Numbers/Bamidbar - Pinchas
July 2008, Contributed by
Asher ben Shimon
to Torah Portions Archive
The book of Bamidbar is known in various
languages as 'Numbers' for it talks about several times the
Jewish people were counted. One of these counts we read
about in this week's portion Pinchas.
As we start reading about the tribe of Reuven, we are told
about two members of this tribe, Datan and Aviram who
perished during Korach's uprising against Moshe. The Torah
adds: "Korach's sons, however, did not die." Rashi explains:
"They were originally (litt. from the beginning) involved in
the conspiracy, but during the dispute they contemplated
repentance; therefore, an elevated area was set apart for
them in Gehinnom (purgatory/hell) , and they stayed there."
(They were swallowed by the earth together with Korach and
company but they did not die.)
This Rashi needs some clarification.
Why is it important to add that they were originally
involved in the conspiracy?
It would have sufficed to say that they repented. Rashi
explained in the portion of Korach how it was possible for
Korach, who was a smart person, to rebel against Moshe.
Moshe said that only one person would survive. Korach saw
with prophetic sight that the prophet Shmuel would be his
descendant as well as many levi'im performing the Temple
service. Based on this inside information Korach was certain
he would be the one to survive. What he did not see was that
his sons would repent. There Rashi does not mention the fact
that the sons were originally involved in the uprising. All
he says is that they repented.
We might say that Rashi is explaining why they were being
punished altogether. Don't we always say that repentance
takes away the punishment?
Therefore Rashi stresses the fact that they remained part of
the conflict even after their feeling of remorse. They had
it 'during' the conflict but nevertheless chose to remain
In addition to that Rashi also tells us that their Teshuva
wasn't complete. They only contemplated remorse but did not
express that feeling verbally.
Since their Teshuva was not complete they were punished
albeit in a different way.
- How does Rashi know that they were there from the
beginning more than anyone else?
- And why is it important to underscore the fact that they
were there from the beginning (even if we find a source for
They were punished because they were part of the rebellion
and didn't repent! Does it matter if they were there from
- What makes us say that the feeling of repentance took
place in middle of the conflict? It would be more logical to
assume that they had it after Moshe notified them that the
earth was going to swallow them. Yet Rashi makes it clear
that it happened during the rebellion.
- We tried to explain Rashi's intention to be that the
repentance was incomplete. Confession (viduy) is part of
Teshuva. But lack of a verbal confession does not
necessarily mean that the feeling of remorse is not
authentic. How do we know they didn't mean it?
Rashi wants to explain why there was a unique miracle here
that we don't find anywhere else. They were punished, yet a
special place was created high up in hell where they could
sit. Based on Rashi's words in the beginning of 'Vayeshev',
we may even add that 'sitting' refers to a peaceful life. To
talk about a peaceful life in hell is certainly uncommon.
There is one word in our Rashi we haven't analyzed yet.
Because the teshuva took place DURING the dispute,
'therefore' they were awarded this special punishment.
They repented in their heart but didn't tell anyone.
Outwardly they were still involved. They were different
inside but the same outside. They were not with the 'good
guys', but among the 'bad guys' they were on a different
Therefore they were punished together with the 'bad guys',
but on a different level.
- But why is this verse here and not in korach?
A simple explanation would be to explain how there is a
Korach family in the count. After we read that Korach and
his children were swallowed by the earth we need an
explanation as to how it is possible to find his
grandchildren back on the list.
As we mentioned before, the prophet Shmuel was a descendant
of Korach. This implies that Korach's sons did not sit in
their cozy spot on hell forever but eventually got back to
society to build families.
But we would know that even if the Torah had told us about
the repentance together with the rest of the story in Korach.
So the question remains. Why here?
There is an explanation that says that if the Torah were to
tell us that Korach's sons did not die in 'Korach', it would
look bad for Moshe.
Moshe was the one who generated the punishment "If these men
die as all men die and the fate of all men will be visited
upon them, then G-d has not sent me. But if G-d creates a
creation, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them
and all that is theirs, and they descend alive into the
grave, you will know that these men have provoked G-d."
Since in reality Korach's sons did NOT die, it would be
embarrassing for Moshe to mention this right away.
When we take a closer look at Moshe's words though, we
realize that all his words were actually fulfilled. All he
said was that they would be swallowed alive. There is no
mention of death anywhere. They were swallowed alive and
We may be able to explain this by looking at how the Torah
describes the earth swallowing event.
"They, and all they possessed, descended alive into the
grave; the earth covered them up, and they were lost to the
assembly. (Mitoch hakahal)"
Why does it say that they were lost (only) to the assembly?
It could have said they were lost to the entire world!
This comes to teach us that they were only lost to the eyes
of the people who were there at that time. They had only
seen sinners so they were meant to see them getting
punished. They were under the impression that they also
died. Only after the entire generation that had witnessed
the original rebellion perished, they were able to come out.
Since in reality they had repented, they did not deserve to
die. Had they expressed their Teshuva and left their
friends, they would not have to spend all those years in
their warm waiting room.
This explains why the Torah had to wait telling us that
Korach's sons did not die till our portion of Pinchas which
talks about the final count of the people 40 years later
after the previous generation had died (as punishment for
the sin of the spies)
But what we still do not understand is why the Torah
couldn't put this verse next to where it mentions the Korach
family. Instead it mentions it right at the beginning when
we mention Datan & Aviram who went missing in the tribe of
Although for all practical purposes the Torah would be able
to save some words by putting it here, there is a strong
argument why it should not put Korach's sons together with
Datan and Aviram. D&A actually died as a result of their
sins whereas Korach's sons survived as a result of their
How can we mention both together?
Since the Torah does it anyway, Rashi figured that they must
have been troublemakers of the same caliber. Just like D&A
were instigators and not just mere tug-alongs , so too were
Korach's sons instigators.
Mentioning that shows us the greatness of Teshuva.
Korach's sons were the worst sinners yet they were saved
because they had (only) a feeling of remorse during the
conflict without leaving their cronies. Eventually they
returned to the jewish people, build up families that
produced the best and the finest people and they even
managed to be included in Tehilim praising G-d!
How much more so can we, who are constantly involved in
doing Mitzvot, accomplish by doing a proper Teshuva.
Maimonides writes that before the coming of Moshiach
everyone will repent and immediately redeemed. May it be
Translations in Torah Portions of the week are partially taken from the ArtScroll
Stone Edition Chumash and from
Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Chumash
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