Rabbi Avraham Gordimer  
Rabbi Avraham GordimerRabbi Avraham Gordimer

In the course of presenting the genealogy and census of B’nei Yisrael (the children of Israel) in Parshat Pinchas, the Torah tells us, “And the children of Korach did not die.” (Bamidbar 26:11) Explaining how they survived the calamitous event of being swallowed up by the earth along with their father and his crew, Rashi cites the Talmud in Sanhedrin (110A) that Korach’s children had misgivings (“hirhurei teshuva”) for having been involved with their father’s rebellion, and they therefore merited to be saved and were miraculously provided with some type of elevated platform to remain upon when they descended with their father and his crew into the earth, such that they did not sink deep into the ground and were saved.

In contrast with Korach’s children, the children of Datan and Aviram, the main co-conspirators in Korach’s rebellion, were swallowed up in the earth and perished. There is no record of these people having done teshuva and being spared. Why the difference? Why did Korach’s children have hirhurei teshuva and the children of Datan and Aviram apparently expressed no remorse?

An attitude of defiance toward Moshe Rabbeinu and support for Korach’s insurrection on the part of the children of Datan and Aviram seems evident, for the Torah recounts in Parshat Korach that “Datan and Aviram exited and stood at the entrances of their tents, with their wives and children” (Bamidbar 16:27), whereupon the Tanchuma (cited by Rashi) and Targum Yonatan ben Uziel explain that Datan and Aviram came out of their tents to brazenly engage in blasphemy (with their families by their sides).

It appears that the wives and children of Datan and Aviram did not object to the conduct of Datan and Aviram and were in a sense culpable by association and support of these men’s evil words and actions. This incident further compels us to ask why the children of Korach disassociated from their father’s evil campaign, whereas the children of Datan and Aviram did not do so. (Korach’s wife was another story; Chazal tell us that she was a major source of instigation in Korach’s rebellion.)

Despite what some people might assume, prior to his uprising, Korach had been a man of great Torah prominence. The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabba ibid., s. 3) relates, “Korach was a great sage and was a bearer of the Aron (the Holy Ark).” The Radal elaborates that all those who bore the Aron were eminent talmidei chachamim, great Torah scholars. It is clear that prior to his rebellion, Korach was a towering spiritual figure.

In contrast, we have no such record regarding Datan and Aviram, whose backgrounds were quite different than that of Korach. Chazal (our Sages) tell us that the two Jewish slaves who were engaged in a violent fight in Mitzrayim (Egypt), broken up by Moshe, and who thereupon informed Pharaoh about Moshe’s killing the Egyptian who was beating a Jew, resulting in Moshe nearly being executed (Shemot 2:13-15), were none other than Datan and Aviram. So too, Chazal relate that it was Datan and Aviram who accosted Moshe and Aharon and wished bad upon them for their having confronted Pharaoh to demand that he free B’nei Yisrael, which resulted in hardship for the people (ibid. 5:20-21), and we are also told that the individuals who violated Hashem’s command by leaving Mann (Manna) overnight (ibid. 16:20) were Datan and Aviram.

Furthermore, it is clear from the words of the Torah and Chazal that the interactions of Korach and of Datan and Aviram with Moshe were quite different; Korach spoke in grand platitudes with false notions of holiness as he launched his rebellion, and he made outlandish allegations against Moshe – whereas Datan and Aviram addressed Moshe head-on with vile contempt and sheer chutzpah (e.g. Bamidbar 16:12-14).

Please now imagine the examples set at home for the children of Korach and for the children of Datan and Aviram. Before his insurgency, Korach was an illustrious Torah personality. Growing up prior to his rebellion, Korach’s children undoubtedly were exposed to powerful positive influences; although Korach’s children initially went along with his rebellion and only reconsidered their support of it at the last moment, they had absorbed an adequate dose of proper Torah values to inspire them to withdraw from their father’s misguided and sinful campaign of usurpation. Furthermore, even when engaging in his malicious rebellion, Korach remained a bit more dignified and did not stoop to the base and course level of expression as that of Datan and Aviram; Korach’s previous Torah stature continued to rub off somewhat on his personality, and the upbringing of his children during his tenure as a distinguished Torah leader clearly affected them for the long term.

In contrast, the children of Datan and Aviram were exposed to their fathers’ patterns of negative actions from the start. Although every person has free will, the children of Datan and Aviram were subjected to repeated negative examples by their father and lacked a sufficient amount of positive stimuli to cause them to instinctively reject the malicious ways of their fathers.

This is why Korach’s children harbored feelings of remorse for having been involved with their father’s rebellion and were therefore spared punishment, and why the children of Datan and Aviram did not follow the ways of Korach’s children.

A few crucial lessons emerge from this all. Firstly and quite obviously is the impact that parents’ conduct has on their children. When children are raised in strong Torah homes and they see their parents’ unwavering commitment to Torah over the course of many years, it impacts and is likely to exert influence even if the parents later veer off the path. We have witnessed how the children of fellow Jews who left Torah observance often continue to follow the Torah, due to their years of proper Torah training, despite their parents’ later actions. But when children witness their parents doing that which is wrong, particularly as a long-term way of life, it is far rarer for the children to stick to the right path.

Another lesson is the incredible impact that positive exposure to Torah can have, even if the person is also absorbing messages that are antithetical to the Torah. One never knows if a moment of inspiration will be fondly recalled later and will make an important future impact. Countless stories abound of people who experienced one or two highly inspirational events, which eventually changed their lives.

While we obviously do not seek to emulate the examples of Korach or of Datan and Aviram, let us recognize the difference between them and appreciate the stark impact of positive exposure to Torah, which can win the day in the face of the most adverse of opposing forces.

Rabbi Avraham Gordimer is Chairman of the Rabbinic Circle of the Coalition for Jewish Values, serves on the editorial board of Jewish Action magazine and a staff writer for the Cross-Currents website. He is a member of the RCA and NY Bar, and an account executive at a large Jewish organization based in Manhattan