An Argument Toward the Sake of Heaven
1 Now there betook-himself Korah son of Yitzhar son of Kehat son of Levi, and Datan and Aviram the sons of Eliav and On son of Pelet, the sons of Re'uven
2 with men-of-stature from the Children of Israel, fifty and two hundred, leaders of the community, those Called in the Appointed-Council, men of name.
3 They assembled against Moshe and against Aharon and said to them: Too much (is) yours! Indeed, the entire community, the entirety-of-them, are holy, and in their midst is Yhwh! Why then do you exalt yourselves over the assembly of Yhwh?
4 Now when Moshe heard, he flung himself on his face.
5 Then he spoke to Korah and to his entire community, saying: At daybreak Yhwh will make-known who is his and who is holy and he will declare-him-near to him; the one that he chooses, he will declare-near to him.
6 This, do: Take yourselves (fire-)pans, Korah and his entire community, Take yourselves (fire-) pans, Korah and his entire community,
7 and put fire in them, placing incense on them, before the presence of Yhwh, tomorrow. And it shall be: the man whom Yhwh chooses, he is the holy-one. Too much (is) yours, Sons of Levi!
8 And Moshe said to Korah: Pray hearken, Sons of Levi:
9 Is it too little for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the community of Israel to bring you near to him, to serve the serving-tasks of the Dwelling of Yhwh, to stand before the community, to attend on them?
10 He has brought-near you and all your brothers, the Sons of Levi, with you? would you seek the priesthood as well?
11 Truly, (it is) you and your entire community that come-together against Yhwh? as for Aharon, what is (wrong) with him that you should grumble against him!
Your Midrash Navigator
The Rabbis of the midrash wish to understand why the Korach rebellion happens now. It is especially odd given that the parsha preceding the Korach incident is the parsha which explains the mitzvah of tzitzit, or the ritual fringes on places on a four cornered garment. The Torah explains at the end of the last parsha, that one of the strings has to be dyed with tchelet, an azure color which was essential to the mitzvah. According to the midrash Korach used this mitzvah as a pretext for challenging Moshe, that's why this chapter immediately precedes the Korach rebellion. The Midrash which also appears in Rashi says:
Tanchuma Korach Chapter 2
What is written immediately before this incident? "Speak to the children of Israel and tell them to make tzitzit," Korach jumped up and said to Moshe. "You told us to put tchelet on the tzitzit, tell me if the garment is entirely made up of tchelet, would such a garment require tzitzit." Moses replied, "Yes it would require tzitzit." Korach answered, "You mean that four strings of tchelet can allow you to wear another garment, but a garment made of tchelet cannot be exempted from this restriction?"
Korach asked, "What about a house filled with Torahs does it require a mezuza or not?" Moses answered, "It requires a mezuza." Korach replied, "You mean four little portions of parchment allow someone to live in their house, but a house filled with books still requires these four pieces of parchment?"
Your Midrash Navigator
1. Why does the midrash see the questions of Korach as illegitimate?
2. Read Korach's questions with a disdainful tone of voice. Why is Korach's challenge considered an illegitimate one according to the midrash.
The following mishnah is a famous statement from Values of Our Fathers. It is often quoted as a support for tolerating different opinions, but for a moment let's talk about what makes an argument illegitimate in the eyes of the mishnah.
Values of Our Fathers 5:17
"Any dispute where the disputants are arguing toward the name of heaven, these are the disputes that will endure. Any dispute where the disputants are not arguing toward the name of heaven, these disputes will not endure. What is an example of a dispute where the disputants argue toward the name of heaven? Hillel and Shammai. What is an example of disputes where the disputants do not argue toward the name of heaven? Korach and his minions."
Your Mishnah Navigator
1. What makes an argument toward the sake of heaven?
2. What does it mean that the argument will endure?
3. Why doe Hillel and Shammai exemplify this.
4. Why does Korach exemplify the opposite? Use the midrash as your context for the mishnah.
In the Talmudic tradition an enduring position in an argument is one that continues to be studied and continues to have adherents. It is a position which remains part of the conversation.
Korach is not interested in tzitzit or tchelet. He is only interested in using the Torah as a pretext for challenging Moshe's authority. His real point is four strings of tchelet are no better than a whole garment of tchelet. We are a holy people, each of us a holy string, each of us capable of hearing the word of God. The rabbis use the analogy of tzitzit and tchelet to show how Korach used the Torah as a means for rebellion, and indeed that is how Korach got two hundred and fifty chieftains to go along.
What characterizes a dispute toward the name of heaven is not good manners, but intention. It is Korach's ulterior motive behind the challenge that the Torah and the rabbis find insidious.
Prepared by Rabbi Avi Weinstein, The Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel
Additional commentaries and text studies on Korach at MyJewishLearning.com.