Torah Insights for Shabbat
Parshas Korach 5758
June 27, 1998
Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Goodman
When Hashem tells Moshe to depart from the nation of Israel so that He can destroy them, Moshe responds, "If one man sins, will You rage at the entire people?"
Rashi explains: Human kings, who do not know exactly who is guilty, will punish the masses for the crimes of a few. But, asks Moshe of G-d, You do likewise?
Well said, G-d answers. I do know and will make known who is guilty and who is innocent.
The Biblical commentators are astonished. How does G-d "change His mind"? What could He have discovered from the argument of a human being that He did know before?
In his volume, Yitzpon Layesharim Toshiya, Rav Yitzchak Pinchas Goldvasser maintains that Hashem operated with a simple logic: if the honor of a human king allows him to destroy many for the crimes of a few, how much more so should the honor of the King of the Universe justify such an annihilation. Kiddush Hashem justifies such a decision.
Moshe responds that he views it the other way around: G-d's singling out the guilty and sparing the innocent would be a far greater kiddush Hashem before the eyes of all who survive. This is a feat no human king could accomplish under such circumstances.
Nonetheless, the original question remains: surely G-d knew this argument as well; so what did Moshe contribute to "change G-d's mind"?
There is a clear Talmudic precedent for this. In cases where two interpretations of an event or situation are possible, first a human interpretation is established in this world, and then the Heavenly Court acts accordingly.
The Talmud relates that Rabbah bar Shila once met Eliyahu Hanavi, who told him that though G-d would repeat the various maxims of the great tana'im of the Talmud, he would never mention the great Rav Meir by name. Why? Because he had studied from Elisha ben Avuyah, who turned to heresy.
Rabbah bar Shila was dismayed. Rav Meir, he argued, is like one who eats a pomegranate--he enjoys the fruit, but throws away the shell (for Rav Meir was able to glean Torah knowledge from his mentor while ignoring any improper influence of Elisha ben Avuyah).
Hearing this reasoning, Eliyahu reported that G-d had begun to quote Rav Meir.
The decision as to whether Rav Meir was justified in studying from Elisha ben Avuyah was first determined by his human colleagues. Had they deemed his behavior improper, he would have remained on G-d's "blacklist."
But once they declared that they had no objection and knew Rav Meir was capable of handling Elisha ben Avuyah without becoming in any way blemished, this affected the Heavenly attitude, and Rav Meir's reputation was rehabilitated.
Kiddush Hashem, as well, is entirely a matter of how humans react to a situation. Until Moshe registered his human response and attitude, G-d followed the logic that a complete annihilation was justifiable.
Once Moshe declared that the other approach would create a still greater kiddush Hashem in the eyes of the Jewish community, G-d acted on the logic of His servant Moshe.
Rabbi Yitzchak Meir
Rabbi Goodman is rabbi of the Young Israel of Far Rockaway, New York.
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