Korach 5777


מי שמך לאיש שר ושופט עלינו? (שמות ב:יד)

Parshas Korach details the enormous toll which machlokes exacts from its participants. Specifically, three punishments were inflicted on Korach Va’Adaso. Some were burned, some were swallowed up by the earth, and Korach himself received both these punishments (Midrash Rabbah 18:19). Dasan and Aviram were seemingly among the devoured ones, whereas the 250 men who offered ketores were burned.
This gives rise to an intriguing problem. Why were Dasan and Aviram not present at the mass ketores offering? Did they believe in their cause any less than the rest of their followers? Did they doubt the validity of their claim or in their ability to perform the Avodah?
The Maharil Diskin explains with a far-reaching insight. A famous incident took place many years earlier in pre-Exodus Mitzrayim. Moshe had just walked out of Pharaoh’s palace to share in the plight of his brothers when he encountered an Egyptian man hitting a Jew. Rashi quotes the Midrash (Shemos 1:28) that says that this Jew’s wife was dishonored by this very Egyptian one night earlier. The Jew was an officer working for the Egyptian government, and the Mitzri his superior. When the Mitzri came to wake him one morning, he laid eyes on his wife, Shlomis bas Divri. The Midrash tells us she was especially conversational and her looks were without blemish, and the Mitzri violated her. The Midrash goes on to explain that Moshe saw what the Mitzri did at home (to the Jew’s wife) and saw what he did in the fields (he was hitting the Jew). Realizing that he was chayiv misah, deserving of death, Moshe killed him.
The Midrash continues that the woman was the wife of Dasan. The Maharil Diskin explains the basis for identifying this Jew as Dasan: no other people witnessed Moshe’s killing the Mitzri, yet somehow Dasan and Aviram knew about it the next day. The only explanation for this incongruity was that Dasan himself was the Jew rescued by Moshe.
This newfound insight into Dasan’s family situation explains why he indeed was not part of the mass ketores offering. The Kohen Gadol was the only person privileged with offering ketores in this way. Dasan, however, was not interested in becoming a Kohen Gadol, or even a Kohen Hedyot. The halacha is that a Kohen is prohibited from marrying an anusa, a woman forced to commit znus (Kesubos 51b). Becoming a Kohen would necessitate Dasan divorcing Shlomis, since she was an anusa, and he did not want to because of her flawless looks. Therefore, Dasan decided it would not be worth his while to pursue the dream of priesthood.
Apparently, Dasan and Aviram were in a category of their own in Korach’s machlokes. They were not vying to become Kohanim like the other 250 men and were not actively Kofer in Nevuas Moshe, denying Moshe’s prophecy, like Korach. They were simply the classic Kofuy Tov, the person who returns a favor by backstabbing, looking for any excuse to pick a fight.
Taking a step back from this specific situation and critically analyzing Dasan’s life story, the result is quite shocking. A prominent member of the Jewish kehillah, due to his loquacious wife, was terribly wronged by a member of the non-Jewish government. Upon protesting, he endangered his life. He insulted his savior, being many years his junior, and then tried to inform on him to the same government friends who wronged him so! In later years, he tried to flaunt his savior’s authority numerous times, culminating in the ultimate: an attempt to overthrow the one whom all Klal Yisrael saw Hashem converse with, and about whom the Rambam said no one who was present could ever doubt Nevuas Moshe. What could possibly bring about such a degree of corruption?!
Perhaps the answer lies at the root of that first turbulent interaction, when Dasan met Moshe Rabbeinu the day after he had saved him and questioned his actions. He resented the fact that Moshe could possibly have bested him, despite his rescue. Dasan rebuked Moshe with the pasuk above.
The Midrash (according to the understanding of the Maharil Diskin) throws light on this pasuk from a different angle: Dasan asked Moshe why he had the right to utilize the Shem Hashem to kill the Mitzri if he was so young. Yet this Shem Hashem is precisely what saved his life and his wife! Deep down, there was a denial of the hakaras hatov which Dasan acutely owed Moshe. A power struggle of this nature can thrust a person into utter illogical insensibility to the point of kefirah and political anarchy. It ultimately robbed Dasan and his family of their lives and Olam Haba.


The Gemara (Menachos 99a) discusses taking the Lechem Haponim off of a silver table and placing them upon a gold one. The reasoning for the upgrade is that מעלין בקדש ואין מורידין, we must upgrade in regard to kedusha and not downgrade.
The Gemara proceeds to derive this concept from two different pesukim. The first halacha of מעלין בקדש, to upgrade, is learned from Parshas Korach (Bamidbar 17:2-3). There were two hundred fifty Heads of Sanhedrin who sided with Korach. Moshe instructed them to try out being Kohanim themselves by burning ketores on a firepan, on a sort of experimental basis. A fire came out from the Mishkan and killed them. Hashem then told Moshe to take the firepans that these men had used and pound them down to form a plating for the Mizbeach “as a sign for Bnei Yisrael.” This upgrade, from the firepans to the actual Mizbeach, teaches us to upgrade in kedusha.
The second half of the aforementioned halacha, that one may not downgrade, is learned from a second pasuk (Shemos 40:18), which states that the Mishkan was built by “standard” Jews and therefore could only be erected by Moshe himself, to be sure not to downgrade.
The Gemara (Megilla 26a) also references this concept. The discussion there is which kodesh items may be sold in order to buy others. The rule there too is מעלין בקדש ואין מורידין, one may only upgrade. Hence, a Sefer of Navi may be sold in order to purchase a Sefer Torah, but not vice versa. Rashi cites the Tosefta which derives these concepts from the same two pesukim. The problem is that the Tosefta switches the pesukim around and quotes the pasuk about Moshe erecting the Mishkan as the source forאין מורידין and the pasuk in Korach to infer מעלין כקדש.
The Pnei Yehoshua explains that the pasuk in parshas Korach teaches that one must specifically strive to elevate an item to a higher level. This concept is clear from the Torah’s instruction to use the firepans for the Mizbeach when they were finished being used for their previous purpose. This is similar to the case in Menachos, which is discussing upgrading the hiddur mitzvah one uses, such as the type of table for the Lechem Hapanim. This does not tell us that one can go ahead and switch an actual kodesh item for a more kodesh one. It does, however, tell us that one cannot sell a kodesh item for a lower use. The Pnei Yehoshua does not offer an explanation for the inverse contradiction of the use of the other pasuk.
The problem with this Pnei Yehoshua is that it seems impossible to suggest that the motivation for installing the copper on the Mizbeach was to try and upgrade their kedusha. The pasuk tells us exactly why the plating needed to be done – “as a sign for Bnei Yisrael.” So how can we inject a totally alternate reasoning for this procedure?
The Arugas Habosem explains how it was that these firepans from this seemingly undesirable ketores offering came to be used on the Mizbeach. He suggests that the two hundred fifty rabbanim must have realized their mistake by the time that they offered it. They were, however, so overcome with grief and self- derision by the mistake that they had made that they decided to just go through with it and accept the justly deserved consequence. This itself was their aveira and this is what the Torah means as “a sign.” Hashem never wants an aveira to lead to despair.
Perhaps, following this explanation, everything can come together. The lesson taught was that regarding kedusha, one must always upgrade and never downgrade. It was the application of this halacha that was supposed to drive the point home and not just the display of the firepan’s gold.