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The Torah's Weekly Portions
Numbers/Bamidbar - Pinchas
July 2008, Contributed by Asher ben Shimon
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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 rebellious.

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 it).

They were punished because they were part of the rebellion and didn't repent! Does it matter if they were there from the beginning?

- 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. 'Therefore'.

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 level.

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 remained alive!

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 Reuven.

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 teshuva!

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 right now!


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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