An Unlikely Shidduch?

An Unlikely Shidduch: Korach and Haman.

Question: Who made such a match?

Answer: None other than our sages, of Blessed Memory.  Reading between the lines,  Chazal find a lot in common between these two characters.

The Connections

Most of us, if asked what “www” stands for, would respond: Why, the first letters of a URL!

But for our sages, these letters refer to the

connection between Korach and Haman:

  • Wealth
  • Wives
  • Wine

The Torah tells us that a mini-earthquake swallows up Korach, his home, and his property.   The Talmud (Sanhedrin) lists Korach’s property as a central factor in his downfall.  Maharsha even posits that the cryptic term ויקח קרח – “and Korach took” – with which the parsha opens – refers to the bribes offered by Korach to his cast of cronies.

In Megillat Esther, Haman channels his great wealth to Achashverosh’s coffers to seal the deal for annihilation of the Jewish people.

The immoral use of wealth in the two stories has a boomerang effect on its characters: Following Haman’s execution, his home is reassigned to nemesis Mordechai, while Korach’s home and personal property are swallowed by the earth.

Many of us are probably familiar with the scene: 250 prominent leaders dressed up in blue ‘techelet’ garments – poking fun at Moshe’s assertion that one must affix an additional ‘techelet’ string on the four corners of such clothing.  According to the midrash, the brains behind the attack on Moshe’s authority was none other than Korach’s wife; it was only with her encouragement that Korach dared try this stunt.  Her foil is the wife of On ben Pelet.  Though ‘On’ appears in the first verse, he is not mentioned thereafter.  Why? Understanding her husband’s quest for power and honor, quick-thinking Mrs. On convinces him that it’s pointless to join the revolutionary council:  If Moshe wins, On surely is not headed for power; should Korach win, On still plays second fiddle.

Wise women build their homes, foolish ones destroy them….

A post-Megillah favorite is “Shoshanat Ya’akov”: As well as blessing Esther and Mordechai, we curse Haman, and his wife Zeresh, “Eshet Mafchidi“.  In the Purim story, zealous Zeresh first proposes the gallows for Mordechai. Her influence propels Haman further onto the path towards self-destruction.

Nowhere is alcohol explicitly mentioned in Parshat Korach.  However, Rashi, commenting on Moshe’s initiative to ‘meet in the morning’, writes, “this is a time of drunkenness for us and it would be inappropriate to encounter G-d at this time.  Rather…” let’s wait till morning….

Initially, I understood Rashi to mean that heated quarrels tend to warp the perspectives of the parties involved.   According to this, Moshe was saying: “let’s push this off till the morning, until both sides have calmed down.”

But two midrashim convinced me otherwise: One midrash says that the donning of the Techelet garments was triggered by a liquor-laced feast hosted by Korach; another says that since the group was “sitting at a meal hosted by Korach” Moshe proposed to meet the next morning, because of the drinking at the meal….

One need not look too far in Megillat Esther to connect Haman to wine:  In the story’s opening scene, Memuchan – who our sages identify as Haman – promotes the deposing of Vashti.   Drunk, Achashverosh quickly concurs.  Ironically, this sets the stage for the eventual entry of Esther into the Royal Court.   Through wine, Haman triggers his own demise…..

A Bizarre Linkage
Textual and thematic parallels notwithstanding, what’s the inherent connection between Haman and Korach?

Why does the Megillat Amukot take this one step further, noting that the Gematria/numerical equivalent of “Korach ben Yitzhar‘ is “Haman Harasha“?

Sure, Korach is an egotist, a rebel against Moshe’s authority; let’s not minimize the severity of his behavior.  Haman, on the other hand, is the quintessential anti-semite.   Like Hitler, he plans the systematic destruction of our people! As peeved as we are with Korach, isn’t it a bit unfair to equate him with Haman?

The answer may lie in the words of Rashi.

Troubled by the term “Boker” with which Moshe asks to have the dispute delayed until dawn, Rashi (quoting the midrash) states:

The Midrashic interpretation of בֹּקֶר, morning, [rather than מָחָר, tomorrow] is: Moses said to him [Korah], The Holy One, blessed is He, assigned boundaries to His world. Are you able to transform morning into evening? That is how possible it is for you to undo this, as it says,“It was evening and it was morning… and He separated (וַיַּבְדֵּל) ” (Gen. 1:5, 7); similarly,“Aaron was set apart (וַיִּבָּדֵל) to sanctify him…” (I Chron. 23:13).

In Hebrew, the root word of “boker” is to check or critique.  At daybreak, natural sunlight helps us discern even subtle differences; on the other hand “erev” (evening) denotes ערבוב, mixture, even confusion.  With nightfall, the absence of light makes it more difficult to detect these differences.

With his populist declaration, the entire community is holy and G-d is in our midst – Korach seeks to dissolve boundaries.  After all, frameworks such as Kehunah (Priesthood) squelch holiness, frustrate the common man’s efforts to connect to the Divine!

Echoes of John Lennon
What implications does Korach’s approach have for the authority of Torah and Mitzvot?

The words of that immortal Beatle, John Lennon, come to mind:

Imagine there’s no countries; It isn’t hard to do; Nothing to kill or die for; And no religion too….You may say that I’m a dreamer –  But I’m not the only one  I hope someday you’ll join us And the world will be as one…

The philosophy – prevalent in some Jewish circles for the last 200 years – is that holiness is attained only through the blurring of boundaries.   Quite the opposite of the Torah’s appraoch: On Mt. Sinai, G-d appears in a cloud – עשן – an acronym for “Olam, Shana, Nefesh”.  For the classical Jew, G-d manifests himself through graduating scales of holiness within specific places, times and people:

Places: The world as a whole, Eretz Yisrael, Jerusalem the Temple Mount, the Holy of Holies…
Time: Days of the week, Chol Hamo’ed, Yom Tov, Shabbat, Yom Kippur….
People: The nations of the World, The Jews, Levi’im, Kohanim….

Kedusha, holiness, is accessed through acceptance of the Torah’s boundaries and categories. Mystically, by recognizing and subscribing to halacha , we connect to G-d. Were Korach to be at the helm, the categories that facilitate our to access holiness would evaporate.

Haman was intent on the physical annihilation of our people. Korach’s approach, on the other hand, would have ultimately led to a collapsing of the boundaries that define our personal and national lives.  The necessity of our existence as a separate people would have been threatened.

How fitting, then, the fate of Korach and his entourage:

And the earth opened her mouth and swallowed them up, and their households….

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