|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 uncle Reuven Nachum Ben Moshe & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein.
It should also be in Zechus 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
-Chaya Rochel Ettel Bas Shulamis
-Nechama Hinda Bas Tzirel Leah
-Amitai Dovid Ben Rivka Shprintze
-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.
קֹרַח ● Korach
● Why were the fire-pans of Korach’s 250 assemblymen spared while their fire was discarded? ●
“250 Foreign Fires”
By now, we have become well aquainted with Korach’s infamous rebellion against Moshe and Aharon. We have spoken at length about the literal downfall of Korach when G-d performed a phenomenon and opened the mouth of the earth beneath him so that Korach, Dasan, Aviram, their households, and even their belongings were swallowed.
However, now, we are going to turn our attention to the two hundred fifty men of Korach’s assembly who were put to death at the same instant, but in a different fashion.
TODAY’S SITE: The Deaths of 250 Assemblymen
Before Korach’s death, Moshe had ultimately answered Korach’s challenge with a counter challenge, that the men of Korach’s assembly as well as Aharon, each take a fire-pan to the Ohel Mo’eid, and offer incense before G-d, whereupon G-d Himself would accept one individual’s offering, namely, that of the rightful Kohein Gadol. Through this trial, Moshe had hoped to reiterate that Aharon was divinely selected for the job.
In this vein, we’ve mentioned that quite similarly to Aharon’s sons Nadav and Avihu who died when they brought the fire-pans with their Eish Zarah or their “alien fire” into the Kodesh HaKadashim back in Parshas Sh’mini1, the two hundred fifty men of Korach’s assembly were consumed in a fire from G-d as they brought their incense offerings. Like Nadav and Avihu, they became the Korbanos.
ROUNDABOUT PATH: “For they are holy”
What is noteworthy about the deaths of Korach’s two hundred fifty assemblymen is what remained of their offerings. After they were consumed in their fire of their own offerings, Hashem commanded Moshe to instruct Aharon’s son Elazar to pick up the fire-pans of the assembly, discard the fire from them, and to actually mold the pans into sheets which would cover the Mizbei’ach and serve as a permanent sign for the B’nei Yisrael.
Now, the first step of these instructions is recorded as follows: “…V’Yareim Es HaMachtos MiBein HaSereifah V’Es HaEish Z’reih Hal’ah Ki Kadeishu”-“And he should pick up the fire-pans from amid the flame—he should throw away the fire—for they have been sanctified.”2
In this instruction to discard the fire and spare the pans, we find that the Torah reasons, “Ki Kadeishu”-“for they have been sanctified.” The question is, what, exactly, had become sanctified? It seems that this final clause can theoretically be describing either of the two already mentioned items, the fire or the pans. Which of these items was that description modifying?
Now, Rashi and practically all of the other leading commentators explain that in fact, it was the pans that were being referred to as holy, not the fire. This is a reasonable conclusion considering that it was the pans that were going to be kept and utilized for a holy purpose while the flames were going to be discarded. Thus, the words “Ki Kadeishu”-“for they became holy” would reasonably be modifying the original subject of the sentence, the fire-pans.
However, if that is true, the phrasing in our Pasuk is strange, as the words “Ki Kadeishu” appear right after the verse mentions the fire; “V’Es Ha’Eish Z’reih Hal’ah”-“he should throw away the fire.” Accordingly, the verse would seem to imply that the Pasuk was stating that the fire which is being discarded is holy. We might argue that this odd pairing was indeed the reason why Rashi and the other Rishonim felt the need to interject and clarify that it was the fire-pans that the Torah was calling holy, not the fire. However, the fact that the Torah did insert the line “they have become holy” after talking about the fire should not be ignored. The Chumash could have specified more clearly that it was describing the pans as holy and not the fire. The question then is why the Torah elected to set up the wording in a way that risks steering us toward the false conclusion that the flames were sanctified. Why did the Torah opt to send us mixed messages, conveying its point in such a roundabout and almost misleading way?
LANDMARK: The Fire-Pan Memorial
While we ponder the above question, it may help for us to consider the apparent message that is being stated in our troubling verse. The message of our verse is that the fire-pans of Korach’s assembly were holy, but the fire was invalidated. The question is why that should be true. What was it about the fire-pans of Korach’s assembly that made them sanctified and fit to be used for the Mizbei’ach, enduring as a spiritual landmark and memorial for Klal Yisrael? Were these fire-pans not offered with self-serving, impure motivations? Moreover, were they not used for the purposes of a corrupt campaign?
Secondly, why was the fire of the fire-pans not deemed holy? If the fire-pans were going to be deemed holy despite the evil they were associated with, then what is it about the flames of these fire-pans that ultimately disqualified them?
As far as the fire-pans were concerned, Rashi explains that they were ultimately sanctified since, at the end of the day, the men of Korach’s assembly offered them before G-d. It seems that regardless of the manner in which they were offered, regardless of the impurity associated with them. Since they were served as an offering to Hashem, there was inherent holiness. Ramban adds that G-d had considered the pans sanctified as Moshe commanded that they be brought with the incense before Him.
The above answer should suffice to explain the holiness of the fire-pans. But, that answer obviously leaves us with a burning question. If we accept and appreciate the notion that the holiness of the fire-pans is derived from the fact that they were offered before Hashem, then why was the fire of those selfsame pans not also sanctified by mere dint of the fact that they were offered before G-d?
WRONG TURN: The Mis-guiding Light
In order to understand the disqualification of the fire of Korach’s assemblymen, we have to reevaluate Korach’s rebellion and achieve a greater sensitivity to the tragedy that transpired therein. Korach’s campaign against Moshe and Aharon did not merely generate an angry mob. The people had been rioting bitterly for the past few Sidros. There is nothing new there.
There are a few, unique noteworthy features of this particular tragedy. Unlike the previous tragedies, Korach’s campaign was not merely a response to fatigue or influenced by a difference of political opinions. It was a heated, full-out revolution directed at and against the authority, the leaders of the Mesorah, Torah tradition.
But, it gets worse than that. This corrupt movement was backed by an assembly of two hundred fifty new opponents of Moshe and Aharon. Moreover, this two hundred fifty man assembly was not merely comprised of bitter rioters; rather, they were, as Torah describes them, “Nesi’ei Eidah Kri’ei Mo’eid Anshei Sheim”-“Princes of Assembly, those ummoned for meeting, men of renown.”3 That means that Korach’s corrupt campaign was supported and validated by two hundred fifty of the most influential individuals, leaders of Klal Yisrael. These were individuals that would apparently set the tone for the nation, people that the B’nei Yisrael would look up to. Beyond that, these men were themselves bearers and transmitters of the Mesorah. And that is perhaps the most tragic aspect of this whole revolt, for when links of the Shalsheles HaMesorah or the chain of the Torah tradition ultimately defy and undermine that Mesorah, that is when Mesorah is ultimately lost.
Perhaps a Remez or a hint to the role and mission assemblymen can be found in the numbers. There were two hundred fifty leaders in Korach’s assembly, the Gematria or numerical value of the word “Neir” [נר] which means a lamp or a candle. Only a couple of Sidros ago, Rashi actually compared spiritual leadership to a candle, likening Moshe Rabbeinu to a candle as he gave over light of inspiration to the men of the Sanhedrin.4 In this vein, perhaps we can suggest that the two hundred fifty princes were supposed to serve as a Neir of inspiration for Am Yisrael. However, a Neir or the lamp is only as effective as the light that it projects. If there is no light on that Neir, or if that light is shining in the wrong direction, it is a waste. And in the case of Korach’s assemblymen, rather than shining and spreading the light of Torah and truth to the people, they used their influence to mislead the people by undermining the Torah for their own personal gain. Thus, those who were supposed to be a beacon and guiding light unto Am Yisrael would ultimately misguide the nation.
REVISITING: 250 Foreign Fires
We mentioned earlier that the deaths of Korach’s assemblymen resembled the deaths of Nadav and Avihu. If we follow that comparison to its logical conclusion, we can understand why it was that the flames of the fire-pans could not be spared.
Nadav and Avihu’s lives were taken because they offered what the Chumash referred to as an “Eish Zarah” [זרה אש], literally, a foreign fire.1 Well, if we look back our verse describing the command to discard the fire that was on the fire-pans of Korach’s assemblymen, one will find an eerie resemblance to the foreign fire of Nadav and Avihu; the clause reads “…V’Es HaEish Z’reih Hal’ah…”-“…and the fire he shall cast away…”2 The words “Eish Z’reih” are spelled the exact way as the words, “Eish Zarah” [זרה אש]. The word “Z’reih” itself, means to cast afar, as it is a derivative of the root word “Zarah,” which means foreign. Thus, the princes of Korach’s assembly together offered two hundred fifty foreign fires to Hashem.
And that is not where the parallels between the foreign fires end. Chazal tell us more specifically that Nadav and Avihu had their lives taken because they acted without any authorization or even consultation with Moshe. They were “Moreh Halachah Bifnei Rabban”5—they issued a Halachic ruling in the presence of their leaders. In other words, they defied the Mesorah!
And since Nadav and Avihu failed to sanctify Hashem’s Name and inspire Klal Yisrael by abiding by the Torah and respecting the Mesorah, Hashem had to become sanctified by His making an example out of them.6 Instead of accepting their offerings, they literally became the Korbanos themselves. In the same vein, the two hundred fifty Korbanos of Korach’s assemblymen who neglected to enlighten Klal Yisrael would themselves become the fire offerings.
WASTELAND: The Discarded Fire
It should be no wonder now why the flames of the assemblymen’s fire-pans were disqualified. They were each an “Eish Zarah,” flames of candles lighting the path away from the Mesorah. They represent the influence the princes had, the unique energy—the fire—the essence of spiritual leadership which should have been utilized to inspire and enlighten, which was wasted.
Thus, although the fire-pan, the external vessel of service would be spared, for after all, it was consecrated for a holy service, the essential offering, the misdirected flames of the fire itself, would have to be cast far away. Perhaps this discrepancy between the fire-pans and the fire represents that disconnect between the princes and their intended mission. The princes who had become established and esteemed vessels of spiritual leadership—bearers of the flames—miscarried their mission. The “vessels” were holy, but the fire they wasted would indeed, go to waste.
Indeed, in this light, we can also explain the awkward, somewhat misleading pairing of words in our original Pasuk. If the Torah meant to refer to the fire-pans as holy and not the flames on the pans, why then did the Pasuk state, “Ki Kadeishu” just after describing the flames, making it appear as though it were calling the discarded flames holy? Perhaps the Torah’s point was to hint at the holy potential of that fire, as per the role of the assemblymen. The fire instilled in the two hundred fifty leaders of Israel should have been sanctified through that fire’s original purpose of inspiring and shining the way for Klal Yisrael. In other words, the fire too should have been sanctified. Indeed, a Korban genuinely offered by a leader of Klal Yisrael is intrinsically holy, and in an ideal world, when the leaders offer such Korbanos and sanctify Hashem’s Name before the B’nei Yisrael, the fire is an Eish Kodesh, a holy fire. The flames on the pans of the assemblymen, however, were an Eish Zarah. The leaders corrupted and misappropriated their holy fire, converting it to wasted energy. What was meant for inspiration was used to for destruction.
FINAL DESTINATION: A Holy Fire
Like the princes of Korach’s assembly, all of Klal Yisrael is charged with the responsibility of being a light unto the nations7, the nation of Israel certainly included. Whether we like it or not, we carry a lit torch, intended to serve an Eish Kodesh. That fire is powerful, and like all fire, potentially dangerous. It can be a light of inspiration and direction. It can be tool to protect and perpetuate the Mesorah. But, of course, the energy can also be wasted, or worse, become a source of misdirection and utter destruction. It can become an Eish Zarah. The question is whether or not our own hearts are in the right place and whether or not we ourselves are loyal to the Mesorah, whether or not we are looking to pass on that Mesorah. If our hearts are in the right place and we are befitting bearers of the Mesorah, then we will not stray like the princes of Korach’s assembly tragically did, but we will emanate the light of an Eish Kodesh.
May we all be Zocheh to utilize our fire as a holy source of inspiration for the rest of Klal Yisrael and the nations of the world as we abide by G-d’s Divine Word and fulfill His Torah, bringing ourselves closer to our ultimate Geulah in the days of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂
- Vayikra 10:1-2
- Bamidbar 17:2
- To 11:17 citing Sifrei 93
- See Rashi to Vayikra 10:2 citing Toras Kohanim, Miluim 32 and Eruvin 63A.
- See Rashi to Vayikra 10:3 citing Toras Kohanim, Miluim 36, Vayikra Rabbah 12:2 and Zevachim 115B.
- Yishaiyah 49:6