KORACH (Numbers, 16:1-18:32) — “A Good Fight With Your Wife”

Ah, there’s nothing like a good fight with your wife!  … You DO fight with your spouse, don’t you?  You really should, you know.


This week we read about the Mother-of-all-Arguments, “Korach vs. Moses.”  Korach gathered a following of 250 malcontents and challenged the authority of Moses.  Korach accused Moses of pretending to speak for G-d.  Korach claimed that Moses’ goal was to create a nepotistic regime consisting of himself, his brother Aaron, and some close relatives.  Korach and his gang ended up on the wrong end of a Divine endorsement.  G-d showed Korach et al who was boss by opening the earth and swallowing them alive.


The Talmud (Avos, 5:20) gives us an insight into arguments:

Any dispute that is for the sake of Heaven will have a constructive outcome; but if it is not for the sake of Heaven, it will not have a constructive outcome.  What is an example of an dispute for the sake of Heaven?  The dispute of Shammai and Hillel.  And a dispute that is not for the sake of Heaven?  The dispute of Korach and his followers.”

Shammai and Hillel were two early Talmudic authorities whose arguments cover almost the entire gamut of Jewish Law.  Their disputes are chronicled and analyzed throughout the Talmud.  (In most cases, the bottom-line ruling is in accordance with Hillel, although there are a few exceptions.)

Shammai and Hillel argued about how to serve G-d properly; it was an argument for the sake of Heaven.  They live on in our memories with love and respect.  Korach and his cohorts were rabble-rousers looking to make trouble; they came to an ignominious end.


There is, however, a problem with the above-quoted passage.  It is not parallel.  It compares “the argument of Shammai and Hillel” with “the argument of Korach and his followers.”  Shammai and Hillel are opponents, while Korach and his followers are teammates.

What it should have done was to compare “Shammai and Hillel” to “Korach and MOSES!” It should have said that “an example of a dispute for the sake of Heaven is Shammai vs. Hillel, and an example of a dispute not for the sake of Heaven is Korach vs. Moses.”

In reality, the comparisons ARE parallel.  In each case, the Talmud is only listing one side of a dispute.  Korach and his bunch were on the same side, battling G-d and Moses.  Shammai and Hillel too were on the same side, in service of G-d and His Torah.

The Talmud tells us that the Academies of Shammai and Hillel, each followed the rulings of their respective teachers.  The two groups disagreed in matters of whom one may marry, what one may do on the Sabbath, what is ritually pure and what isn’t, and a host of other issues.  Yet, they loved and respected each other, each realizing that the other’s concern was for the sake of Heaven.

Korach & Company formed an unholy alliance for the sake of defying Heaven.  They were united against Heaven.


G -d said, “It is not good for man to be alone; I will make for him a helper for him.”  (Genesis, 2:18)  Although I translated the end of the verse as,”a helper FOR him,” the literal translation is, “a helper AGAINST him.”   The Talmud (Yevamos, 63a) interprets this as having a double meaning:  If he is worthy, his wife will be “a helper for him.”  If he is unworthy, she will be “against him.”

One of the rabbis in my Yeshiva in Israel used to come into the dorm every morning to make sure we were up on time for Services.  A quick knock and a “Good morning, Yerachmiel, are you up?”, and then on to the next room.  I must confess that one wake-up was not always successful.

I met my wife in Israel where we were both students.  After getting engaged, we returned to the U.S. for a few months for the wedding.  Two weeks after the wedding we were back in Israel, ready to resume our studies.

I went to visit my Rebbe.  “Rebbe,” I joked, “she’s even worse than you!  After you left the room I could roll over and go back to sleep!  She doesn’t let me do that!”

He quoted the interpretation above about a wife being “a helper for him” if he is worthy and “against him” if he is unworthy.  He pointed out that when all is said and done, the verse still says “a helper AGAINST him.”

It is possible, he explained, for your wife to help you and still be against you.  It depends upon whether you are receptive to her help.  “Make sure,’ said my Rebbe,” that you are both on the same side!”


It is OK to argue WITH your wife.  As long as you are working together to accomplish positive things, it is for the sake of Heaven.  The problem is when you argue AGAINST your wife.  That’s when the ground starts to shake.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.


From the Archives

“A Good Fight With Your Wife” (2010)

 Ah, there’s nothing like a good fight with your wife!  … You DO fight with your spouse, don’t you?  You really should, you know…

Read more.


“Caleb, Korach, and Me” (2009)

Never hit a guy when he’s on a roll; you have to try to get him when he’s down.

You couldn’t put anything on Moses; he was at the top of his game.  He was The Man!  He straight-talked the Pharaoh, and led us out of Egypt.  He led us through the split-open waters of the Red Sea, and presided over our nation’s receipt of miraculous manna from Heaven.  Even when we sinned he was there for us.  He caught us worshipping the Golden Calf, but negotiated our forgiveness from G-d.

Moses was great.  You just HAD to love him!

Most people did.  One of the exceptions was Korach…

Read more.


“Behind Every Successful (and Unsuccessful!) Man…” (2007)

… Ever since the beginning of time, from Eve’s offer of fresh fruit to her husband to this morning when your wife asked you (again!) to take out the garbage, our wives have been right there telling us what we need to do.

… Korach, along with his fellow Levites, (including Moses’ sons) had their hair shaven.  Korach came home looking like Yul Brenner.  Mrs. Korach reprimanded her husband for allowing Moses to degrade him like that … By the time she finished with him, he was prepared to take Moses on in an uprising designed to “take back our religion.”

Korach ended up being swallowed alive by an opening in the ground.  (“Thanks for the advice, dear!”) …

Read more.


“Dead Wrong?” (2006)

Some people are just exasperating.  They take positions that are totally devoid of logic.

We, on the other hand, are paragons of correctness, totally removed from error.  Right?…

Read more.


“Almond Joy” (2004)

… How far should we go for positive PR? …    Any intelligent person HAD to understand by now that Moses was on the level…Why didn’t Moses tell them to take it as it is or leave it?  “I’m in charge and that’s the way it is.  If you don’t like it, go find yourself another desert!!” …

Read more.


“True Blue” (2003)

…  What difference does it make whether the blue is on the string or on the clothes?  For that matter, does it really matter what type of dye you use?  You want blue?  You’ve got blue!  What difference does it make whether the Mezuzah paragraphs are on the doorpost or in the room?  You want Shema Yisrael?  You’ve got Shema Yisrael!…

Read more.


“Flat Tax” (2002)

… The farmer works hard to grow his crops.  Along comes “Mr. Levine” (or Levy or Levitt, or possibly even Goldstein!) who didn’t work the fields and says, “I’m a Levite; I’d like my 10% please.” Mr. Levine, who has received his 10% of the farmer’s produce, must then give 10% of HIS take to “Mr. Cohen” (or Katz, or Klein, or Goldstein.)

Why should the farmer and the Levite give the same percentage?  The farmer had to break his back to grow that wheat! The Levite gets a windfall! Let him pay more!

Similarly, if I work hard 40 hours a week, I have to give 10% of my income to charity.  The recipient, who didn’t have to work for the money, should be “taxed” at a higher rate! (Lottery winnings are taxed at a higher rate than earned income.) Why is the worker treated the same as the gift recipient?…

 Read more.


“There’s More to Being Right Than Just Not Being Wrong” (2001)

Every rabbi has a few.  There’s always someone looking to challenge the leadership with complaints of imagined misdeeds.  Moses certainly had his share of detractors.  Most noteworthy in the group are Dathan and Abiram, adversaries since Egyptian days, and Korach, the star rabble-rouser of this week’s Torah Portion…

Read more.


This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.


Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.


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Published in: on June 9, 2010 at 7:52 am  Leave a Comment  

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