By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
The age-old question is asked every time the parsha of Korach is studied. Korach was wise, talented and capable, with leadership abilities and illustrious yichus. What caused him to revolt against Moshe and Aharon in a battle he would definitely lose and earn for himself nothing but eternal damnation? Many answers are given.
Chazal, quoted by Rashi on the words “rav lochem” (16:7), provide an understanding of Korach’s thinking. They explain his motivation: “Eino hitaso,” his eyes led him astray. He foresaw great progeny coming from him and deduced that he could take on Moshe and emerge victorious.
Perhaps we can focus on the language of Chazal of “eino hitaso, his eyes led him astray” indicating that it was Korach’s eyes that led him to fail so miserably. Although he was a smart and capable person, he was unable to focus on his own lofty role and special Divine shlichus. Instead, he insisted on looking at his cousin, Moshe Rabbeinu, and at his special role. Had Korach remained focused on his own job and his own position, he could have succeeded in fulfilling his calling. Consumed by looking at Moshe, he became overcome with jealousy, believing that Moshe had usurped what should have been his. His constant eyeing of Moshe gnawed at his ego and destroyed him.
An envious person cannot handle when someone else has something that he wants and is referred to in the language of Torah as a “tzar ayin.” One who is able to accept that other people have what he doesn’t is referred to as a “tov ayin,” a person with a good eye. This is because Chazal, in their expert understanding of the human psyche, perceived that the destructive traits of envy and jealousy begin taking root in people with their eyes. Looking at what other people have or don’t have begins the process that leads to bitterness and self-destruction.
“Eino hitaso” might well be referring to this destructive habit. His eyes did him in.
This would also explain the connection of Parshas Korach to Parshas Shelach, which ends with the mitzvah of tzitzis. The posuk there states, “Velo sosuru acharei levavchem v’acharei eineichem” (15:39). Rashi explains, “Ha’ayin ro’ah vehalev chomed vehaguf oseh es ha’aveiros.” At the root of sin is the wandering eye.
Korach didn’t follow that admonition.
A talmid asked Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach questions pertaining to the halachos of mezuzah. He explained to his rebbi that he had purchased an apartment and had some questions pertaining to hanging mezuzos. Rav Shlomo Zalman asked him several questions about the apartment’s layout, the apartment’s location, and when he was moving there.
Not long after the young couple settled in to the new dirah, they had a surprise visitor: Rav Shlomo Zalman himself. The family was very happy that the famous rosh yeshiva and posek had come to visit them in their new apartment. Rav Shlomo Zalman asked to see all the rooms, including the storage area and the porch, commenting favorably about each feature of the new home. After wishing them well, Rav Shlomo Zalman left. While the family was humbled by the experience, they were curious as to what they had done to merit the visit. Rav Shlomo Zalman was quite busy and wasn’t in the habit of visiting his talmidim in their homes.
After a few days passed, the talmid asked Rav Shlomo Zalman why he had come to visit his new home. The rosh yeshiva explained: “I know that the pressure of buying an apartment weighs heavily on yungeleit, and until a family has an apartment of their own, they are stressed. You purchased a beautiful new apartment in a desirable location, and I knew that there would inevitably be others who would have a hard time with it, wishing that they, too, could find as good a place to live as you have. I was worried that, perhaps, chas veshalom, someone might have tzoras ayin towards you, so I came to look, simply to rejoice in your good mazel and to invest the apartment with an ayin tovah.”
The inability to positively view the success of others stems from a deep problem. A person who lives with the reality that every person’s situation, success and status are controlled and monitored by Hakadosh Boruch Hu does not become overwhelmed by feelings of jealousy. A believer knows that there is no place for being envious of what other people have, because everything that everyone achieves and attains is Divinely ordained. I have what Hashem feels is right for me and my neighbor has what is right for him. A person who is embittered by his neighbor’s larger house and his associate’s promotion to a higher position does not really believe that Hashem runs the world.
We read in the parsha that Moshe told Korach (16:11), “Lochein atoh vechol adoscha hano’adim al Hashem ve’Aharon mah hu…” Moshe accused Korach of assembling to wage battle against Hashem. From a cursory reading of the parsha, it appears that Korach’s dispute was with Moshe. How was Moshe able to accuse him of fighting Hashem? Korach seemed to have issues with his contemporaries, not with Hashem.
According to our explanation, we understand very well why his battle against Moshe was essentially a revolt against the Ribono Shel Olam. Korach was consumed by jealously of the leadership positions of Moshe and Aharon. Since Hashem decides who should be the leader of the generation with whom He wishes to speak and who should be the kohein in the Mishkon, there is no room for complaint against Moshe and Aharon.
By complaining about Moshe’s leadership and Aharon being the kohein gadol, Korach exposed himself as an apikores who didn’t believe that Hashem runs the world. He was denying Hashgochah Protis. Therefore, Moshe admonished him for battling Hashem, for that is in essence what he was doing.
Interestingly, Rashi, on the posuk of “rav lochem,” which we previously cited to quote the Chazal of “eino hitaso,” says in a second exposition, “Dovor gadol notaltem be’atzmichem lachlok al Hakadosh Boruch Hu – You took upon yourselves a great task, arguing against Hashem.”
Perhaps the two thoughts are connected. Because eino hitaso and jealousy were at the root of Korach’s conflict with Moshe, he was battling not only Moshe, but Hashem.
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Rav Yisroel Salanter’s Mussar Movement changed the way Jews treat each other and interact with the world. There is a tradition that the revolution was sparked by Rav Yisroel’s reaction to a pitiful incident.
The legend goes that there was a man named Yankel, who was a simple shoemaker in a small town. He was illiterate and unable to study much. He could barely daven or recite Tehillim.
One day, he received a message that there was a letter on fancy stationary waiting for him at the post office, postmarked from the big city. He rushed over and asked the postal clerk to help him read the letter. As the clerk read on, the initial frown on Yankel’s face morphed into an ever-increasing smile. The letter informed him that his wealthy, childless uncle had passed away and left his fortune to Yankel the shoemaker.
Yankel hurried home to inform his wife about their newfound wealth. He was overjoyed by how their life had just taken an unexpected turn. His wife rejoiced in the good news, but advised him to proceed with caution. “Yankel,” she said, “don’t just take the money and spend it on luxuries, because, eventually, it will run out and you will be back to fixing shoes. Go to the big city to claim your inheritance and then we will speak to the local g’vir and seek his advice on a business to invest in.”
Wisely, Yankel listened to her suggestion and brought the money to a reputable local financier to invest for him. Within a short period of time, he was earning enough to be able to bid his shoe repair shop a final goodbye. He lived on his investment income and grew wealthier by the day. With nothing to do, he began to frequent the bais medrash, where he would pay young scholars to learn with him. First they taught him how to read, then to daven, and then to read Chumash. Eventually, he was learning Gemara. He felt good about himself as he steadily progressed.
The years passed. His sons were enrolled in various yeshivos, where they were good students. His upward trajectory, which included advancing in learning and doing very well financially, earned him growing respect in the small town.
One day, a shadchan proposed the rov’s daughter as a suitable match for Yankel’s son. The two sides agreed, and the town rejoiced with the news of the match between this prominent individual and their revered rov.
The entire town celebrated, with one exception. Way back when, next to Yankel’s shoe repair shop, was a blacksmith. The two had been friendly, sitting on their stoops when business was slow, whiling away the hours in conversation.
The blacksmith was never able to accept the fact that his neighbor, the shoemaker, had risen to prominence, while he had remained a simple laborer, working long hours and struggling for every penny. He would look on bitterly as Yankel would deliver a shiur or speak in learning with scholars.
Finally, it was the day of the wedding and the townspeople gathered to celebrate the momentous occasion. The chupah was a grand spectacle, as befitting the rov’s daughter. Yankel stood tall and proud, his face glowing with a surreal light. The glass was broken, shouts of mazel tov filled the air, and the music began to play.
Yankel closed his eyes tightly, as well-wishers gathered around him, and he thought about Hashem’s benevolence toward him. Here he was, a talmid chochom, a g’vir, and, to top it all off, a mechutan with the rov.
Yankel opened his eyes and prepared to joyously greet his guests. There was a crush of people around him, and at their head was his old friend, the blacksmith.
“Yankel,” he shouted above the music, loud enough for everyone to hear.
He reached under his coat and held up a pair of torn shoes for all to see. “Hey, Yankel, how much would you charge me to fix these shoes here?”
People looked on in horror. Yankel stood there, deflated, the joy seeming to rush out of him. The bitter, vicious ploy had worked. The blacksmith had come at the most glorious moment of Yankel’s life and reminded him that he was really nothing more than a very lucky shoemaker.
The blacksmith’s cruel tactic was the talk of the evening. The next day, Yankel passed away of a broken heart.
The story spread like wildfire and was retold in horror across Lithuania. When Rav Yisroel Salanter heard of the cruel and callous action of the blacksmith, he decided that a revolution teaching the importance of tikkun hamiddos was necessary. He took the task upon himself and the rest is history.
Rav Nota Zenwirth, one of Yerushalayim’s tzaddikim, would retell the story and offer his own insight. He would say, “Do you know why Rav Yisroel was shaken so badly by the story? No, it was not because of the bad middos of the blacksmith. It was because of the bad middos of Yankel, the baal simcha.”
He would explain: “Here was this accomplished man – learned, wealthy, blessed with nachas from his children – and yet the opinion of someone else, the nastiness of a small person, had the ability to affect him so badly that it literally killed him. He should have been able to simply ignore what the poor, sad person had done. ‘Why can’t you look at what you have and ignore him?’ That he wasn’t able to do so, and that no one expected him to, is what convinced Rav Yisroel of the necessity of the Mussar Movement.”
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The Torah relates that after the ketores offerings of Korach va’adaso were refused, Elozor Hakohein hammered out the pans in which they were prepared and used them to cover the mizbei’ach so that the Bnei Yisroel would remember “velo yihiyeh keKorach vecha’adaso, not to be like Korach and his group” (Bamidbar 17:5).
Most of us aren’t vicious hate-mongers and we view ourselves neither as acting “like Korach” nor as remotely afflicted with his bad middos. We wonder why it was necessary to have a constant reminder not to be like Korach.
When we read the story that gave birth to the Mussar Movement, how many of us understood that the impetus for the revolution in personal conduct and ethics was that Yankel should not have paid attention to what the blacksmith said? That should be an indication that we should be dedicating more of our time to studying seforim that deal with moral behavior. No, we are not as evil as Korach was, but if we permit our eyes to mislead us, we possess in our consciences the seeds of personal failure.
Let us all count our blessings, appreciate what we have, and know that Hashem has a unique plan for each of us. We each have everything we need to thrive and flourish as avdei Hashem. Our situation is different than anyone else’s and we gain nothing by gazing disapprovingly at what other people have. We also need to possess the strength of character to ignore the comments of vacuous people.
Everyone has different maalos and chesronos, different kochos and different nisyonos. How we deal with them is what our lives are all about.
May we all merit the brachos of “tov ayin hu yevorach” (Mishlei 22:9).