Datan and Aviram - then and now

Datan and Aviram had a history of opposition to Moshe long before they joined Korach, but were punished only then. There is a lesson here.

Rabbi Shlomo Sobol ,

Rabbi Shlomo Sobol
Rabbi Shlomo Sobol
INN: Daniel Malichi

There are two famous – or shall we say: infamous - figures in the history of the people of Israel - the duo Datan and Aviram. In this week’s parsha they are explicitly mentioned as having joined the controversy of Korach and his cohorts. Moshe Rabbeinu tries to to call them to persuade them to repent, but they refuse to meet with him, claiming: "Is it not enough that you have brought us out from the land flowing with milk and honey (Egypt) (now you want) to kill us in the desert!”

As is well known, the end of Datan and Aviram was the same as the end of Korach and his associates “and they went (fell) down and all that they had…and the land covered them."

However, the sages identify Datan and Aviram as sinners and rabble rousers in other places in the Torah, although their names are not explicitly mentioned there. For example: Datan and Aviram were shotrim (policemen) in Egypt whose task was to enforce the Egyptian decrees on the Jewish nation. The Medrash tells that when Moshe Rabbeinu killed an Egyptian who struck a Jewish slave, Datan and Aviram were the ones who informed Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, about Moshe, which caused Pharaoh to want to kill Moshe, and he was forced to flee to Midyan.

Another example is when Dathan and Aviram publicly opposed Moshe when he came to Pharaoh to ask that the children of Israel be let out of Egypt. As they said to Moshe: "May G-d look upon you and judge you for you have made our very scent abhorrent in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of his servants to place a sword in their hands to kill us.”

Also, when the nation stood at the foot of the Red Sea before it split, Datan and Aviram were the ones who complained against Moshe "What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Did we not say to you in Egypt “Desist from this (taking the Jews out of Egypt) and let us be slaves in Egypt?."

There are even those who say in the name of the Midrash that, during the Exodus from Egypt, Datan and Aviram actually did not want to leave with the rest of the nation. In the end they regretted their decision and left and the Red Sea split for them again.

When G-d sent down the manna to the people of Israel, and Moshe told the nation that the it should be eaten all on the same day and not left over for the next day, Datan and Aviram were the only ones who attempted to leave their manna over for the next day. They were punished the next morning; their manna was still there but filled with rot and worms.

And finally, by the sin of the spies, Datan and Avitam took an active role. They caused the nation to revolt by saying, "Let us turn around and return to Egypt."

Having enumerated all the exploits of the two, how can we understand the fact that Datan and Aviram remained alive for so long until they joined forces with Korach? How did they not die earlier when they had sinned so many times?

This fact seems to suggest that Datan and Aviram were “ideological sinners”. Their arguments and rebellion against Moshe were not because they wanted power for themselves, but because they were men of truth, and they thought and felt that Moshe was acting and doing things which were not for the good of the people of Israel. They loved the nation and wanted the best for them. Even before the Exodus from Egypt, they thought that Moshe's demand of Pharoah to let the Jews leave Egypt was causing damage and aggravating the situation.

Even when Moshe killed the Egyptian they thought it would only increase the conflict between the Egyptians and the people of Israel. Even after the Exodus, which they did not want at all and so they stayed in Egypt, they constantly tried to persuade the Israelites to return to Egypt and live there under Pharaoh. They thought it was better for the people of Israel than to go to war.

Datan and Aviram were willing to suffer a personal price to live according to their truth how to do good to the people of Israel. Back in Egypt they were policemen and beaten by the Egyptians to protect the people of Israel. And later they were willing to suffer and rebel against Moshe in order to live according to their faith.

Of course, despite the above, Datan and Aviram were in fact punished and swallowed by the earth together with Korach, because they acted against Hashem, Moshe and Am Yisrael. Because their behavior stemmed from the love of Israel, despite their immense mistakes, God did not kill them earlier. This is to teach us that someone who loves the people of Israel, no matter if what he does to show that love is wrong, is seen in a positive light because, the very desire to do Israel good is a great virtue.

Are things related to what we have been going through lately in our beloved country? The answer to that rests with G-d.

Rabbi Shlomo Sobol is the head of the Barkai Rabbinical Organization and the rabbi of the Shaarei Yonah Menachem community in Modi'in.



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