Rabbi Nachi Friedman
Anshi Sfard 2022
Three weeks ago we read about the story of Korach and learned about his rebellion with Dassan and Aviram. While successful in creating chaos within the Jewish people, the rebellion was ultimately quashed when the ground opened up and swallowed the rebellion’s leaders. In this week’s Torah portion, Pinchas, we learn a new detail about the Korach rebellion. When recounting the lineage of the tribes, the Torah informs us of a new detail that the sons of Korach did not die.
Per the reading of the text from three weeks ago, it appeared that Korach was the true leader of the rebellion. The verse states: Vayikach ַAnd Korach took. However, in this week’s parsha we can see a new perspective and interpretation of the rebellion. Ralbag in his commentary on the Torah, points out that the new detail about Korach’s sons not dying implies that Korach was not the true leader. Ralbag highlights that the recounting of the Korach story and the sons not dying in this week’s Torah portion are mentioned during the reporting of the tribe of Reuben (after it mentions Dassan and Aviram). Ralbag writes that these details are only delineated in the tribe of Reuben and not Levi (which was Korach’s tribe) because Dassan and Aviram were the true leaders. Korach was merely a celebrity/spokesperson for the rebellion and not the true leader. Ralbag concludes that if Korach were the leader, his children would have been involved and punished. Since Korach was not fully invested and merely a pawn in the rebellion, his influence did not transfer onto his children.
While Ralbag focuses on this week’s Torah portion to learn about Korach’s subsidiary involvement, others focus on the previous Torah portion and believe Korach had a prominent role in the rebellion. Rashi in his commentary writes that the sons of Korach were spared because they repented at the end. The Torah describes that after the leaders of the rebellion were swallowed up, the rebellion continued and was defeated by a plague from G-d. This rebellion influenced many and caused many Jews to die. How was it that Korach’s own kids were able to repent when so many that were less involved in the rebellion were punished?
One advantage Korach’s children had was that they were from the tribe of Levi. The tribe of Levi were tasked with taking care of the Tabernacle and its vessels. Korach himself had a unique role where he managed the items located in the Holy of Holies. Korach’s children grew up performing community work and important tasks for the entire nation. This responsibility influenced their personality.
Recent studies show that volunteering or performing community service increases resilience, prosocial thinking, prosocial behavior and social responsibility (White, 2019). White defines volunteering as paid or unpaid, required by school, synagogue or court of law. Volunteering is any action aimed at benefiting others or the community. While the recipients of volunteerism or community work is usually others, studies have also found a correlation between volunteers and happiness. There is a reciprocal impact a volunteer has when helping others that also help oneself.
Korach and his sons partook in community service. These years spent helping out the Jewish nation inevitably influenced Korach’s sons to repent and/or avoid the rebellion. Their active involvement in the Tabernacle influenced prosocial behavior and social responsibility towards Moshe and Aharon that they were able to escape the fate of the rebellion.
We can learn from our Torah portion the power of working for our community and the opportunity that we have for ourselves and our children to volunteer and help out at Synagogue. Even putting away prayer books, throwing out garbage from kiddush or other small tasks that aid the synagogue’s cleanliness and order can be transformative. May we all merit to see the impact of our commitment to our synagogue in ourselves and in our children. I look forward to seeing you all on Sunday for Lox N Learn and especially look forward to throwing out my plate when I’m done eating.
Have a wonderful Shabbos
White, E. S. (2021). Parent values, civic participation,
and children’s volunteering. Children & Youth Services Review, 127.