Parshas Korach - Gehenom and Machlokes Insights

By Rabbi Yosef Tropper

Posted on 07/03/19

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1) Gehenom for Korach

We have the story that Moshe says (Bamidbar 16:30) to Hashem, “im briah yivra Hashem patzah ha’adamah es pi’ha”.  The land will open up and swallow Korach and his followers.  Rashi says, “Amar Moshe lifnei Hakadosh Baruch Hu.”  He brings it down in partial, but the gemara in Sanhedrin 110 is the source.  “Im briah gehenom mutav.”  If gehenom is already around great.  “V’im lav yivrah Hashem.”  If not, create something new. Moshe understood that this challenge against Hashem’s Torah is not sustainable.  So, there’s a famous gemara about gehenom which is interesting.  Two he’arahs of the Vilna Gaon about gehenom.

Question about being Saved

The gemara in Chagigah 27 says: Rav Avahu says in the name of Rav Elazar that the fire of gehenom will not impact talmidei chachamim.  It’s a kal v’chomer from the Salamander.  We know that the Salamander is immune to fire, so, so too, the gemara brings a kal v’chomer that certainly the tzaddikim are immune to fire.  Now, we know that that means that their Torah protects them, and we’ll say more about that in a minute.  Reish Lakish says that the fire of gehenom will not impact poshei Yisrael.  It’s a kal vachomer from mizbei’ach hazahav that they have, even poshei Yisrael are filled with mitzvos, and, therefore, they’re certainly protected just like the mizbei’ach hazahav was protected miraculously.  So, the Gra says: Wait a minute.  So, then what’s the difference between talmidei chachamim and poshei Yisrael.  They’re both protected from gehenom.  What’s going on? 

Vital Difference

Gra says: No.  It’s like this that the Salamander totally repels and is immune to all flame, so therefore, the flames of gehenom wouldn’t hurt the tzaddik in the least bit.  It just bounces right off.  Whereas the poshei Yisrael, the difference is that yes, they have a certain form of protection.  Their mitzvos and their Torah is meigin and matzil.  That’s true.  Like Chazal say.  That’s the power of Torah, but there’s still a tremendous pain and a burning that’s felt.  It’s true it doesn’t destroy them, and eventually, they could step out of it, but it is a tremendously painful event.  That’s the Gra.

Harotzeh sh’lo yamus, yamis es atzmo kodem sh’yamus

What does that mean?  The Steipler brings down the Chazal, and it’s brought down in a lot of sefarim.  I believe it’s a Tanah D’Vei ELiyahu, and Rav Chaim Vuluzin explains this as well.  The Steipler brings this down in Chayei Olam.  He says, “Harotzeh sh’lo yamus, yamis es atzmo kodem sh’yamus.”  And, this is not pushing suicide, G-d forbid.  If someone wants to not die, he should kill himself before he dies and then he’ll be dead, and he won’t die.  So, the Steipler explains, based on the context, and based on Chazal, that what’s the p’shat?  The p’shat is like this.  That there’s a certain amount of suffering every person has to have in their life.  Hashem wants us to have suffering to protect us, to teach us that Olam Hazeh is not the only thing, and that we’re aiming towards the future world.  But, if a person inflicts it on himself, or a person stubs his toe, or a person goes out and hurts himself, he doesn’t have a right to do that, and if he hurts himself physically, he’ll get punished for hurting himself too.  

Rav Avigdor Miller said: The punishment for going outside without a coat is, G-d forbid, a person gets sick.  Ah, you’re going to say it’s cause and affect.  No.  Even if Hashem was nigzar that he shouldn’t get sick, the fact that he used his bechira to go outside he gets punished with sickness.  Anyway, so how do you punish yourself legally?  So, the answer is that any Torah you learn with mesiras nefesh, that pain that you suffer, actually takes away your aveiros.  And, not only that, but anytime you’re mevateir, someone hurts you, and you’re mevateir, that is kaparas avonos.  So, now we don’t know how much Hashem decreed we should have, and how much is being forgiven.  But, that’s the p’shat.  If someone wants to not die, doesn’t want to suffer, doesn’t want to have any pain, then he should be meimis atzmo on Torah.  

“Ein haTorah nikneis, elah mi sh’meimis atzmo aleha.  ‘Zos haTorah adam ki yamus ba’ohel.’”  That the way to acquire Torah is to kill yourself over it literally.  And, it means that a person’s mesirus nefesh and pain and suffering in struggling to figure out the sugya because it bothers him, and being embarrassed because he says the wrong p’shat like mifiboshes would embarrass his rebbe because he would upshlug him.  That pain and suffering combines and it helps protect you.  So, that’s the pshat why the ohr of gehenom is like the Salamander because the tzaddik, Hashem says you already lived your life suffering.  You lived with poverty sometimes.  You lived with pain.  You lived being looked down upon.  You lived being mevateir.  So, you already got your pain and suffering in this world, so there’s no point of gehenom hurting you because there’s nothing for it to burn out.  It burns to perfection.  You already burned out the imperfection.  That’s the p’shat.  Mah sh’ein kein, the rasha, or the poshei Yisrael, so fine, he understood the Torah and mitzvos and he has his zechuyos, but he still needs to burn a little to get all that imperfection because he’s not going to appreciate the kedusha, the holiness.  He has a cataract that has to be removed.  It’s a painful surgery.  He has a tumor.  It has to be removed.  It’s a painful surgery, but that’s because in his lifetime he never used the opportunity fully to remove it.  And, so, therefore, there’s going to be pain.  So, there’s a big difference.  And, that’s just a fascinating thing.  In  life we have to understand that whenever something happens that’s hurtful, painful.  Someone hurts us or we’re being moser nefesh for Torah we should realize that the Rebono Shel Olam is behind it, and that He knows and that He’s well aware of all the pain, any amount of pain that we’re going through. 

2) Pain and suffering in this world eradicates a person’s gehenom

In the sefer Reishis Chochmah by Rav Eliyah Vidash, he was a talmid of Rav Moshe Kordivero in the 1500s, Tzfat, Moshe Kordivero was a chavrusa of the Arizal and a big mekubal, and Rav Eliyahu Vidash wrote a phenomenal sefer and he has in there meseches gehenom.  And, it’s based on Chazal which we don’t have it anywhere else.  The baal Reishis Chochmah brings down some of this as well.  He has meseches gehenom, and it talks about the pain and suffering of gehenom.  Kaf hakellah.  What all these thing are.  And, the Gra, one time, gave a drasha to his talmidim, and he explained in detail gehenom.  And, one of his talmidim got so sick over it that he ended up in bed with a very, very bad illness, and the doctors weren’t sure if he’s even going to make it.  And, he recovered, but he was still recuperating a little bit in bed, and the Gra came to visit him. 

The talmid got very nervous when his rebbe was coming because he knew the Gra was a big tzaddik and he was afraid what the Gra was going to talk more about gehenim.  And, the Vilna Gaon said to him: My dear talmid, I want to tell you something.  If I had the opportunity I would give that speech all over again.  I would.  And, the talmid got very nervous.  Oh no, rebbe, I can’t handle it.  But, he said that there’s one thing that I didn’t clarify, and I would have said this more clearly, and that is that you should know with all that gehenom is, with all the pain and suffering and horrific regret that we have for the aveiros that we did where we could fix it with our bechira now, but in the future we can’t go back and fix it, there’s one thing that I would add, and that is that you don’t realize how much pain and suffering in this world erases and eradicates your gehenom.  And, that you have to recognize that anytime anything happens there’s a Rebono Shel Olam who’s guiding the world, and who’s watching and takes away from your pain and suffering based on the pain and suffering you have in this world.  These are tremendous and powerful thoughts that really stir up our soul if you think about them, and change the perspective on any suffering we go through in this world. 

3) Machlokes l’Sheim Shamayim sofo l’hiskayeim

The mishna in Pirkei Avos makes a comment that brings in the story of Moshe and Korach, and the Vilna Gaon has a penetrating question there I want to share.  The mishna in Pirkei Avos, perek Hei, mishna, it’s usually 16 or 17.  It says: Machlokes between Shamai and Hillel, that’s a machlokes l’Sheim Shamayim, it’s sofo l’hiskayeim.  It’ll last.  But, the machlokes that’s sh’lo l’Sheim Shamayim, like Korach and his adaso, his group.  It doesn’t say it’s between Korach and Moshe because Moshe wasn’t involved in the fight.  He was trying to make peace.  “ein sofo l’hiskayeim”.  The literal translation is: It will not last.  Now, what does that mean?  Sometimes we translate it as: If it’s a machlokes l’Sheim Shamayim, then it will be successful, but if not it will be a failure.  But, that’s not what it says.  It says that if it’s a machlokes l’Sheim Shamayim, for the right purposes, then it’ll last.  But, if it’s not for the right purposes, it’s sh’lo l’Sheim Shamayim, it’s for corrupt purposes, then it will not last.  But, what does that mean? 

A machlokes sh’lo l’Sheim Shamayim is a fight that no one remembers what it is about

Vilna Gaon says a very deep insight that deserves our contemplation.  He says that when you have a machlokes sh’lo l’Sheim Shamayim, that it has ill intent, so there’s hidden agendas that are pushing the two people.  Each one is claiming that they want something that’s better for society or for the other person, but really they’re pushing for their own selfish agenda.  And, so those type of fights, no one ever remembers what they’re even fighting about.  Take a family feud for an example.  People start fighting, and someone said something offensive, and then they said something offensive back.  If you’d stop them and say: Wait.  What are you guys fighting about?  Most people will not even remember the original fight.  Take any two people that hate each other.  Why are you fighting?  Each one will be able to say back and forth, the fight just continues because each of them keep fighting.  So, a machlokes sh’lo l’Sheim Shamayim takes on a life of its own, and it just keep continuing and exasturbating and changing into different fights and different permutations of negativity and new fights and new ideas. 

A machlokes l’Sheim Shamayim is one that never changes

Let’s think about it.  A Machlokes l’Sheim Shamayim is you have two rabbanim, Hillel and Shamai, who are arguing about a matter, and Shamai says it’s allowed and Hillel says it’s not allowed.  Or, Shamai says: You have to do this, and Hillel says: You have to do that.  And, they’re both arguing because they believe that that’s what the Torah says.  It doesn’t get personal.  It doesn’t get nasty.  In fact, on the contrary, the gemara says that they even accepted each other’s psak when it came to marriage.  The gemara in Yevamos.  Shamai held this person might be a mamzar according to me, or Hillel held that this person might be a mamzer, and Shamai matired, and when it came to marriage, they were careful, according to some Rishonim, the way they read it that they still married into one another.  According to others, they were just careful, but they were still respectful of one another.  But, “sofo l’hiskayeim” means that when you have a machlokes l’Sheim Shamayim, I hold chayav, you hold pature, but there’s no alterior motive, so that machlokes will always remain because I hold this is what Hashem wants, you hold that’s what Hashem wants.  And, that’s fine.  The machlokes never changes.  The point of contention is always very clear. 

In a machlokes sh’lo l’Sheim Shamayim, the fight keeps changing

But, when it’s sh’lo l’Sheim Shamayim, when it’s a dysfunctional fight, then the fight just keeps changing.  So, it’s a new fight.  It’s not about what we’re fighting about because we weren’t fighting about ulterior things and important things.  We were just fighting against each other and it just became personal, so now there’s always one big mud pie being thrown against the other.  And, that’s why, “ein sofo l’hiskayeim” because the original fight falls to the wayside, and then the fight just keeps building on itself into other new ideas.  And, that is such a deep and profound lesson in life that when we’re fighting, if we’re fighting for the right reasons, l’Sheim Shamayim, then the issue is just the issue at hand, and that’s it doesn’t become anything personal or nasty.  It’s just: This is the issue at hand.  I feel strongly about this for the right altruistic reasons, and you feel that way, and fine.  So, we could still get along and understand.  That machlokes still remains, and it remains focused on that one item.  But, if it starts turning into a slapping fest and a vilification fest and throwing mud at each other fest, and the original fight is not even clear.  It just permutates into its own perverted, disgusting, despicable thing, that’s not l’Sheim Shamayim.  The original fight is way over.  It had nothing to do with that.  It was just each person’s ulterior motives and selfishness that were getting exastrobated and splashed all over the place negatively.  It’s such a profound lesson in life to look at the things that we fight for passionately, and the things that we could learn to be respectful towards others about, and how careful we have to be not to get engaged in the machlokes sh’lo l’Sheim Shamayim which just permutates and becomes a thing of itself which is just so negative. 


Rabbi Yosef Tropper is a rabbi and psychotherapist. Subscribe at ParshaThemes.com