Korach’s Downfall, it’s in the Name

In this week’s parsha Korach has a showdown with Moshe.[1] The Gemara[2] says, “A person’s given name expresses his essence.”[3] The letters of Korach’s name are an acronym for his demise. How?

The letter ק alludes to קׅנְאָה, jealously, which is one of the three things that remove a man from this world.[4] Jealousy causes the bones to rot.[5] In fact, the conflict between Yaakov’s sons, the catalyst to the Egyptian exile, was attributed to their jealousy of Yosef’s special coat, which weighed 2 sela.[6] However, jealously of scholars, increases wisdom.[7]

The letter ר alludes to רׅיב which can be translated to mean fight, quarrel, dispute, feud, strife, contention or conflict. Another word that is related to רׅיב is מַחֲלֹקֶת, dissension. The Yalkut Shimoni[8] tells us, “The terrible effects of controversy can be inferred from the words מַכָּה, hit, חָרוֹן, anger, לׅקּוּי, strike, קְלָלָה, curse and תַּכְלׅית, annihilation, whose initials spell the word מַחֲלֹקֶת, controversy.”[9]

Rabbi Jonathan Rietti notes the following:

“That the root word of מַחֲלֹקֶת is חֵלֶק. A מַחֲלֹקֶת starts when one sees only a חֵלֶק, part of the situation. On the other hand, שָׁלוֹם, peace, results when one sees שָׁלֵם, the whole picture.”

Yet, there is one exception to מַחֲלֹקֶת. If it’s for the sake of Heaven, it will yield lasting results while an argument that is not for the sake of Heaven will not yield lasting results.[10]

Shlomo HaMelech advises us, “Do not rush to begin a quarrel.”[11] Whoever persists in a quarrel violates the Torah prohibition of “He should not be like Korach and his assembly.”[12] In addition, he is emulating Korach which leads to hatred, thus violating “Do not hate your brother in your heart.”[13]

Controversy is so destructive that it can endanger lives and even cause death.[14] The Satan plagues people who participate in controversy.[15] However, when arguing, focus on the issue at hand.[16] In certain situations, people can resolve their practical disagreements about the course of action to take by casting lots. Rather than trying to overpower each other, they can settle their quarrel in this peaceful manner.[17]The shortest wording of a complete halachah is, “In a dispute between an individual and many, the law follows the majority.”[18] The whole world exists only in the merit of the one who restraints his mouth in a moment of dispute.[19] One shouldn’t deviate from the local custom of his city if it will lead to dispute.[20] One should always take care to have food in his home, for many family disputes concern the subject of food.[21] Moreover, a slice of dry bread in a home with peace is better than a wealthy house filled with strife.”[22]

The last letter ח alludes to חוּרבָּן, destruction. Both jealousy (קׅנְאָה) and strife (רׅיב or מַחֲלֹקֶת), ultimately leads to one’s destruction.[23]

The Gemara[24] says, “Anyone who sets his eyes upon something that is not his, what he seeks they do not give him and what is in his hand they take from him…”

For instance, Korach wanted to serve as a Kohein and as a result, the ground opened in the formation of a mouth, swallowing him and his entire assembly.[25] [26]

Why specifically a mouth? Shlomo HaMelech answers, “The mouth of the fool brings destruction on himself.”[27] What exactly was Korach’s agenda behind the dispute? It was in order to nullify Moshe’s words.[28]

Korach was foolish for challenging Moshe’s position. His demise teaches us: never start up with a Torah scholar. Why? Because their words are like fiery coals![29] Rabbeinu Yonah[30] explains, “Do not disagree with them (i.e. our sages) and say, ‘I am also intelligent and wise, therefore I can reason just like them.’ You lack their wisdom and your line of reasoning may be incorrect.”

Let’s put our ego aside and focus on reaching our potential, rather than trying to be like someone else that we idolize in our mind. For Avos[31] tells us, “If I am not for myself who [will be] for me?”


  • In memory of Shlomo Avraham Moshe ben Yechezkeil Yosef, Eliyahu ben Mordechai, Mashah Tzivyah bas R’ Shlomo Zalman, Altah Soshah Devorah bas Aryeh Leibush, Chaim ben Shmuel Efraim Zalman, Tuvyah Shlomo ben Naftali Tzvi HaKohein; Yisroel ben Yeshayah, Elisheva Basyah bas Yechiel Ephraim, Leah bas Leib Yehudah, Dovid Pinchas ben Moshe Aharon, Malka Devora Sima bas Meir Nosson, Esther Perel bas R’ Shlomo, Miriam bas Zelig Shaul, Menachem ben Shimon, Menachem ben Zev, Sarah bas HaRav Yisroel, Avraham Yosef ben Meir Dovid, Zushe Yosef ben Shmuel Tzvi, Dovid Tzvi ben Yosef Yochanan, Kayla Rus bas Bunim Tuvia, Dovid ben Uri HaLevi, Dovid Avraham ben Chiya Kehos, Yosef ben Moshe HaLevi and all the other departed souls of our nation.
  • For the complete recovery of Chayah Malka bas Bas-Sheva and among the other sick ones of our nation.

[1] see Bamidbar 16:3, 5-7.

[2] see Yuma 83b; Artscroll Sotah 34b, note 19 and Artscroll Berachos 7b, note 23.

[3] A name reflects the depths of a person’s spiritual nature (Artscroll Sotah 34b, note 19).

[4] Avos 4:21. See also Vilna Gaon in Even Shleimah 3:5.

[5] Mishlei 14:30.

[8] Parshas Korach 16:751 “שנו רבותינו”.

[9] The Medrash states something shocking: “If Jews are worshipping idols, but they live in peace, then in Heaven, the Accuser is not able to indict them” [Bamidbar Rabbah 11:7. In addition, see Sifrei, Bamidbar 42; Shemiras HaLoshon volume 1, Sha’ar HaZechirah, chapter 11 “וכדי לבאר... גדול השלום” and chapter 15 “ואיתא בילקוט”].

[10] see Avos 5:20.

[11] Mishlei 25:8. See also Rashi on Bamidbar 16:12 “וישלח משה וגו'”.

[12] Sanhedrin 110a, deriving this ruling from Bamidbar 17:5.

[13] Vayikra 19:17. see ArtScroll Sanhedrin 110a, note 25.

[14] see Shemiras HaLoshon volume 1, Sha’ar HaZechirah, chapter 15 “וזה לשון”.

[17] Vilna Gaon in his commentary on Mishlei 18:18.

[23] see Rashi on Bamidbar 16:1 “ודתן ואבירם”.

[24] Sotah 9a-b. See also Rashi on Bamidbar 16:7 “רב לכם בני לוי”.

[25] see Bamidbar 16:32.

[26] see Rabbeinu Yonah on Pirkei Avos by Rabbi David Sedley, page 282.

[28] see note 24.

[29] see Avos 2:10.

[30] see Rabbeinu Yonah on Pirkei Avos by Rabbi David Sedley, page 117.