Vol 13.09 - Korach 1                           Spanish French Audio  Video

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(5733) Rashi (Num. 16:22)  "O G-d, the G-d of the spirits" and Rashi: "if one man sins" and the differences to Midrash Tanchuma and Num. Rabbah

Is collective punishment legitimate?  "Moshe sought to minimize the number of sinners; judging others favorably. Moshe sought to limit the fully guilty to one, the actual inciter; HaShem who knows the thoughts of people, knew three were actually fully guilty


1. On the verse (Lev. 16:22):

“They fell on their faces etc." (וַיִּפְּלוּ עַל פְּנֵיהֶם וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵל אֱלֹהֵי הָרוּחֹת לְכָל בָּשָׂר הָאִישׁ אֶחָד יֶחֱטָא וְעַל כָּל הָעֵדָה תִּקְצֹף)

Rashi comments:

O G-d, the G-d of the spirits: (G-d Who) knows the thoughts (of every man). Your attributes are not like those of earthly beings. A mortal king against whom part of his country transgresses does not know who the sinner is, and, therefore, when he is angry, he metes out punishment upon them all. But as for You, all thoughts are revealed before You, and You know who the sinner is.” (אל אלהי הרוחות: יודע מחשבות. אין מדתך כמדת בשר ודם, מלך בשר ודם שסרחה עליו מקצת מדינה אינו יודע מי החוטא, לפיכך כשהוא כועס נפרע מכולם, אבל אתה לפניך גלויות כל המחשבות ויודע אתה מי החוטא)

In simplicity, the intent of Rashi is to point out that that the explanation of “(G-d) of the spirits” does not refer to souls (נשמות), but rather to thoughts (מחשבות) – and the explanation of “G-d of the spirits” means G-d who knows the thoughts (of man).

(This is like what is found in the previous Parsha “My servant Caleiv, because he possessed in him a different spirit” where the word “spirit” (רוח) spoken there refers to the aspects of thought.)

And the proof of this is that only according to this explanation, is the relation of the first part of the speech “G-d of the spirits”, understood with that which is written after this, namely, that “if one man sins, shall You be angry with the whole congregation?" For since G-d knows the thoughts of man, Therefore He knows who is the sinner and who to be angry with. However if we explain that “G-d of the spirits” refers to souls, then it is not understood how the aspect of “G-d of the souls” is a preface to that which is written afterward “if one man sins” etc.?

And this is why Rashi continues: “Your attributes are not like those of earthly beings” etc. But as for You.. You know who the sinner is.” In other words, that according to this explanation, that “G-d of the spirits” refers to “knowing the thoughts”, the continuation of the verse is understood and this is the necessity for his explanation.

One must understand:

1. Why does Rashi need to explain the concept (that “Your attributes are not like those of earthly beings”) through the parable of “A mortal king etc.). What clarification and additional explanation is there through this parable?

2. if there is indeed, some clarification in this parable in the concept, which is why Rashi cites it – what is the reason that Rashi does not cite it previously, in his commentary, in Parshat Vayera regarding the claim of Avraham Avinu (which is seemingly similar to the Moshe's claim in our case, and therefore fitting, even there, to cite this parable) regarding Sodom “Will You (actually) destroy the righteous with the wicked?”

3. Even a mortal king, if he rules justly and fairly – does not collectively punish many people, if one should sin, but rather, appoints a judge etc. to examine, inquire, and clarify “who is the sinner”. And even if it is in a manner where it is impossible to ascertain who the sinner is, nevertheless, it still requires explanation - is it possible that in a case where the guilty party cannot be ascertained, that a just king would punish “them all”?

4. Rashi begins with the word “(part of his country) “transgresses” (סרחה) yet concludes with the words “(who) the ‘sinner’ is.” (חוטא)?!

5. Also – Rashi concludes with the words “who the sinner is” (אינו יודע מי החוטא), in in the singular, not like the beginning where he writes: “against whom part of his country transgresses” (מקצת מדינת)?

2. After this Rashi cites the words: “if one man” and explains:

(If one man) is the sinner, shall You be angry with the whole congregation? The Holy One, blessed be He, said,” You have spoken well. I know and will make known who sinned and who did not sin.” (האיש אחד: הוא החוטא ואתה על כל העדה תקצוף. אמר הקב"ה יפה אמרת, אני יודע ומודיע מי חטא ומי לא חטא)

Even this requires understanding:

1. What is the intent of Rashi in this commentary? That in the place of “(If one man) is the sinner“ that is stated in the verse, writes “is the sinner” (הוא החוטא) and adds the words “shall You (be angry with the whole congregation)?” - this seemingly does not contribute any additional explanation to the verse.

2. If the intent of Rashi is to explain (in whatever manner) that which is written “(If one man) is the sinner, (and also) shall You be angry with the whole congregation?” he should have cited even these words or, at least, to allude to them by writing etcetera (וגו׳)

3. What is the intent of Rashi by adding the aspect: “The Holy One, blessed be He, said, “You have spoken well.. sin.” more than this.

4. In the answer to Moshe’s claim - “G-d spoke to Moshe saying: Withdraw from the dwelling of Korach, Dathan and Aviram” and the verse explains the punishment that is to be meted out to all three. According to this, it is not understood why Rashi writes “The Holy One, blessed be He, said,” You have spoken well”. In other words that G-d agrees to Moshe’s claim of “if one man -the words that Rashi cutes in his heading - (sins). Yet G-d made known that one did not sin, but rather three?

5. “(I) know” – this is seemingly superfluous, because the innovation is just in the (words) “I will make known (who sinned)”. And especially since Rashi adds this to the wording of the Midrash “I know”!

In general the aspect is difficult to understand:

In the previous verses, it mentions many times, that many people joined in the dispute of Korach with Moshe and Aharon, as it states: “They confronted Moshe together with two hundred and fifty men from the children of Israel. They assembled against Moshe and Aaron etc.”. And Moshe “spoke to Korach and to all his company” and the words: “all his company” prove this, so much so that it states: “You and your entire congregation who are assembled are against the L-rd”.

And in Rashi it states: ”for this was already their fourth offense.. they sinned with the calf etc.”. From all this it is proof that not just one person sinned in this dispute (even according to the view of Moshe -) Therefore how could Moshe say “if one man sins”?

3. The explanation of all this is:

In his commentary on the verse: “Korach assembled all the congregation against them” (before this verse), Rashi writes:

Korach assembled… against them:.. he went to the tribes and enticed them (saying,) “Do you think I care only for myself? I care for all of you... until they were all enticed.”

(ויקהל עליהם קרח: בדברי ליצנות. כל הלילה ההוא הלך אצל השבטים ופתה אותם כסבורין אתם שעלי לבדי אני מקפיד, איני מקפיד אלא בשביל כלכם. אלו באין ונוטלין כל הגדולות, לו המלכות ולאחיו הכהונה, עד שנתפתו כלם)

In other words Korach is the one who enticed the men of the congregation and drew them in with his words, implying that he is concerned for their welfare etc. so much so that he drew them into the complaints against Moshe and Aharon. And this is the thing that concerns the heads of those that joined in the dispute, namely “Dathan and Aviram, etc. and the two hundred and fifty men from the children of Israel”.

As Rashi explains:

Dathan and Aviram: Since the tribe of Reuben (who Dathan and Aviram came from etc.) was settled in the south “and the majority” of the two hundred and fifty men) were neighbors of Kohath and his children.. they joined with Korach in his rebellion.”

In other words their participation in the dispute came because Korach enticed them and seduced them so much so that it appeared to them that his claim was just. However, if not for the enticement of Korach, they would not have joined in this dispute.

(And even though, certainly, one cannot justify himself with this excuse, namely that he is not at fault for doing something improper, because someone enticed him to do so – for a person must distance himself from an evildoer. And also a person must be strong in his convictions, not to be swayed by enticements etc., - nevertheless, they did not actually join in the confrontation, except due to the influence of Korach.)

And this is the intent of Rashi in citing the parable of “A mortal king against whom part of his country ‘transgresses/SheSarcha’ (שסרחה)”. In other words to precisely point out that their conduct was “disgusting/Sarcha” (סרחה) – in a disgusting (המאוס) manner towards one who is a king (like the explanation of “Sarcha/rotting” literally). But not that they intended to rebel against the king (and especially in a manner that would incur the death penalty for them).

However, since “part of his country” transgressed, at least, it is probable that there was among them one (at least one) who enticed them and drew them into this ‘transgression/Sarcha’ – and (in this itself) he actually “sinned” (חוטא) with rebellion against the king.

And this is why Rashi writes that “and does not know who the sinner is” (in the singular) – in other words, the enticer and the one that caused the transgression. However for the people of the “part of the country” they should not be called “sinners” but rather - that there is disgustful behavior here.

Therefore for a mortal king, since he does not know who the sinner is – exacts payment from all of them. For, in actuality, they all acted disgustingly against him. Yet “as for You, all thoughts are revealed before You, and You know who the sinner is.” Therefore it is not conceivable that for those that just acted “disgustingly”, that they should be punished with the severity of the punishment of the sinner himself.

And this claim of Moshe, is clarified by Rashi and explained in the words of the verse:

(And not in a separate heading like it is printed – but rather in continuation to that which is written before this- and “You know who the sinner is.”)

“If one man is the sinner (but the rest of the congregation just acted “disgustingly”) will You (who knows all thoughts) be angry with the whole congregation? (Questioningly)!

And in the answer to Moshe’s claim: G-d said “You have spoken well”. The intent in this is to the entire claim of Moshe to only punish the sinner and not those who just acted “disgustingly”.

However regarding this particular, the thing is not like Moshe knew and thought – namely that it was one sinner. But rather “I know who is the sinner and will make known who sinned” – for it is not just Korach alone who sinned but also Dathan and Aviram sinned (excluding the rest of the congregation) and this is why G-d said “'Withdraw from the dwelling of Korach, Dathan and Aviram”, for all three of them were “sinners”.

4. The lesson from this in Avodat HaAdam - from this explanation of Rashi, in Pnimiyut is:

It is told in this Parsha that Moshe sent to “call Dathan and Aviram. And they refused to come and they answered with great insolence: ‘Is it not enough that you have brought us out.. to kill us in the desert, Even if you gouge out the eyes of those men”. So much so that “Moshe was exceedingly distressed”.

All this shows that their participation in the dispute was not in a manner of “disgusting behavior” alone, but rather that they were sinners – yet after all this, Moshe Rabbeinu still judged them favorably (לכף זכות) and said: “if one man sins”!

The lesson from this is how much each one must (for each person has within him the level of Moshe Rabbeinu) influence and imbue within his soul this characteristic – to judge one’s fellow favorably (לדון את חבירו לכף זכות), so much so that even when the conduct of his fellow is in a manner that negates, seemingly, any bestowal of merit, nevertheless, one must reverse it in his merit. And as an outcome of this – also to do whatever is in one’s power to return him and place him on the correct path.

mSichas Shabbat Parshat Korach 5731

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