Korach had to die an unnatural death; otherwise his death wouldn't prove Moshe right, because a natural death could be because his time had come. But why did he have to still stay alive after being buried which was something new and had never been before or since? The wording of the Torah is 'chaim sheolo'. Meaning alive in the grave. If it just meant being buried alive and dying later there would be no point in the chumash mentioning it. In all earthquakes which this was people are buried alive and die later.

  • Source for "he [had] to still stay alive after being buried"?
    – msh210
    Jun 2, 2013 at 8:10
  • The source is the simple translation of the chumash.
    – expern
    Jun 2, 2013 at 16:45
  • I gave a possible answer before that otherwise Samuel would not have been able to be a prophet.
    – expern
    Jun 2, 2013 at 17:21
  • your answer about Shmuel being a prophet is an incorrect recollection of the midrash. the midrash in Tanchuma is that Korach's sons survived, not Korach himself. but Korach saw incorrectly and thought he himself would survive. see here: parsha.blogspot.com/2004/12/… Jun 2, 2013 at 20:11
  • the midrash: "And Korach, who was an intelligent person, what did he see that led him to this nonsense? Rather, his eye misled him. He saw the chain of greatness coming from him: Shmuel who is measured against Moshe and Aharon... And he {Korach} did not see well, for his sons did repentance {and did not perish} and {the future great ones} were established from them. " Jun 2, 2013 at 20:13

5 Answers 5


The pesukim in question (Bemidbar 16:30, 33) are most explicitly about Datan and Aviram, not necessarily about Korach. He might have been burned by the fire, or even both.

But the question you asked could be asked just as well about Datan and Aviram.

Sheol is the grave. And perhaps also the underworld in Biblical Hebrew at this stage.

But the simple peshat in the pasuk is not that they stayed alive after being buried. Most people first die, and then are placed in grave. Here, these people went into the grave alive, as the earth swallowed them. Thus, וְיָרְדוּ חַיִּים שְׁאֹלָה, "and they descended alive into the grave. During their descent, they were still alive. That does not mean that they did not immediately asphyxiate.

Is this your own interpretation, from which you are asking? Or it this a known midrash?

There is a midrash about the sons of Korach staying alive for quite some time after, but that is an entirely different idea.

  • I have added my source in the question.
    – expern
    Jun 2, 2013 at 16:46
  • yes, i wrote this after you added your source (חַיִּים שְׁאֹלָה with your explication) but before you added your even further explication ('if it just meant...'). i disagree with your further explication. this is more than just an earthquake. it is a prophetically predicted and localized, targeted sinkhole. If you have more of a "source" than your own interpretation of the words in the pasuk, e.g. a midrash, or a Rishon or Acharon saying it, it might grant more credibility to the premise of the question. Jun 2, 2013 at 18:14
  • So what if it is 'prophetically predicted' etc. There is no need for the Torah to write they were buried alive since that is normal in a sinkhole.
    – expern
    Jun 2, 2013 at 19:12
  • 'there is no need to write X' is the hallmark of דרש, not פשט. but you are not Chazal, to make your own דרשות. or at the least, if you do, others need not be convinced by them. as far as a regular reading of the verse goes, I disagree that there is no need for the Torah to write, and stress, this point. but it all has to do with how you read the context. to turn to a peshat extreme, even a sudden sinkhole is miraculous, and a contrast to אם כמות כל האדם ימתון אלה. to turn to midrash, Chazal in Avos viewed the mere mouth of the earth to be the new creation, not that Korach or Datan lived after. Jun 2, 2013 at 19:44
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    When I took it out, it was singed. The merchant said to me, "Listen! What do you hear?" I heard them saying, "Moshe and his Torah are true, and we are liars." The merchant told me, "Each thirtieth day of the month, Gehinnom turns them over here, as flesh is turned over in the pot, and they say, 'Moshe and his Torah and true, and we are liars." (Bava Bathra 74a) Jun 4, 2013 at 4:45

Hayom Yom, 26 Sivan:

"They went down to the pit alive" - even in the grave they think they are alive.

There is a blessing contained in "They went down to the pit alive," as with "the sons of Korach did not die," - "a place was established for them and they repented." For teshuva, repentance, is effective only while one is still alive. This, then, is the blessing - that even in the pit they will live, and they will be able to effect teshuva.

According to the first paragraph, then, they may not indeed have been alive after their descent - but they were so spiritually degraded that they didn't realize that they had been discredited. According to the second paragraph - on the contrary, it means that there is still hope for them. (Possibly, these two explanations reflect the argument about whether Korach's group lost their place in olam haba (R. Akiva in Sanhedrin 108a and 109b) or not (R. Eliezer in 108a, R. Yehudah ben Beseira in 109b).)

  • This is only taken from a website and I cant agree. What you mean is that they were kept alive to be able to do tshuva which his sons did. First of all why should Korach be given this special privilege. Second of all according to the gemoro he is still shouting Moshe is correct and I am a 'liar', So he has done tshuva and was still not 'brought' up from his grave.
    – expern
    Jun 2, 2013 at 19:09
  • This is not about Korach. This is specifically about the sons of Korach. Because we see in Tehillim that certain Tehillim were composed by them. מזמור לבני קרח. But it is not Datan and Aviram, and not Korach himself. Also it is not 'only taken from a website'. This is a translation from the Lubavitcher Rebbe, zatzal, and in turn he is getting it from the gemara in Megillah 14a. Jun 2, 2013 at 19:55
  • @expern, that's exactly it: they have done teshuvah, but it is incomplete - every month they are made to see their mistake over again and to do teshuvah for it at a more intense level. This is something we don't find with other resha'im.
    – Alex
    Jun 2, 2013 at 20:56
  • @joshwaxman, it may well include Korach himself. If Rabbah bar bar Chana describes (be it literally or metaphorically) hearing "the ones swallowed up with Korach" speaking from Gehinnom, then logically that can't include the sons - they'd have been long out of there by RbbC's times, no?
    – Alex
    Jun 2, 2013 at 20:57
  • @Alex, it depends on which midrashim one combines together. once you include the midrash based on ובני קרח לא מתו, this is that the sons of Korach did not die, but Korach himself did die. Midrash Tanchuma (mentioned in my comment above) makes this explicit. In Sanhedrin 110a, RbbC's statement is juxtaposed to ובני קרח לא מתו, that a place was set aside in Gehinnom, from where they sang shira. the implication being that they were indeed the sons of Korach in RbbC's statement. If we do not combine the midrashim, perhaps the dead are singing from Gehinnom. Jun 2, 2013 at 22:10

I read in the name of the kabalists (could be arizal) that Korach was a gilgul of Kain and Moshe was a gilgul of Hevel. Since, the "earth swallowed the blood of Hevel" as written: "And now, you are cursed even more than the ground, which opened its mouth to take your brother's blood from your hand" (Bereishis 4:11)

Therefore justice demanded that Korach be swallowed and suffer to atone for what he did.


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    No such thing as jiljul nashomoth :) Jun 3, 2013 at 18:22
  • How does this answer the question - the OP asked why did Korach have to stay alive in sheol?
    – gt6989b
    Jun 3, 2013 at 22:37

According to the Gemara in Eruvin 19a, Korach descended not just into the ground, but into Gehinnom itself, alive. The phrase חיים שאולה refers to Gehinnom--just like Eliyahu Hanavi who ascended to Heaven alive, Korach descended into Gehinnom alive.


Otzros Hatorah brings down from a certain Rav that since Korach had a claim on Moshe that why do you rise above us, and Moshe was the most humble man on the ground. Therefore he went lower than him. Also Daas Zikeinim bring that Korach and his assembly tried to rise above everyine, so they were lowered under everyone.

Shach on Torah explains that death atones for chillul Hashem. Moshe didn't want Korach to have atonement.

Shela learns Moshe wanted to give Korach a chance to do teshuva.

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