Ari Sacher

‘Disappointment’ Parashat Korach 5783

This week’s essay is going to drive my older son crazy, but as a father that is my prerogative.

Each weekly portion is divided into seven “aliyot”. While there is no universally recognized list of “stopping points” with which to divide a portion into aliyot, the Rambam [Hilchot Tefilla 12:3, 13:5] mentions a number of guidelines. First, an aliyah must contain at least three verses. Second, an aliyah must not begin less than three verses from the beginning of a paragraph (parsha) nor end less than three verses from the end of a paragraph. Finally, each aliyah should begin and end on a positive note. An unwritten yet well-established rule is that an aliyah should end at the conclusion of a thought or of a story unless there is a pressing reason. A corollary of this rule is that an aliyah begins at the beginning of a new thought or of a story. Over the years, most of the congregations around the world[1] have come to agreement regarding the locations of the aliyot. The bone of contention between me and my son pertains to the locations of the aliyot. I am often bothered by the location of an aliyah – why it ends where it does and not in some other more fitting location. My son takes a more laissez-faire attitude: There is no clear direction other than a few rules of thumb and so, well, it is what it is.

The story at hand is Korach’s rebellion. Korach, a cousin of Moshe, cobbles together an impressive group of two hundred and fifty senior leaders [Bemidbar 16:2]: “Chieftains of the community, chosen in the assembly, men of repute.” They tell Moshe [Bemidbar 16:3] “You have gone too far! For all the community are holy and G-d is in their midst. Why, then, do you raise yourselves above G-d’s congregation?” According to Rashi[2], what spurred Korach’s rebellion was Moshe’s choice of his close relative to serve as the Prince of the Tribe of Levi. According to the Ramban[3], Korach felt that the time was ripe to push back against Moshe’s leadership because G-d had just sentenced the Jewish People to wander the desert for forty years and the people were looking for somewhere to lay the blame. According to our Sages in the Midrash, two of Korach’s co-conspirators, Dathan and Abiram, had already had multiple run-ins with Moshe in the past.

When Moshe is first hit by Korach’s accusations, he tries to buy time by telling Korach that G-d will adjudicate the next morning. Moshe uses the time to reach out to Dathan and Abiram in an attempt to initiate some behind-the-scenes negotiations. Dathan and Abiram will have none of it. They tell Moshe [Bemidbar 16:12-14] “We will not come. Is it not enough that you brought us from a land flowing with milk and honey to have us die in the wilderness that you would also lord over us? Even had you brought us to a land flowing with milk and honey and given us possession of fields and vineyards, should you gouge out the eyes of those involved? We will not come”. Now here is where my son and I are at odds: The first aliyah in the Portion of Korach ends at Verse 13 with the words “…lord over us”, smack in the middle of Dathan’s and Abiram’s diatribe. I ask “Whatever for?” while my son retorts “Why not?”.

For the sake of an argument, let us assume that my claim holds water and that it would have been a better idea to end the aliyah at the end of Verse 14 with the words “We will not come”. Why are Dathan and Abiram cut off in midsentence? To answer this question, we will implement the same methodology that we implemented in an earlier essay[4], by considering the context immediately before and after the verse in question. After Moshe is rebuffed[5] by Dathan and Abiram, the Torah tells us that [Bemidbar 16:15] “Moshe was extremely angered”. Why does Moshe wait until now to express anger? According to our Sages in the Midrash, Korach had already made some extremely cutting accusations and yet Moshe retains his composure. What did Dathan and Abiram do that Korach did not?

Rabbi Yehuda Herzl Henkin[6], writing in “Chiba Yetera”, discusses the source of anger. What makes people angry? Rabbi Henkin asserts that the source of anger lies in disappointment. When a two-year-old draws on the walls, we are frustrated but we are not disappointed. We expect that kind of behaviour and so we are not angry. But when a teenager does the same thing, we expect more from him and so we become angry. Manfried F.R. Kets de Vries, writing in the Harvard Business Review, writes, “Given the convoluted nature of desire, there are no experiences that are entirely free of disappointment. This is what makes disappointment such a complex and confusing feeling”. A Hebrew adage posits “The greater the expectation, the greater the disappointment.” What did Dathan and Abiram do that disappointed Moshe? Rabbi Henkin suggests that it was the fact that they did not want to come to Moshe and that they preferred to spew false accusations disparaging him and his leadership. I would like to add another layer to Rabbi Henkin’s thesis. The points that Korach and his co-conspirators make, while admittedly disparaging, are all based on a kernel of truth. Korach claims that all of the people are holy and that there is no room for a religious caste system. This is true. The people are all holy. Indeed, the Torah commands us [Vayikra 19:1] “Be holy!” Why should the service of G-d be limited to a certain group of people? Dathan and Abiram accuse Moshe of taking the Jews out of a land flowing with milk and honey only to die in the desert. While the Jewish People experienced Egypt as slaves, it was still a land of plenty. Only a few weeks earlier, they had looked back wistfully at Egyptian prosperity [Bemidbar 11:5]: “We remember the fish we ate freely in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons…” On the other hand, the land that Moshe wanted to take the Jews into, a land he had advertised as flowing with milk and honey, was infested with Canaanites and capturing it was a suicide mission. Further, it could be argued that had Moshe been more vocal when the spies came back with their evil report, he might have been able to avert disaster.

Nevertheless, while Korach, Dathan, and Abiram make compelling arguments, each point could be refuted. For instance, while only the Priests (Kohanim) and Levites administered in the Tabernacle (Mishkan), they also had another mission, to teach Torah to the Jewish People. With additional responsibilities come additional rights. And regarding the fiasco of the spies, the blame lay squarely in the laps of the Jewish People. The only reason that they had been punished was because they had chosen to believe the words of the spies who had said that it would be impossible to capture the Land of Canaan and that Moshe must be replaced by someone who will return them to Egypt. Unfortunately, the Jewish People were unwilling to listen to Moshe. Anything he would have said would have boomeranged back at him and so he remained silent. Moshe could have reasonably argued with Korach, Dathan, and Abiram, if only they were willing to hear him out. The second time Dathan and Abiram rebuff Moshe’s attempts at a parlay, he understands that they do not want to listen. They want only to talk. Moshe’s disappointment turns to anger. And so as the words “we will not come” are the trigger for Moshe’s anger, the second aliyah begins in a way that links the two.

de Vries concludes, “We would do well to keep in mind that although disappointment is inevitable, being discouraged is always a choice”. Moshe became disappointed with Korach and his followers because they became discouraged. To paraphrase David Ben Gurion, the only way to build the Land of Israel is with grit, determination, and a strong belief in miracles.

Ari Sacher, Moreshet, 5783

Please daven for a Refu’a Shelema for Yehuda ben Tzivia, Sheindel Devorah bat Rina, Geisha bat Sara, Hila bat Miriam, and Rina bat Hassida.

[1] Other than Yemenite congregations

[2] Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, known by his acronym “Rashi”, was the most eminent of the medieval commentators. He lived in northern France in the eleventh century.

[3] Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, known by his acronym “Ramban”, lived in Spain and Israel in the thirteenth century.

[4] Ki Tisa 5768

[5] It could be posited that the reason that the second aliyah does not begin after Dathan and Abiram conclude their invective is because it would have begun with the words “Moshe was extremely angry”, violating the Rambam’s rule of beginning an aliyah on a positive note.

[6] Rabbi Henkin came to Israel from the U.S. He was the Rabbi of the Beit Shean Valley and then along with his wife, Chana Henkin, founded the Nishmat Institute for Advanced Jewish Studies for Women.

About the Author
Ari Sacher is a Rocket Scientist, and has worked in the design and development of missiles for over thirty years. He has briefed hundreds of US Congressmen on Israeli Missile Defense, including three briefings on Capitol Hill at the invitation of House Majority Leader. Ari is a highly requested speaker, enabling even the layman to understand the "rocket science". Ari has also been a scholar in residence in numerous synagogues in the USA, Canada, UK, South Africa, and Australia. He is a riveting speaker, using his experience in the defense industry to explain the Torah in a way that is simultaneously enlightening and entertaining. Ari came on aliya from the USA in 1982. He studied at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, and then spent seven years studying at the Technion. Since 2000 he has published a weekly parasha shiur that is read around the world. Ari lives in Moreshet in the Western Galil along with his wife and eight children.
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