The story of the rebellion of Korach and his claim that Moses and Aaron had usurped the High Priesthood and leadership of the Jewish people is well known. When Hashem delivers His verdict it is both a miraculous and spectacular parsha. The earth instantaneously and miraculously swallows Korach together with all his associates.
What at first appears a conclusive verdict i.e. that Korach was wrong is in fact not so. In Bamidbar, Chap. 17 Vs 6 it says……
“And the entire assembly of the Jewish people complained the next day against Moses and Aaron saying you two have killed the people of Hashem.”
How is it possible having witnessed the death of Korach that they could continue to complain against Moses. Moses himself had said in Chap. 16 Vs 28 – 30
“And Moshe said with this you will know that Hashem has sent me to do all these things and that I have not made them up. If they die the deaths of normal men and the mortality of man befalls them, Hashem has not sent me. If Hashem makes a new creation and the earth opens up her mouth and swallows them and all their possessions and they fall alive into the pit then you will know these people have despised Hashem.”
Another enormous question focuses on what the Rambamsays in the eighth perek of Yesoday HaTorah.
“The Jewish people did not believe in Moses because of the miracles he performed. To believe in him through miracles would mean you are a fool. It is conceivable that all the miracles of the Exodus could have been performed through cult forces and black magic. All of the miracles that Moses performed in the desert were provoked by necessity not to prove his prophecy! They needed to flee the Egyptian; he split the sea and drowned the Egyptians. They needed food; he brought them manna. They were thirsty; he hit a rock and produced water. He was attacked by Korach and his faction; he had the earth swallow them up. So what cause them to believe in Moses as prophet? When we stood at Mount Sinai and witnessed ourselves Hashem speaking to Moses and instructing him in the mitzvahs.”
How can the Rambam claim that Moses did not perform a miracle to prove he was a prophet? Verses 28 – 30 surely demonstrate the opposite.
The Ramban quotes Onkelos who translates Vs 6 as “you have caused the deaths of the people of Hashem”. The Jewish people claimed that the arbitration of the dispute, which Moshe said should be that the protagonists should bring copper pans with spice offerings, was his own idea not requested by Hashem. The Ibn Ezra makes an amazing statement “What proof is the death of Korach that Moses and Aaron were right? It is possible that through their prayers or knowledge they managed to have their opponents killed! There is a famous story in the Gemara Bava Metzia 59b……
“On that day Rabbi Eliezer cited every proof possible that he was right and yet the Rabbis still disagreed. He then said “If I’m right this carob tree will prove it”
and the carob tree leapt from the ground 300 feet. The Rabbis replied “That proves nothing.” He then said “If I am right the stream will prove it,” and a nearby stream started to flow uphill. The Rabbis replied “That proves nothing.” Rabbi Eliezer said “If I am right let the walls of the yeshiva prove it,” and the walls started to bulge. One of the Rabbis, Rabbi Yehoshua called in anger to the bulging walls “If Talmidei Chachomim are arguing in halocha with each other, what is it to do with you?” The walls froze bulging no further out of respect for Rabbi Yehoshua, nor retreating out of respect for Rabbi Eliezer. Rabbi Eliezer said to them “If I’m right let Heaven prove it!” Immediately a Heavenly voice cried out saying “What are you compared to Rabbi Eliezer? The halocha is like his view in all cases.” Rabbi Yehosua stood up and quoted the verse in Deuteronomy Chap 30 “The Torah is not in Heaven”. From the day the Torah was given at Mount Sinai we pay no attention to Heavenly voices, as it is already stated in the Torah Exodus 23 “You fix law by the majority decision” Later Rabbi Nosson met Eliyahu the Prophet and asked how Hashem reacted to this conclusion. He replied “You have beaten Me, My sons, you have beaten Me.” Having failed to convince his opponents Rabbi Eliezer played his strongest card “Let Heaven decide”. The Rabbis counter with the Torah, which is also the voice of Hashem, and no miracle or combination of miracles can challenge their authority of the Torah at Mount Sinai, the miracle of miracles.
Rabbi Tzodok haCohenin Tzidkus HaTzadik 62, points to this gemara and says this was the position of the Jewish people after the death of Korach. A miracle is no relevance in deciding a point of halocha. Perhaps Korach was right.
Rabbi Yosef Albo in his classic work, Sefer Ha Ikarim Chap18 resolves our difficulty. Someone who is able to perform wonders and correctly foretells the future is someone worth listening to and even following.. This ability proves however nothing more than they are able to perform miracles. It does not prove that they are a Prophet and certainly not that the Torah would be given through them. Jewish history is complete with great Tzadikim (saints) for whom HaShem did miracles, such as Rabbi Eliezer. Rabbi Eliezer is not however a prophet. The Jews believed that Moses was the servant of HaShem and that HaShem reacted to his requests, drown the Egyptian soldiers, bring food from heaven etc. They did not though believe that he was a prophet. When they came to Mount Sinai then they knew he was a prophet. This realisation was certain because they all heard HaShem talking to Moshe. They themselves had become prophets! Events subsequent to Mount Sinai do not prove that Moshe is a prophet. That fact is clearly established.
The Rambam, is of course correct when he says that Moshe brought no proof to his status through miracles. Korach’s rebellion against Moshe denies a truth of which they are certain. It also denies the authenticity of the revelation at mount Sinai. Moshe asks HaShem to destroy them as punishment….not endorsement of his prophetic status. But what then is the complaint of the Jews?
Sefer Ha Ikarim continues, It is possible for someone to be a true and authentic Prophet but to loose that status. If a Prophet acts independently of Prophecy and contributed his own ideas or thought as prophecy, he ceases to be a Prophet. Such an occurrence happened to Chanaia Ben Ozer (Jeremiah Chap. 28)
The Ramban, Ibn Ezra and Ohr HaChaimstate that the complaint of the Jews was against the deaths of the 250 who supported Korach. They were killed by a heavenly fire. This was the response to bringing an offering not requested by HaShem. Moshe and Aaron suggested this through their own judgement. The rules of Prophecy as outlined by Sefer Ha Ikarim would state that they are no longer worthy of loyalty.
But Sefer Ha Ikarim continues. Such a circumstance such as that of Channaia Ben Ozer could not occur to the Prophet through whom HaShem choose to give the Torah. Moshe did not suggest the bringing of Copper Pans independently. Whenever Moshe instructed the Jewish People, it was at the behest of HaShem. The normal Prophetic criteria do not apply to Moshe. Their failure was to realise this critical fact, already stated in Bamidbar chap.12 Vs 6-9…….
“And HaShem said listen now to my words. If you have Prophets, in a vision I will be known to them. In a dream I will speak to them. Not so my servant Moshe. In all My house he is faithful. Face to Face I speak to him, not in riddles or visual uncertainty he sees me. And how is it that you are not afraid to speak against my servant Moshe?”
Rabbi Y Y Rubinstein has thrilled audiences from Jerusalem to Manchester and Johannesburg to Los Angeles. There are two reasons for his success. One is a mastery of sources in Jewish philosophy and his understanding of contemporary events. The other is his unique delivery…If you have the opportunity to benefit from his wisdom…do not miss it!Rabbi Professor Dovid Gottlieb