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Shabbat Parashat Korach| 5764

An Eidah Comprised of Machloket

Harav Yosef Carmel

The machloket (usually translated as disagreement or conflict) of Korach and his congregation (adato) is a symbol of a machloket shelo l’sheim shamayim (not for Heaven’s sake). Chazal tell us that such a machloket will not survive over time (Avot 5:17). Why do Chazal call it the machloket of “Korach and his congregation,” why not “Korach and Moshe”? Who was Korach’s eidah? And why doesn’t the machloket last?
 Ba’alei musar claimed that you cannot attribute the machloket to Moshe because he was not a party to the quarrel, but was just drawn into it against his will. But this is a very difficult claim as, in the final analysis, Moshe was very much involved and even initiated a very harsh Divine punishment against the other combatants. And how can we say that the machloket did not last if we are still discussing it to this day?
 Rabbi Prof. Ezra Melamed, a Jerusalem scholar of recent times, suggested that machloket, in this context, does not mean dispute, but rather comes from the term, machlaka (group). There are a few places in Tanach where this root clearly has the meaning of a group of people (see Divrei Hayamim I, 24:1-4; ibid. 27:9). This being the case, a machloket shelol’shem shamayim refers to a group of people who joined together for impure purposes, to advance their own personal, selfish agendas. Chazal praise the academies of Beit Shamai and Beit Hillel, both of which were formed in order to promote Torah study and practice. Their legacies have been incorporated in the corpus of Torah scholarship, which the Jewish world treasures. In contrast, the apparent unity of Korach’s group was based on selfish interests, in which case, when the interests change, the unification has no further basis.
 We still have to determine what the eidah of Korach was. This is particularly pertinent if we consider that the term arises some twenty times in the context of this section of the Torah. However, study of its appearances shows that its meaning changes from time to time. The eidah often refers to the entirety of the nation. There are contexts where it refers to a representation of the nation (see Bamidbar 16:2). Korach proclaimed that all the eidah was holy (ibid.:3) and should not be dominated by Moshe and Aharon’s leadership. He was certainly referring to the whole nation, in an attempt to win broad support (see Ramban). Korach had some short-term success with this claim, as he was able to assemble “the whole eidah” to stand together before the Ohel Moed (ibid.:19). However, Hashem ended speculation as to whom the eidah represented. He told Moshe and Aharon to separate themselves from the eidah, who were slated for destruction (ibid.:20-21). Indeed, Hashem saw that Korach’s eidah was a smaller group of people, which had very specific, fleeting short-term agendas.
 It is possible to assemble a group that seems to be unified and represent ideas that sound pleasing to the ear. But, in the final analysis, if it is not assembled for proper reasons, the truth will eventually come out, and the group will be exposed for what it is and disassembled.
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This edition of
Hemdat Yamim is dedicated to the memory of
R’ Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld o.b.m.

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