Jordan River... You must erect large stones, and plaster them with lime... and write upon them all the words of this Torah as you cross.
ֵא ֶלּה ַי ַ ְמדוּ ְל ָבֵר ֶאת ָה ָ ַל ַהר ְגִּרִזּי... ְו ֵא ֶלּה ַי ַ ְמדוּ ַל ַה ְקּ ָל ָלה ְבּ ַהר ֵי ָבל ... ... these [tribes] will stand to bless the nation on Mt. Gerizim...  and these will stand for the curse on Mt. Eval... (D’varim 27)
Yehoshua bin Nun was instructed to remove from the Jordan River twelve large rocks. These were to serve as a sign by which to remember the great miracle of the stopping of the river’s flow, which enabled the people to cross over into Eretz Yisrael. Out of these rocks, on the mountains of Gerizim and Eval, an altar was built and a covenant was forged with G-d. Blessings and curses for those who fulfilled or violated the Torah were read aloud at this momentous event.
But something else, very fundamental, also happened at these mountains. The Gemara (Sotah 37a-b) tells us that in addition to the reading of the Torah, a pact of mutual national responsibility was forged there. Under the terms of this collective pledge, every member of the Jewish nation took upon himself to become a guarantor for the fulfillment of the Torah’s commandments by everyone else. This is the source of the famous charge (Tr. Rosh HaShanah 29a, Rashi), Kol Yisrael areivim zeh lazeh, “All Israel is responsible for one another.”
 One in a Congregation | Korach | 141
This is also the concept behind the following Halakhic law: One may recite a blessing over a mitzvah even if he himself has already fulfilled it – if his goal is to help someone else fulfill that mitzvah. For instance, even if one has already heard or recited the Sabbath Kiddush, he may repeat it so that others can hear it and thus fulfill their own obligation, without fear of reciting a “blessing in vain.”
Why is this so? Considering that he is no longer obligated in the mitzvah, why is his repetition of the blessing not considered a forbidden “blessing in vain”? The answer is because each person is responsible for the other; as long as there is someone in Israel who is still obligated to fulfill the mitzvah, no one has yet completely fulfilled his own obligation. Therefore, the blessing of “He Who has commanded us” may be recited once again.
This “mutual responsibility pact” turns all of Israel into one body, with every individual likened to an organ thereof. “Individual” sinners do not exist. If a person transgresses, it is as if the entire body of Am Yisrael has sinned; can any individual organ disclaim responsibility? Similarly, though only one person violated Yehoshua’s ban on the booty of Jericho, the entire nation is considered guilty. The obligation to reprove and prevent each other from sinning applied to everyone, and therefore the entire nation had to pay the price for Achan’s sin.
One might think that the concept of “mutual responsibility” applies only to sins that are publicly known; how can it apply to sins perpetrated in secret? Achan, for example, carried out his sin so secretly that no one knew about it, and the only way to ascertain his identity was to cast lots among the entire nation. How can everyone else be held responsible for something they knew nothing about?
The answer is: On the contrary! The principle of “mutual responsibility” turns the entire nation into one body to such a great extent that “ignorance of the other’s sin” is no excuse. Let us say a man is accused of cursing the king. Clearly the man’s legs cannot claim exemption from punishment on the grounds that they did not know what the tongue was doing. Just as the body is judged as one collective, no part of the nation can claim it is not a party to the sin of the other.
This is the opinion of R. Yehuda in the Mishna. He taught that once Israel crossed the Jordan River into the Promised Land, they were punished collectively not only for sins committed openly by individuals, but even
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for sins committed in secret. This is, without a doubt, a very high level of national unity and mutual responsibility. And this is the important and welcome message that was transmitted via the severe punishment Israel received in the battle for the Ai: “Ladies and gentlemen of Am Yisrael, you are one nation, with one body, one soul and one land!”
 One Nation in the Land
This precious Jewish national unity was forged only in the Land of Israel. It was here that the tribes were permitted to intermarry with each other even if it meant the transfer of estates from one tribe to another. It was also here that the infrastructure for the Kingdom of David was formed, uniting the entire nation into one kingdom. So said King David: וּ ִמי ְכ ַ ְמּ ְכִּי ְשָר ֵאל גּוֹי ֶא ָחד ָבּ ָאֶר ... Who is like Your nation Israel, one nation in the land... (Shmuel II 7,23)
The “land,” of course, is the Land of Israel; we are one nation in Eretz Yisrael.
We can now better understand the principle behind Yehoshua’s lot-casting to find out who stole the booty. It was a tremendously momentous and unifying occasion, for which the entire nation, with all its tribes, families and households, gathered around; no one was exempt. Step by step, each sector is proven innocent, until finally, only one person is named the guilty party. This entire experience comes to reinforce the fundamental concept that Kol yisrael arevim zeh lazeh. The community is responsible for each individual, and each one is a guarantor for the entire nation.
All this is true, as we said, only in the Land of Israel – but at the time of Korach’s rebellion, they were still in the desert, where the pact of mutual responsibility did not yet apply. This is why Moshe was correct in asking why G-d would punish the many for the few: “If one man sins, shall You be angered at the entire community?!” (Bamidbar 16,22)
Why indeed? If they were not in the Land of Israel, and the mutuality pact did not yet apply, why did G-d seek to punish the entire nation for the sins of the few? The answer is that Hashem wished to raise up Israel, even then, to the level of unity and mutual responsibility found in one body. True, it would not be to Israel’s benefit at that moment – but very soon it would be, as we will see below.
 One in a Congregation | Korach | 143
In any event, after Moshe’s objection to the collective punishment, Hashem issued a new directive: “Withdraw from the dwelling of Korach, Datan and Aviram” (verse 24). The goal now is to separate between the inciter and the incited, as a test to see which side the latter chooses. Moshe interprets G-d’s words as follows: “Get away from the tents of these evil men, don’t touch anything that is theirs, lest you be swept away because of all their sins.” (verse 26)
Moshe is saying: “This is a test for the entire congregation: Whoever distances himself from Korach, thereby proves that he wants nothing to do with him, but whoever remains with him, will be punished with him as well.” Most of the nation responded as expected, when they “withdrew from the dwelling of Korach” (verse 27) – and at that moment, the decree of destruction upon the entire nation was withdrawn.
We must now compare this incident with that which followed it. After the 250 incense-burners, respected leaders of the nation, were killed for their sins, and after all of Korach’s gang was swallowed up, yet another rebellion appeared to be brewing: ַוִיּלֹּנוּ ָכּל ַדת ְבֵּני ִי ְשָר ֵאל ִמ ָמּ חָרת ַל מ ֶשה ְו ַל ַא הרֹ ֵלאמֹר, ַא ֶתּ ה ִמ ֶתּ ֶאת ַ ה'. The entire congregation of Israel complained to Moshe and Aharon the next day, saying, “You have killed G-d’s people.” (17,6)
This was not a rebellion started by one person who incited the others, but rather a spontaneous gathering of all the people. Therefore when Hashem told Moshe to “stand clear of this community and I will destroy them” (verse 10), Moshe remained silent; he could no longer claim, “Will You then punish them all for the sin of just one person?”
What, then, can Moshe and Aharon do to save Israel? There is only one thing: Aharon the High Priest takes his life into his hands and offers to serve as a human atonement for the entire nation. With a pan of incense in hand, and at Moshe’s instruction, Aharon runs directly into the congregation and the thick of the plague, and “offered the incense as an atonement... he stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was stopped.” (verses 12-13)
G-d had mercy on Aharon, and accepted the incense in his stead as a sacrifice. It atoned for both Aharon and the entire congregation, and the plague ended.
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But given Moshe’s logic in asking why everyone should be punished for the sin of one man, why does he not now ask: “One person endangers himself, and the entire congregation is saved?!”
The reason he does not do so is very significant, for Moshe recognizes the tremendous message that Hashem was giving over. Moshe understands that Hashem was saying: “When I included the entire nation in the sins of a few individuals, I knew you would not be able to stifle your protest - but you did not understand Me. My purpose was simply to prepare the ground for this important concept that you will need in the future: Just like the entire congregation pays for the sin of the individual, so too an individual who risks his life atones for the entire congregation.”
Aharon HaCohen was one individual, who was willing to give his life and run into the thick of the plague – and he saved the entire nation. It may have looked as if Hashem changed His mind about punishing Israel because of Moshe’s protest, but in fact, the opposite is true: The very conglomeration of all Israel as one body and one person has tremendous positive potential, and led to their atonement.
The righteous individuals of each generation are assigned a very important role: To atone for the entire generation. As we read in Psalms: ָמה ַרב טוּ ְב א ֶשר ָצ ַפְנ ָתּ ִלּיֵר ֶאי ָפּ ַ ְל ָתּ ַלחֹ ִ(י ָבּ... How abundant is Your goodness that You have saved for those who fear You, and that You have effected for those who take shelter in You... (Tehillim 31,20)
G-d has hidden away, for those who fear Him, an amazing ability to bring down goodness and blessing for the entire nation – and it can be activated because of the “oneness” of our national identity.



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