This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein in Z’chus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandfather Moshe Ben Breindel, and my grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
הַפְטָרָה שֶׁל פַּרָֺשַת קֹרַח
[Shmuel Aleph 11:14-12:22]
“Don’t Hate the Game”
The main attraction of Parshas Korach is obviously the tragic story of Korach’s rebellion in which he recruited over two hundred esteemed Israelite officials and publically challenged Moshe’s leadership and Aharon’s Priesthood. For such an emotionally stirring rebellion story, we would think that it would be complimented by an equally exciting rebellion story from the Navi in its Haftarah.
So, which rebellion story is featured in the Haftarah? Would it be the story from Shmuel Beis [Ch. 16] when Shimi Ben Geira publically challenges and rebels against Dovid HaMelech? Maybe, a good choice would be the story from Melachim Aleph [Ch. 2] when Adoniyahu attempts to usurp the throne from Shlomo HaMelech. Or, maybe we should go with the later story in Melachim Aleph [Ch. 11-12] when Yarav’am rebels against Rachav’am and the Davidic Dynasty causing a schism in the nation.
As it happens, not only does the Haftarah feature none of these rebellion stories, but it does not feature any real rebellion stories. Instead, the Haftarah is taken from the story of Shmuel Aleph [11:14-12:22] when Shmuel HaNavi admonishes the B’nei Yisrael for demanding that he appoint a king over them and warns them about the imminent consequences of such a request. The question is why the Haftarah takes this route?
On the outset, there are some surface connections between Korach and its Haftarah from Shmuel, for example, the focus on leadership roles. Korach’s rebellion was all about the appointees to leadership and his problems with them. The conversation about kingship obviously pertains to leadership. Moreover, Shmuel was a direct descendent of Korach’s, as Rashi points out in our Sidrah in the name of the Midrash [See Rashi to B’Midbar 16:7; Tanchuma 5]. Of course, these connections stand at the surface. The question for us, however, is: How is the story of the B’nei Yisrael’s request for a king fundamentally connected to the story of Korach’s rebellion?
The first step to answering our question is to get a better understanding of our Haftarah. What exactly led to the B’nei Yisrael’s request for king? Was an appropriate request in theory? What exactly was it that caused Shmuel to admonish the people?
The B’nei Yisrael’s request for a king is recorded earlier in the Navi when the final Shoftim or judges, Shmuel’s sons Yoel and Aviyah, were reigning [Shmuel Aleph 8]. The problem was that they were corrupted by their power and the people rightfully complained that their corruption was inappropriate. In the same breath, though, they requested that Shmuel appoint a king to rule over them “like all of the nations.” This emphasis on being like the nations of the world is what has Chazzal upset, because, on the contrary, the B’nei Yisrael should not aspire to be like the nations of the world. As true and fair as a complaint as that may be, there may be something else that is fundamentally wrong with this particular request for a king.
Before we get to what is wrong with their request, we have to first ask: Is the appointment of a king in Israel intrinsically a good thing or a bad thing?
The Torah itself acknowledges that there is a place for an Israelite king, and in fact, one of the Mitzvos incumbent upon the B’nei Yisrael’s settling in Eretz Yisrael is to appoint a king [See Devarim 17:14-20]. Moreover, the Navi in Shoftim itself seems to suggest that a king was necessary, as the Navi there says more than once [Shoftim 17:6, 21:25], “BaYamim HaHeim Ein Melech B’Yisrael Ish HaYashar B’Einav Ya’aseh”-“In those days, there was no king in Israel; a man, what was straight in his eyes, he would do.”
On the other hand, when we actually get to the Book of Kings, Sefer Melachim, the Navi describes some of the most corrupt individuals of the B’nei Yisrael’s history who sat on the throne and not only incorporated all sorts of Avodah Zarah (idolatry) into the Jewish kingdom, but murdered innocent people by the masses.
So, now, we’re stuck. Because, while Sefer Shoftim seems to suggest that appointing a king would be a good idea, Melachim seems to suggest that appointing a king was a bad idea. So, how do we feel, standing in Sefer Shmuel, between Shoftim and Melachim, when the first king is about to be crowned? Good or bad? Is it appropriate or inappropriate?
The answer to this question might be that in fact, it truly depends on the context and situation, and yes, the reason for it. Yes, the Torah commands us to appoint a king and yes, Sefer Shoftim testifies that a king may have been necessary, because otherwise, “a man, what was straight in his eyes, he would do.” However, that is only true if the king himself is truly an upstanding and righteous individual who himself will not just do “what is straight in his eyes.” Whoever the leader is, he has to be concerned about what is right in Hashem’s eyes. That is why the Torah commands that the king of Israel write for himself a second Sefer Torah to keep with him always. So, a king in Israeli office could be a success or an utter failure.
Thus, from the Torah’s concept of a king and from the standpoint of what looked like a failing era of Shoftim, a king sounded like a great idea. On the other hand, many would argue that Sefer Melachim produced an even worse mess than that which existed during the era of the Shoftim. And looking at Melachim from a bird’s eye view, it seems as though having a king was an all-around terrible idea.
In Shmuel, the B’nei Yisrael are admonished for requesting a king. And as we explained, the B’nei Yisrael claimed that they wanted a king be “like the nations.” In other words, they wanted to change the current system. Whether or not they were correct to overthrow Shmuel’s sons seems obvious. Unfortunately, Shmuel’s sons were corrupt individuals. And if that was their only problem—the impropriety of the current leaders—that would have been fine. But, there is a simple fix to that which has nothing to do with changing the system. Just change the leaders! Appoint new Shoftim. There had been some really upstanding Shoftim before Yoel and Aviyah. Why did the people ask for a king? Was it because they realized that the Torah ideal for a king was ready to be met? Apparently, not. And instead of merely blaming the guilty individuals, they “hated the game” and blamed the system. That is why Hashem informs Shmuel not to be mistaken, that the B’nei Yisrael were not merely rejecting Shmuel’s family, but that they were ultimately rejecting Him [Shmuel Aleph 8:7]. Because if they truly cared about Hashem’s Will, they would not have asked for a king “just because” or “to be like the nations.” And the proof to this lack of purity finds itself in Sefer Melachim, the Book of Kings itself, when some of the most wicked individuals who did not care what about what was correct in Hashem’s eyes ended up on the throne.
What does any of this have to do with Korach’s rebellion? If we truly understand the root of Korach’s rebellion, it has everything to do with it.
That is because more than a rebellion, Korach’s campaign, to the public eye, was presented as a righteous attempt to correct what he claimed was broken system. He argued “Ki Chal HaEidah Kulam Kedoshim”-“for the entire congregation are holy” and that Moshe and Aharon were unlawfully amassing power for themselves. Korach’s campaign was arguing for this spiritual sort of socialism which saw everyone being eligible for every spiritual right. Thus, Korach targeted both Moshe’s leadership and Aharon’s Priesthood. Now, the question is what really triggered Korach and what Korach, behind his campaign platform really wanted.
Because, Rashi [to B’Midbar 16:1 citing Tanchuma 1] points out that Korach was merely upset that his family was passed over so that he would not be crowned as a Nasi, the prince of his tribe. In other words, he didn’t originally care to usurp Moshe and Aharon’s roles. And even so, certainly, if Korach had been himself granted the role as leader and Kohein Gadol, he would not be challenging the system. If had Korach been granted the personal Kavod he truly desired, he would not have created this convoluted campaign platform about changing the system so that everyone could theoretically be the Kohein Gadol. That’s obviously not what he wanted. If anything, Korach wanted that he should be the Kohein Gadol. So, what did he do? He attacked the system and its leaders.
This concept of challenging the system to cover up ulterior desires pervades as the Sidrah continues. For example, after Korach descends into the earth and his assembly is wiped out by heaven-sent wildfire, the B’nei Yisrael accuse Moshe and Aharon of murder, saying “HaMisem Es Am Hashem”-“You have killed the people of Hashem” [B’Midbar 17:6]—again, pointing the blame away from its true source. Then, as a response, Hashem hits the nation with a plague. Who would stop the plague, but Aharon as he offered a Ketores (incense offering) on the Mizbei’ach (altar). Now, why and how did the Ketores stop the plague and what’s the significance of this story?
Rashi [to B’Midbar 17:13 citing a combination of Mechilta, Beshalach, Vayisa 6 and Brachos 33A] explains that the people denounced the Ketores, declaring it a “Sam Moves” [Pronunciation: SAHM MUH-VES] or a deathly poison, considering that Aharon’s own sons Nadav and Avihu died offering incense before Hashem, and most recently, two hundred fifty individuals of Korach’s assembly were killed in a similar way. Thus, by saving the nation with the Ketores, he demonstrated that the Ketores was not a “Sam Moves,” but an “Otzeir Mageifah,” a “plague stopper.” And if only the people were being honest with themselves and really tried to understand why anyone was dying, they would not have pointed the finger at the system! In this case, it was the Ketores that they blamed!
Thus, only verses later, the people mourned themselves [B’Midbar 17:27-28] “Hein Gavanu Avadnu! Kulanu Avadnu! Kal HaKareiv HaKareiv El HaMishkan Hashem Yamus! Ha’Im Tamnu Ligvo’a?!”-“Behold we are expiring, perishing! All of us are perishing! Every single individual who approaches the Mishkan of Hashem shall die! Will there be an end to the expiration?!”
Again, they blame the system, now pointing at the center of their religious service, the Mishkan. And, you know what Hashem answers? “There’s an easy fix!” “V’Zar Lo Yikrav Aleihem…V’Lo Yihiyeh Od Ketzef Al B’nei Yisrael”-“And a foreigner shall not approach them…and there will be no more wrath against the B’nei Yisrael” [B’Midbar 18:4-5]. That’s it!! Parshas Korach and its Haftarah teach us that it’s not about the system! The system will not hurt anyone who properly abides by it! It was not designed for any one individual’s failure! Not the Ketores! Not the Mishkan! Not the righteous leadership!
Such a form of anti-establishment in the world of Torah and its Mesorah (chain) of leaders is not merely a rejection and rebellion against human leaders, but it is a rejection and rebellion against Hashem Himself. The B’nei Yisrael, like Korach, not only in our Sidrah, but in the Haftarah, wrongly challenged the “system” instead of taking real responsibility for the impropriety that existed.
Unfortunately, we live in a society that naturally tries to diffuse responsibility. It’s much easier to blame a nameless “society” or a “system” for the failures that our eyes behold. Sometimes, it comes from a place of altruistic benefit of the doubt, but quite often, it’s coming from a place of laziness or perhaps hidden selfishness as we see from Korach. They say not to “hate the player,” but to “hate the game,” but often in life, as in our Haftarah, the exact opposite is true. “The game” is not always responsible for individual failures. It’s often the players’ faults. This is true throughout all areas of life.
There is unfortunately such a thing as corrupt leaders. There is such a thing as a failing society. But often enough, it’s not the system that needs fixing, but it’s the individual people who need fixing. The leaders have to be upstanding and responsible people. Each individual member of the commonwealth has to work on himself and be a responsible person. Everyone has to abide by the system. If Hashem backs the system, then we play the game by His rules. We have to stop blaming the system. We have to stop “hating the game” and instead, take personal responsibility for ourselves.
May we all be Zocheh to intellectual honesty, to abide by Hashem’s system and fulfill our responsibilities in that system, and Hashem should assure that each of us are taken care of and personally crown the righteous Melech HaMoshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂