OU Torah Insights Project
Pirkei Avot states,
Any argument that is for the sake of Heaven will last; but one that is
not for the sake of Heaven will not last. The mishnah
offers Hillel and Shamai as the example of Heavenly
opponents - and their
debates are relevant to this day. Korach and his followers, on the other
hand, are the prototypical example of those whose conflict arose from
egotistical motivations. Those types of disputes, the mishnah
guarantees, are doomed to fail.
Elsewhere in the Torah, Kayin and Hevel had a dispute in which Kayin killed Hevel. The Torah is very short on detail in describing the argument: Kayin spoke with his brother Hevel, and it happened when they were in the field that Kayin rose up against his brother Hevel and killed him.
to Bereishit Rabbah, the
argument was about dividing the world between the two of them. Kayins
disagreement with the proposed division led him to kill his own brother.
G-d confronted Kayin, who was sincerely remorseful and begged forgiveness.
The first thing we notice when taking a look at Korach's tragic story is that the story is depicted in much detail. Korach, a cousin of Moshe, gathers two hundred fifty followers and openly rebels against Moshe and Aharon, claiming that Moshe took the leadership for himself, and reserved the priesthood exclusively for his brother, Aharon.
Moshe, the most humble of all people, offers a Divine solution. He suggests that they all gather the next morning in the same place and G-d will identify the true leader. The following morning the truth is brought forth - Korach and his men are swallowed into the earth.
Why did Kayin, who took a life, merit repentance, when Korach did not? What was so terrible about his deed?
The Talmud teaches that the congregation of Korach and his followers have no share in the World to Come. In disputing Moshe, he disputed G-d . He also felt no remorse. Even when he knew that his family, including babies, would pay the price of his rebellion, he didnt cease to oppose Moshe.
on the other hand, stopped after he realized the severity of his dispute,
and he expressed his remorse by saying, My iniquity is too great to be
how do we know when an argument is for the sake of Heaven?
The arguments of Shammai and Hillel last until today, in yeshivot
and batei midrash across the
world. Each of their views was given not for personal gain, but for the
sake of Heaven.
Korach's battle with Moshe, however, was based on personal gain. Korach and his cohorts each had a completely different motivation - himself. Thus, their battle did not last. Only a battle with Divine intent remains forever.
Rabbi Yaakov Benamou
Benamou is spiritual leader of Herzlia Adas Yeshurun Congregation in
Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.