Korach and the Parah Adumah

Vayikahalu al Moshe v’al Aharon vayomru aleihem rav lachem ki kol ha’eidah kulam kedoshim (Bamidbar 16:3)

The Midrash Peliah teaches that Korach was motivated to rebel against Moshe when he learned about the mitzvah of parah adumah (the red heifer). As Korach’s arguments seem to have no connection to the red heifer, how is this Midrash to be understood? In what way did the parah adumah inspire Korach to challenge the authority and leadership of Moshe?

The Roshei Besamim notes that the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 19:6) teaches that although the mitzvah of the red heifer is a chok — a mitzvah whose reason isn’t known to us — its rationale was revealed to Moshe. Korach argued that the rest of the Jewish people were actually on a higher level than Moshe because they performed this mitzvah without any understanding, solely to perform the will of Hashem. As a result, this mitzvah inspired him to challenge Moshe’s leadership and begin his rebellion.

Alternatively, the Chemdas Tzvi cites Rashi (Shemos 20:2), who explains that Hashem said the 10 Commandments in the singular tense so that Moshe would be able to defend the Jews after the sin of the golden calf by arguing that they thought the commandments, such as the belief in Hashem and the prohibition against idolatry, were given only to Moshe and not to them. However, Rashi also writes (Bamidbar 19:2) that the red heifer atones for the sin of the golden calf.

When Korach saw that there was a new means to atone for the golden calf and Moshe’s defense was no longer necessary, he was able to challenge Moshe’s authority. Now that there was no need for the claim that the singular tense indicated that the 10 Commandments were directed solely to Moshe, Korach argued that the entire nation was equally holy because they had all stood at Mount Sinai and heard Hashem’s commandments directed to all of them.

Finally, the Mas’as Hamelech explains that after the Jewish people saw the thunder and heard the shofar blasts at Mount Sinai, they became scared for their lives and insisted that Moshe speak to them instead of Hashem (Shemos 20:16). The Rashbam explains that had they not made this request, they would have heard all of the mitzvos directly from Hashem. Although they elected to forgo this opportunity, they nevertheless recognized that they were on a level at which they were entitled to learn and understand all of the mitzvos on the highest level. When Moshe, to whom the reason for the mitzvah of parah adumah was revealed, refused to teach it to them, Korach was motivated to challenge his authority, based on the argument that all of the people were equally holy and were entitled to comprehend the Torah on Moshe’s level.

Q: Which people who have appeared earlier in the Torah were reincarnated as Korach and his assembly?

Q: The Gemara in Yoma (75a) teaches that the manna fell at the doorsteps of the righteous, far away from the tents of the wicked, and somewhere in-between for the average. Why wasn’t Moshe able to answer Korach’s argument that he was as righteous as Moshe and Aharon by publicly pointing out that Korach’s manna fell far from his tent, revealing his true wicked core?

A: Rabbeinu Bachya notes that the verse states (16:2) vayakumu lifnei Moshe — Korach and his followers stood up before Moshe. It would have been more grammatically correct to say vayakumu al Moshe — they stood up against Moshe. The word lifnei also means “before” and is used to hint that these individuals were gilgulim of earlier generations. Regarding the generation of the dispersion, the Torah records (Bereishis 11:4) that they said, “Come, let us build for ourselves a city and a tower which reaches the Heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves.” Regarding the inhabitants of Sedom, the Torah writes (Bereishis 19:4), V’anshei ha’ir Anshei Sedom. This literally means, “The men of the city, the men of Sedom,” but it alludes to the fact that the inhabitants of Sedom were reincarnations of the generation of the dispersion who had expressed their interest in building for themselves a city. Parashas Korach begins by stating, Vayikach Korach, which is translated into Aramaic by Onkelos as v’ispe’leg, which alludes to the fact that Korach was reincarnated from the Dor Haflagah, generation of the dispersion, and for this reason, Korach and his followers are referred to (16:2) as anshei shem, which was the goal of that generation. This was also the reason that Dasan and Aviram told Moshe (16:14) that even if he blinded them, they would still not go with him to Eretz Yisrael. They specifically mentioned this punishment because as gilgulim of the townspeople of Sedom, they had already once been afflicted with blindness (Bereishis 19:11).

A: The Shevet Mussar cites a Midrash which teaches that fighting and discord is such a severe sin that on the day of Korach’s rebellion the manna didn’t fall, whereas on the day of the sin of the golden calf, which was presumably a greater sin, the manna did fall because there was peace and unity among the people. This explains why Moshe was unable to demonstrate Korach’s true spiritual status based on the location of his manna. As far as what the people ate on that day, Harav Aharon Leib Steinman, shlita, suggests that they had to purchase food from nomadic merchants in the area.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently-published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.