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Shabbat Parashat Korach 5783

Parashat Hashavua: He Ran to the Midst of the Congregation

Harav Yosef Carmel

In our parasha, the word kahal (congregation) comes up many times in regard to the dispute with Korach and its aftermath. A very prominent contrast in this context is between “from the midst of the kahal” and “into the midst of the kahal.” We will look for insight as to the significance of this distinction.

Korach and his group congregated (the Torah uses the root of kahal) before Moshe and Aharon and complained about their allegedly elevating themselves over the rest of the people (Bamidbar 16:3). Then Korach assembled (verb of kahal) a broader assemblage before Moshe and Aharon (ibid. 19). Instead of everyone dying, Moshe arranged that Hashem would have the earth swallow up only the hard-core rebels “from amongst the kahal” (ibid. 33).

The next day, a broad assemblage congregated (root of kahal) to complain about the deaths (ibid. 17:7). With Moshe fearing real danger to the people, who did not catch on to the Divine Will, Moshe acted with urgency. He commanded Aharon to take incense and quickly go among the populace and stop the plague. Indeed, Aharon ran “to the midst of the kahal” and stood between the living and the deceased (ibid. 11-13).

The Torah refers to Korach’s group as being “lost from among the kahal” (ibid. 16:33). The tosefta (Sanhedrin 13:9) cites Rabbi Akiva as positing that their sin was so severe that they lost their lives also in the World to Come. Rabbi Yehuda ben Peteira understood that they lost only their lives in this world. Avot D’Rabbi Natan presents Rabbi Eliezer as having an elusive compromise: “they will neither live nor will they be judged in it.” Yet, he sees from the song of Chana (Shmuel I, 2:6) that they will be among those who “go down to purgatory and come up.” All agree that their loss came from their sin of removing themselves from the kahal, with the extent of the punishment being disputed.

 In contrast, Aharon, despite losing two sons previously trying to bring unauthorized incense, was willing to bring non-standard incense to save the people and run with it amongst the people. Aharon thereby showed for generations that real leadership is putting one’s life on the line on behalf of the nation.

A midrash (Midrash Aggada, Vayikra 8:2) describes the episode as follows. Moshe realized that Hashem was infuriated by the people’s stubbornness not to accept Hashem’s will regarding putting down Korach’s rebellion and told Aharon to take the incense. Aharon reminded Moshe that due to impropriety with the incense, his sons had been killed despite their good intentions. Moshe responded that Aharon should act quickly. When Aharon understood that there was a palpable danger to the people’s lives, he was ready to act even if he would pay for it with his life. About this, it is written that he ran to the midst of the kahal.

This midrash teaches us an important lesson. The ideal leader runs to the midst of the kahal. In other words, he puts his personal matters aside and connects to the broader community, and thereby unites them. The egotistical Korach rightfully was lost “from among the kahal.” As the Kli Yakar summarizes, “Because Hashem wanted that all of Israel will form one kahal and bind together and Korach wanted to separate between them, Korach, who wanted to separate, was lost.”

May we merit leadership that will unite the different factions in the country!   

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