Parshas Korach: It’s All in a Name

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rabbi-eytan-feinerBy Rabbi Eytan Feiner

The name “Korach” appears regarding but a few individuals in Tanach, the most notorious of whom occupies the spotlight in this week’s parsha.[1] But if a person’s name serves as the window to his core essence, encapsulating his uniqueness,[2] then how are we to understand the interesting choice of the name “Korach” for the antagonist in this parsha named after him?[3]

Naturally, our first task is to locate another place in Tanach in which the same word or shoresh is found. Our search leads us to parshas Re’eh (14:1) where we find the following: “Lo sisgodidu vi’lo sa’simu KARCHA al meis…” “Lo sisgodidu” refers to the making of an incision, the infliction of a cut on one’s body– essentially echoing the idea of perud and separation. And yes, is that not precisely what Korach accomplished in his attempt to usurp the power and authority of Moshe and Aharon? He succeeded, to a certain degree, in creating a cut and separation within the ranks of the Jewish People.[4] Interestingly enough, immediately on the heels of a “lo sisgodidu” comes the mention of making a “karcha” (same shoresh as “Korach”)…

We might also add that there now emerges a subtle remez in the choice of “Shir mizmor livnei Korach…” (Tehillim, #48) as the shir shel yom recited on the second day of the week. The words, “ki tov,” are absent from the yom sheini of creation for it was on that day that havdalah, the idea of separation, was first introduced to the world with the splitting of the waters.[5] The sons of Korach, specifically, were all too familiar with the havdalah their father had caused within Klal Yisroel and here we find them singing of ye’mos ha’mashiach, a time when Hashem‘s miraculous kibutz galiyus will, once again, reunite all the Jewish People as internal havdalah will be no more.[6]

Korach/ Karcha

The correlation certainly quite blatant, what exactly is this idea of a “karcha” really all about? The shoresh of karcha denotes [a patch of] baldness. The pasuk is enjoining us from making a cut and/or ripping out our hair, which subsequently produces a patch of baldness. Baldness is created when hairs become separated and removed from their source. Korach, in fact, was guilty of both creating an incision, a perud, within Klal Yisroel, and of creating a sense of ‘baldness’ upon himself. He made a pernicious cut within Klal Yisroel while simultaneously separating and ripping himself away from the source of his kedusha.

The kedushas ha’Leviim and their subsequent unique role as G-d’s elite and blessed servants essentially stemmed from answering Moshe’s call of “Mi la’Hashem eilai” while their brethren worshipped the golden calf.[7] Only by attaching themselves loyally to Moshe, by clinging steadfast to the giver of the holy Torah, were the Leviim ever zocheh in the first place to their elevated status.[8] Along comes a Korach on the scene and separates himself from that holy source, duplicating the act of creating a “karcha” upon himself as he is ultimately left void of his shoresh ha’kedusha. He has torn himself away from Moshe permanently just as one rips away his own hairs from their nourishing source.[9]

The midah kineged midah of Korach’s punishment is now oh so clear. In the wake of Korach’s rebellion, Moshe and Aharon were thus told by HaKB”H: “HE’BADLU mi’toch ha’eida ha’zos…” (16:21)- “he’badlu,” lashon havdalah, the word that denotes separation (in contrast, interestingly, to the less emphatic lashon of “hei’romu” to be encountered later (17:10) regarding those who arose in complaint after Korach’s and the others’ demise). Korach (and his eida) created perud and havdalah— you must therefore be mavdil yourselves, separate yourselves, completely from them. And Korach’s final punishment and downfall, the clincher of the ultimate midah kineged midah that left him in self-wrought perdition? “Va’ti’bakah ha’adama“- the ground SPLIT OPEN and SEPARATED to swallow the very one who created a split and separation within the ranks of Klal Yisroel.[10]

Remembering Yam Suf

Continuing this line of thought, where else did we happen to encounter the identical shoresh being used, a conjugated form of the same verb, “livko’a,” to split open? None other than at the splitting of the Reed Sea, the very place where we read the Torah’s testimony that all believed in the greatness of Moshe as the one selected by G-d Himself to lead the Jewish People: “Va’ya’aminu ba’Hashem u’vi’Moshe avdo” (Beshalach, 14:31). It was then that we read in awe of, “u’vika’eihu” (ibid., 14:16), and “vayi’baki’u ha’mayim” (ibid., 14:21).[11] Hmmm… interesting indeed: Precisely at the time that all recognized G-d’s choice of Moshe as the undisputed leader of His people, do we read of the “beki’a” that transpired– the Reed Sea miraculously split open. Along comes a Korach onstage to challenge G-d’s choice of Moshe, to question the clarity achieved at the beki’a by Yam Suf, and he thus meets his death-quite appropriately- via the hands of yet another miraculous “beki’a“…

How fascinating it is to now glance back at the pasuk in parshas Re’eh that first introduced us to the shoresh of “karcha“/”Korach”. The pasuk that prohibits us from making an incision and a karcha over a corpse is the very same pasuk from which Chazal infer, “Lo sisgodidu” = “Lo sa’asu agudos agudos,” we may not divide ourselves into conflicting groups within our unified nation (Yevamos, 13b). And who initiated the very first breakup and separation within the Jewish ranks? None other than Korach, the individual whose name is clearly hinted to- the same shoresh indeed appears outright- in the very pasuk from which we derive the prohibition of not breaking up into “agudos agudos“, into disparate and disagreeing groups… No wonder, of course, that the Yalkut Shimoni (parshas Re’eh, #891) actually cites the case of Korach as its example of “lo sa’asu agudos agudos“…[12]

Korach/ Kerach

We also know that Korach shares his name with “kerach,” the Hebrew word for ice. And what is ice essentially all about? We freeze things in ice in order to preserve their current state, to maintain the status quo. How did Korach persuade the others to join his cause? With a cogent claim of, “kulam kedoshim,” all the Jewish People stood collectively at Sinai and we are thus equally holy- there is no need for a hierarchy within our ranks. In contrast to the Torah’s commands of “kedoshim ti’hiyu” and “vi’he’yisem kedoshim,” mandating that we work constantly on becoming ever holier (future tense),[13] Korach convinced the others that we are all holy in the present tense– the idea thus closely echoing the primary function of ice, that of preserving the status quo. We are all on the same level, frozen and preserved at the lofty madreiga that we had earlier attained at Har Sinai. We’re all doing just fine at our current level and therefore have no need for a Moshe.

And thus the only cure for all those influenced by the “kerach,” by the ice idea presented by “Korach”? They died at the flaming breaths of a heaven sent fire, a fire that was needed to melt away the “kerach” that Korach had enveloped them within…[14]

His name beckoning us to be “choker” and explore its “ri’kicha,” its mixture of meanings, Korach ultimately brought darkness and gloom where this son of “Yitzhar” should have brought light. Hence, his untimely demise lands him in the abyss sans light, prematurely underground where no light can ever enter. (When no ice, freezers, etc. were available, food was buried underground to preserve its status quo…) And yet, though the grave is referred to as the realm of “dumah,” the world of silence– “Lo ha’meisim yi’halilu Kah v’lo kol yordei dumah” (Tehillim, 115:17), with death typically bringing the loss of man’s koach ha’dibbur[15]— Korach will continue to speak as he perpetually declares, “Moshe emes vi’soraso emes“…(Bava Basra 74a).

With such a monumental message, it comes as no surprise that Korach should continue speaking even after death. And thus perhaps expected that his name yields the identical gematria (308) as “sach,” the word that means “speaking”


[1] The first Korach we encounter is, interestingly, one listed as the son of Eisav’s wife, Ahalivama (Vayishlach, 36:5). Rashi cites the medrash (Beraishis Rabba, 82:12) that points out that this Korach was actually a mamzer, the offspring born from the union of Eliphaz and Ahalivama. (But see also the Rashbam and Ramban, ibid., 36:12, and the Radak‘s commentary on 36:16.) See Shu”t Chasam Sofer (EVH”E (vol. 2), #22- see also his commentary on the Torah) who questions why Yitzhar would give his son the same name as the bastard son of Eisav. (The question appears, as well, in Kuntrus Mirafsin Igri on Sefer Bamidbar, p. 54.) See Tosfos in Yuma (38b- “di’lo“) and in Kesuvos (104b- “shi’nei“- and see the Hafla’a), and see Pardeis Yosef HaChadash (#5) for a detailed discussion on the matter. (See also the Chida‘s Sheim HaGedolim (ma’areches gedolim, “aleph,” #34) discussing the Shu”t Mabit (vol. 1, #276) with regard to Moshe’s son Eliezer. See also his Divash L’fe, ma’areches aleph, #23, and his Shu”t Yosef Ometz, siman 11, #3.) For numerous additional sources regarding naming offspring after wicked people, see R’ Shmuel Kushkerman’s Minchas Shmuel, vol. 3, pp. 289-293. See also R’ Chaim Kaniyevsky’s remarks appearing in Derech Sicha, pp. 31-32, and in the kuntrus Minchas Todah, p. 97.

As might be expected, the gematria of the name “Korachalso serves to shed light on our parsha‘s antagonist- see the Rokeach, Pa’anei’ach Raza, and Rabbeinu Ephraim (and see the Chida‘s Chomas Anach and Rosh Dovid, based on the Arizal). Finally, we meet up with yet another Korach in Divrei HaYamim (I, 2:43)- this one born to progeny of Calev- and again we are stirred to wonder why the name of a rasha reappears later on. See also the comments of the Maharsha in his Chiddushei Aggados on Sanhedrin 109b. Parenthetically, we also find yet another individual who shares the very same kuf/reish/ches combination as Korach, but with quite a different pronunciation: Yochanan ben Karei’ach (Melachim II, 25:23).

[2] See especially R’ Gedalya Schorr’s Ohr Gedalyahu, parshas Shemos, pp. 1-4, and R’ Moshe Eisemann’s introductory overview to the Artscroll edition of Sefer Divrei HaYamim, beg. with p.[xxxiv]. 

[3] Why, in fact, do we have a parsha named after him in the first place? For a possible resolution, see my essay entitled, “The Names of the Parshiyos.”

[4] See also R’ Dovid Cohen’s Maseis Kapai on tefilla, vol. 4, p. 81.

[5] See Beraishis Rabba, 84:6. See also R’ Dovid Cohen’s Ma’aseh Avos Siman Li’banim, vol. 3, p. 66.

[6] Quite fascinating, as well, are the connections of Korach to the early Kayin, the one who initially brought the concept of internal brotherly strife into the world. The Arizal discusses the idea of Kayin’s soul reincarnating into that of Korach’s (“Korach sod gilgul Kayin“), and notes the similar Scriptural terminologies appearing in conjunction with the two personalities. See Sha’ar HaGilgulim, hakdamos 32, 33, 36, and 38; Sefer HaGilgulim, chapters 29, 32, 35, and 42. See also the Me’ir Ayin commentary on the Rama MiPhano‘s Gilgulei Neshamos, p. 23, note #186, quoting from Likutei Torah and Sefer HaKavanos. See there, as well, for the opinion regarding Korach as a gilgul of Dor Haflaga, and the connection based on Targum Onkelos.  In light of the above, the correlation between the perud caused by Korach and the ‘Era of dispersion’ is quite understandable. See also Gilgulei Neshamos, #33 and #36, for the Rama MiPhano‘s interesting remarks concerning other Korach-related connections. Lastly, see Nitzutzei Shimshon, pp. 86-88, for the fascinating related remarks of R’ Shimshon from Astropoli and the Eimek HaMelech.      

[7] Let us not forget the famous dialogue between the Chafeitz Chaim and Rav Shimon Schwab concerning this incident…

[8] Parenthetically, see the Drashos HaRan, drush shemini, regarding Moshe as the single source for all nevuah.

[9] I have taken a different approach than the alternative connections of Korach to “karcha” presented in the Zohar and the gemara. The Zohar (vol. 3, 49a- and see Yalkut Shimoni, remez #750) refers to Korach’s actual baldness while the gemara (Sanhedrin 109b) simply remarks that, through Korach, a “karcha” was made in Yisroel, a somewhat ambiguous statement interpreted differently by Rashi, the Maharsha, and others (see Torah Shi’leima). See also Medrash Seichel Tov (Beraishis, 36:5), the Rokeach on the parsha‘s first mention of Korach for his understanding, and see the terminology of the Ba’alei HaTosfos. See also the Chida‘s P’nei Dovid. Clearly, the connections outlined require further analysis. (One might also ponder the osiyos hafuchos of “Korach” yielding the roots, chakar and rokach, the notions of investigating and mixing (or spices/ perfumes) respectively, and their relationship to our parsha‘a antagonist.)

[10] See also Rav Yerucham Levovitz’s brief remarks in his Da’as Torah regarding the midah kineged midah of Korach’s misah meshuneh.

[11] A parenthetical point to ponder: We always refer to the miracle at the Reed Sea as “Kri’as Yam Suf,” even though the Torah’s choice of terminology is that of a “beki’a,” and not a “kri’a.” Shouldn’t we refer to it instead as “Beki’as Yam Suf?” Something to think about…

[12] The Rambam, however, in his Sefer HaMitzvos (lo sa’aseh, #45) seems to indicate that Korach himself did not transgress the negative commandment of “lo sisgodidu,” although he does write in the Yad HaChazakah (Hilchos Avodas Kochavim, 12:14) that the reason for the prohibition is to prevent machlokes, that which Korach was clearly guilty of. (Rashi in Yevamos (13b) explains the reasoning for the prohibition as a problem of making it appear as if there are two different Torahs. See also shoresh shemini in the Rambam‘s Sefer HaMitzvos, and see the sources cited in the Frankel edition on the matter. See also the sefer Chofeitz Chaim, pesicha: lavin, #12 (with Bi’er Mayim Chaim). In addition, see Ar’ah D’Rabbanan, #344, and see the Chida‘s He’Elam Davar, #90, and the accompanying Chakor Davar commentary.) Regardless of whether or not Korach actually transgressed the prohibition, he clearly was culpable of that which is a “meiein” of the underlying idea behind the issur. And how interesting, then, as we noted above, that it is precisely in that context where we find his name alluded to.     

[13] In this regard, see the comments of the Ben Yehoyada on Sotah 5a regarding the trait of humility, and see my essay on parshiyos Nitzavim/Vayeilech, “Endless Striving.” (See also the insight of R’ Moshe Shlomo from Tlutshin (disciple of the Gra) on the pasuk, found in the sefer, Me’ginzei HaGra U’beis Midrasho, p. 175.)

[14] For enlightening, mystical remazim in Korach’s name, see Nitzutzei Shimshon (R’ Shimshon from Astropoli), pp. 86-87. 

[15] See Rashi on Brachos 5a (“vi’domu selah“), and see the Maharal‘s Tiferes Yisroel, chapter 30 (p. 90). See the Gra‘s Aderes Eliyahu on Sefer Yonah, 2:1, where he adds that it is precisely for this reason that the angel appointed over the dead is called “Dumah” (Chagiga 5a (and see Rashi on Brachos 18b)). When techiyas ha’mei’sim arrives, we will speak and sing HaKB”H‘s praises like never before-see R’ Ehud Rakovsky’s Da’as Tefilla, p. 283 (and footnote 1).

(Rabbi Eytan Feiner is the rov of Cong. Knesses Yisroel, “The White Shul,” in Far Rockaway)

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