Thursday, July 14, 2011

Did Korach's sons go to Gehinnom, or did they become prophets?

Summary: Mizrachi shows a contradiction within Rashis. The Taz attempts to solve it. And I offer suggestions throughout, that Rashi didn't say it, or that Rashi means that their songs ascended, not that they physically ascended.

Post: The Torah tells us that the sons of Korach did not die. The point, without a genealogical list, would seem to be to indicate that the lineage continued on, in contrast to, for instance, Er and Onan, or perhaps Datan and Aviram. The pasuk, Rashi, and my translation:

11. Korah's sons, however, did not die.יא. וּבְנֵי קֹרַח לֹא מֵתוּ:
And the sons of Korach did not die: They were in the counsel at first, and at the time of the dispute they thought of teshuva in their hearts. Therefore, they were placed in a high place in Hell and stayed there.ובני קרח לא מתו: הם היו בעצה תחלה, ובשעת המחלוקת הרהרו תשובה בלבם, לפיכך נתבצר להם מקום גבוה בגיהנם וישבו שם:

Thus, they didn't die, but that does not mean that they continued on their existence among the living. Meanwhile, Datan and Aviram, etc., were all drawn into the pit, meaning they were drawn into Gehinnom proper.

Mekorei Rashi informs us that Rashi draws this midrash from Sanhedrin 110a, Megillah 14a, Bemidbar Rabba, Midrash Aggadah, and Yalkut Shimoni 773. From the gemara in Sanhedrin:
Notwithstanding the children of Korah died not.45  A Tanna taught: It has been said on the authority of Moses our Master: A place was set apart for them in the Gehenna, where they sat and sang praises [to God].
The Taz writes about this in Divrei David. He cites Rashi and the gemara in Sanhedrin. Then,

"and the Re'em {=Rabbi Eliyahu Mizrachi} brings a Midrash Rabba that the sons of Korach came up to the surface of the land, and they entered the land of Israel and were prophets. And a proof to this is from Shmuel, 'and his sons were singers', and so does Rashi write in Tehillim (42), and the Re'em goes on at length about this. And it is possible to say that they were in Hell for some length of time, and afterwards they ascended on the face of the Earth."

I suppose that since Rashi gives two different explanations in two different places, one would expect that there should be some way to harmonize them. This would not necessarily be the case if they were just two stand-alone midrashim.

Here is what Mizrachi says. First, he cites Rashi. Then,

"Bamidbar Rabba and perek Chelek {in Sanhedrin} they said:
'And the sons of Korach did not die.' They did not live and they were not judged. A Tanna taught in the name of the Sages: A place was set apart in Hell, and they stood on their feet and sang praises.

Rabbah b. Bar Hana said: I was proceeding on my travels, when an Arab said to me, 'Come, and I will shew thee where the men of Korah were swallowed up.' I went and saw two cracks whence issued smoke. Thereupon he took a piece of clipped wool, soaked it in water, attached it to the point of his spear, and passed it over there, and it was singed. Said I to him, 'Listen to what you are about to hear.' And I heard them saying thus: 'Moses and his Torah are true, but they [Korah's company] are liars.' 

The Arabian then said to me, 'Every thirty days Gehenna causes them to turn back [here] like meat in a pot, and they say thus: "Moses and his Torah are true, but they are liars."'1

And Rashi {on that gemara} explains:
נתבצר - מלשון (ישעיהו כז) עיר בצורה התקין להון הקב"ה מקום גבוה שלא העמיקו כל כך בגיהנם ולא מתו:

'Hashem established for them a high place which was not so deep in Hell, and they did not die. Rather, every 30 days they return to Hell and are judged, for so do we say later on.'

This implies that he holds that this incident with the Arabian who showed Rabba Bar Bar Chana those who were swallowed up of Korach, who would say "Moshe and his Torah is true, and they are liars' refers to the sons of Korach. I would have thought that that incident with the Arabian, was speaking of those swallowed up of Korach {in general}, but not of the sons of Korach, for the sons of Korach ascended immediately on the surface of the earth; and that which states that they did not live, but they were not judged, argues on the Tanna saying it in the name of the Sages, that a place was established for them in Hell and they dwelled there; and from there they ascended to the surface of the earth, and entered Eretz Yisrael, and they were prophets and singers like Shmuel and his sons, who were descendants of Korach. And this is what is written משפחת הקרחי, and it is not difficult at all, except according to the opinion that ובני קרח לא מתו means that they did not live but were not judged. But according to the commentary of Rashi, all of it is difficult."

It pays to spend a moment or two on what Rashi says and does not say. I have heard questions raised as to whether Rashi on perek Chelek is really from Rashi. But, as Rabbi Slifkin writes in a footnote in an article in Hakirah, regarding Rashi's Stance on Corporealism:
Incidentally, Yonah Frankel in Darko shel Rashi bePerusho leTalmud (Jerusalem, 1975) pp. 304-335 proves that the printed  commentary to Perek Chelek attributed to Rashi was indeed substantially composed by Rashi, and therefore can be cited as indications of his beliefs. 
Separate from this, the text that Mizrachi cites from Rashi is not found in our Rashi text in Chumash. You might have noticed above, Rashi (from Wikisource; also in our printed gemaras) only makes the first statement, not the all-important second statement which confounds Mizrachi, that these are the same as the speakers below. So perhaps we can solve this via girsology, at least on behalf of Rashi.

(But I don't see how the Taz's answer would fix anything for Mizrachi, since Rabba Bar Bar Chana saw them, meaning the Bnei Korach, there, much much later. I also did not see the Midrash Rabba which Taz claims the Mizrachi refers to. Rather, it seems that Midrash Rabba on Korach simply echoes the gemara in perek Chelek, and this is what a straightforward reading gives us.)

On the other hand, the Taz noted the prooftext to Rashi's beliefs from his commentary on sefer Tehillim, perek 42, which begins:

א  לַמְנַצֵּחַ, מַשְׂכִּיל לִבְנֵי-קֹרַח.1 For the Leader; Maschil of the sons of Korah.

Rashi on that pasuk writes:

"Of the sons of Korach: They are Asir, Elkana, and Evyasaf {meaning, the actual sons of Korach}, who were initially in the counsel of their father, and at the time of the dispute they separated. And when all around them was swallowed up, and the earth opened up its mouth, their place was left within the mouth of the earth, as it states 'but the sons of Korach did not die.' And there they sand praise, and there they established the mizmorim {such as this one in Tehillim}, and they ascended from there, and ruach hakodesh manifested upon them, and they prophesied upon the exiles and on the destruction of the Temple, and on the kingdom of the house of David."

I suppose since these mizmorim cover these topics, these would have to be said with prophecy.

I have two more suggestions which might help resolve any difficulties. First, Rashi on Chumash and Tehillim often lets us know Rashi's understanding of the pasuk. But, Rashi on gemara lets us know Rashi's understanding of the gemara, not necessarily Rashi's own position.

Second, I am not sure that ועלו משם refers to the sons of Korach ascending from there. Perhaps we could read it as that the mizmorim ascended from there. The idea is that they are stuck there -- and so are present for Rami Bar Bar Chana to hear them -- and yet, they also composed the chapters of Tehillim down there. But these mizmorim ascended upwards, such that people heard them and wrote them down.

If I am right, above, that this is just Rashi saying this, and he is not citing a Midrash Rabba, then my harmonization might work out quite well. On the other hand, one can read R' Eliyahu Mizrachi as referring to a Midrash Rabba. I don't know where this Midrash is, or if he is rather getting it from an interpretation of Rashi's words. I am pretty sure the midrash does not exist. See here for what does. But if it does exist, then we would need to reevaluate.


in the vanguard said...

The Lubavitcher Rebbe has a most beautiful explanation of how the sons of Korach (eventually) survived.

joshwaxman said...

is it this one?



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