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The Medrash Tanchuma asks a question regarding the motives of Korach. "Korach was a clever man; what did he see that brought him to such foolishness? The medrash answers "His eyes misled him, for he saw a great chain of descendants emerging from him: Shmuel Hanavi, who was as important as Moshe and Aharon, as it says in Tehillim (99:6) 'Moshe and Aharon were among His priests and Shmuel was among those who invoke His name.'" Korach saw from the fact that Shmuel is mentioned in the same sentence as Moshe and Aharon, that Shmuel is just as important as them.

Korach's line of reasoning is very difficult to understand. He feels that he is justified in replacing Moshe and Aharon as leader because he saw that one of his descendants will be a very important person. How does his offspring prove that he is fitting to be a leader? If Shmuel himself was leading this rebellion, then the argument would make sense: Shmuel is just as important as Moshe and Aharon, so perhaps he could be fitting to lead in their place. But what does Shmuel's greatness say about Korach's own worthiness?

Furthermore, this thought process only proves the very opposite of Korach's entire goal! Inherent in his line of reasoning is the assumption that Moshe and Aharon are men of spiritual greatness. Korach deduces that since Shmuel is just as important as them, Korach himself deserves to lead. But yet, he claims that Moshe and Aharon are unwitting to be leaders but that they are fabricating the will of HaShem! How can they be great enough to prove his own greatness, yet not great enough to be the rightful leaders?

How can Korach make such an illogical and foolish argument?

  • You give Korach so much credit – user5535 Jun 19 '14 at 19:35
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    +1 though, i love your question. i have never thought about it that deeply – user5535 Jun 19 '14 at 19:36
  • 1. Korach was driven by a desire for honor that clouded his reasoning. 2. Korach felt certain that his children (and ostensibly his descendents, too) would follow in his stead, so if they would be great, perhaps he reasoned that their greatness would come from being like him. He was wrong. – Fred Jun 19 '14 at 19:40
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    @Nafkamina My second point is based on a remark by R' Henoch Leibowitz zt"l on the midrash, that Korach was blind to the possibility that his children would abandon his rebellion. My extrapolation is that he was also blind to the possibility that his descendents would abandon his ways, and he therefore assumed that their righteousness and greatness implied his own. – Fred Jun 19 '14 at 20:35
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    אין משיבין על דברי אגדה – mevaqesh Jun 19 '15 at 15:14
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The Medrash itself answers your first point in its continuation:

אמר: אפשר הגדולה הזו עתידה לעמוד ממני, ואני אדום!? ולא ראה יפה, לפי שבניו עשו תשובה ועומדין מהן, ומשה היה רואה. לכך נשתתף לבא לאותה חזקה, ששמע מפי משה שכולם אובדין ואחד פליט: 'והיה האיש אשר יבחר ה' הוא הקדוש'

He heard there would only be one survivor, and he did not realize that his sons would do Teshuva and be saved through that, so the only way he could have such a great desendent (or many great descendants, as the Medrash says) would be if he was to be that lone survivor.

Regarding your second point, I always understood the Medrash to mean Shmuel was as great as Moshe AND Aharon, meaning as great as the two combined. If so, whatever Moshe and Aharon were worth, Shmuel was worth more, and he therefore saw himself as more qualified than them, not equally qualified.

  • The sfas emmes has an interesting take on korach. Usually a person inherits ruchniyus as well. So korach proved he was right by having a descendant who was great. On that moshe rabainu made sure he didnt die so he didnt inherit. That also explains why he had to be 'killed' in this manner – preferred Jun 20 '14 at 14:28
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Why does this Midrash have to be Korach's motivation for the whole rebellion? Its actually Hashgacha Pratis that you ask this as I just asked this to a friend two days ago. This is sort of lengthy and I may be going out on a limb here but here it goes....

We need to look at Rashi in order to understand this more clearly.

Following Points

  1. Is the Medrash Tanchuma coming to tell Korach's main motivation? I dont think so. This comment of Rashi comes after the fact Korach had led a rebellion already! So this wasnt his reason for starting the rebellion at the outset, rather Rashi gives a different reason for Korach's angst beforehand (See Rashi end of verse 1).

  2. So then what is this Midrash coming to teach about? Rashi brings this down in reference to why Korach didnt heed Moshe's voice when threatened with death. (See Rashi verse 7). This wasnt brought down to being the motivation for the rebellion because then why didnt Rashi mention this in verse 1?

  3. Another point of interest is why would Rashi question Korach's disobedience to Moshe's warnings? I mean Korach just led a whole rebellion right! "For he warned them about it and they [still] took upon themselves to offer [the incense]." Rashi verse 7. We can infer that Korach had at least a reverence for Moshe. After all he did accept the lineage from Moshe (see Rashi verse 1). Therefore he believed in a lineage and that he was next in line. When he saw that the lineage skipped him he felt he needed to do something about it!

Therefore this brings us to...

  1. Why mention Shmuel then? What does he have to do with it? Rashi mentions Shmuel's greatness in reference with Moshe and Aharon in order to justify Korach's motivation for that moment, ie continuing with the test. He respected Moshe's warnings, what if Korach was wrong, I mean the warnings are coming from Moshe right? I mean Moshe and Aharon are really holy guys right? Korach did respect that a holy lineage at least existed and that they were at the top of it right? Therefore to understand why he proceeded. We find that He saw a vision that Shmuel would come after him. Korach's opponents, Moshe and Aharon were great, but it would be represented again by Shmuel's greatness, Korach's descendants. It doesnt necessarily mean that Korach was greater because Shmuel was just as great, but that Korach would in fact not be ridding the world of Moshe and Aharon's greatness. We can infer that is why Rashi brings this down and asks why Korach didnt heed Moshe's voice in verse 7. I mean if Korach was just a simple troublemaker then why mention any of this? If Korach saw anyone else come from him, he wouldnt have gone along with it because he at least revered Moshe's greatness (See point above). But the fact that the greatness of both Moshe and Aharon would exist again from him, made him balance the decision to go forward with it. It was a logical justification for Korach's selfish actions.

  2. So why would this vision mean Korach would live? Well his children were involved in the rebellion. So if his sacrifice wouldnt be accepted then everyone would die right? So Korach's common sense says if his offspring will be alive then he will be alive because they are all involved together. And if Korach is alive, then his sacrifice is accepted. Little did Korach know that his children would do teshuva.

Maybe that is why Moshe is the real leader. Moshe always allowed for teshuva and in many scenarios worked to allow time for it. Even here in fact. Korach never even took it into account.

A lot of it makes sense when thought about it logically but that still doesnt exonerate Korach. I mean the moment he started mocking Torah should itself have been a sign of his own obsession and nihilism. However Korach was a learned Jew so it shows the greater one is, the greater his ability is to fail. However also greater is his ability to succeed.

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The simple meaning of the Medrash is that he thought he would survive the attempt because such greatness is going to come from him (Shmuel and his own children), and therefore it must be that he would be protected.

Perhaps another way to understand the Medrash is that he thought he had the same qualities as those descendants. He thought that he was equal to Moshe and Aharon, or even greater, since a descendant of his would be, and that his prophecy was certain, as he had such prophets as children.

Shmuel prophesied (Shmuel I chapter 3) about the downfall of the existing Kohen Gadol who had been promised by Hashem that his descendants would hold the position forever. He thought he was able to accomplish the same thing with the existing Kohen Gadol. Shmuel went on to be the first king of Israel (Vayikra Rabbah 26:7), so he likewise thought he could dispose of Moshe's leadership, as Moshe had perhaps deviated just like Eli.

So he thought that with such greatness to come from him, he was only equal or greater, and thus could not fail.

All of this stemmed from Korach's self-centeredness. He couldn't imagine that his decedents would be greater than him.

I saw another approach to answering this question recently, and that is that what Korach was saying was that everyone is equally holy, so the position of Kohen Gadol should be shared. There is no one special person that should hold the position until he dies, rather it should be a rotation, and he wanted to be part of that rotation.

This answers the question simply: He wasn't trying to put himself above them, rather he was trying to be equal - Aaron could be Kohen Gadol for a while, and then others get a turn as well.

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