This weeks Parsha is Parshas Korach. In the beginning of the Parsha we read the story of the uprising of Korach. Korach, who was a very prominent member of the tribe of Levi, was very jealous of the positions of authority held by Moses and Aaron. He started a rebellion against them, until he was miraculously swallowed up alive into the ground with his family and followers. At the height of his rebellion, Korach gathered against Moses the entire congregation at the entrance of the Tabernacle (Numbers 16:19). Hashem told Moses and Aaron “Separate yourselves from this group and I will destroy them in a minute”. (16:21) They fell on their faces and said “G-d of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin and You will be angry with the entire assembly (16:22)? Subsequently, Hashem punished Korach, his followers Dassan and Aviram, and their families.
What was the answer to the question of Moses? If in truth only Korach was the sinner, why was Hashem angry at the entire Jewish people? If the entire people had sinned, what did Moses mean by saying that only one person had sinned?
Nachmanidies quotes Rabbinu Chananel who explains that Hashem was explaining to Moses that He never meant to say that the entire Jewish people should be destroyed. Rather, He meant to say that the entire group of Korach would be destroyed. Nachmanidies disagrees, and says that the three people Korach, Dassan, and Avirom could not be considered a “group” (verse 21). Rather, he explains that although the Jews were originally behind Moses, when Korach spoke to them he managed to create a doubt in their minds that maybe he was right, and that the priesthood would be taken back from Aaron. For this, they were deserving to be destroyed, as the Sages teach us that one who questions his leader or Rebbe, (in this case Moses) is as if he has questioned the Divine Presence (Shechina). Moses pleaded to Hashem that the Jews still shouldn’t be punished, for in actions or deeds only Korach had sinned.
Rav Moshe Sternbuch offers another explanation. Even if the Jews hadn’t doubted Moses, the very fact that they heard Korach denigrate him and didn’t protest, was a sin. The Sages tell us that if one hears a Torah scholar being shamed and doesn’t protest, will also be punished for disgracing the Scholar. Moses pleaded on their behalf that since they hadn’t been the ones to actually disgrace him, they shouldn’t be accountable as much as Korach. This is why Moses warned them immediately after he pleaded on their behalf, to separate themselves from Korach. He was scared that if they remained anywhere near Korach they would be still considered to be part of his sin.
The responsibility that we have to speak up when people say something wrong, is clearly brought out here. We certainly don’t want to be held accountable for the wrong viewpoints of others. While we always look for peace and unity, that does not dictate allowing Scholars to be denigrated, or Judaism to be misrepresented.