Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis
Rabbi Ephraim Mirvisטוויטר

The Talmud recognises the power of humour and therefore recommends that whenever one is giving a talk, a presentation or a sermon, one should commence with ‘milta debdichuta’ meaning something lighthearted, something funny – tell a joke. In that way, people will be relaxed and they’ll be comfortable to hear what you have to say.

That is something that Korach appreciated. People often ask how is it possible that Korach could have staged his rebellion thinking that it might succeed? After all, there was no need for democracy in the wilderness – Moshe and Aharon had been appointed by none other than Almighty God himself!

An even greater question is: How could Korach convince 250 leaders of the people to follow him?

The answer is that he did it with humour.

The Midrash explains the opening words of the parsha (Bamidbar 16:1),

“Vayikach Korah,” – “Korach took.”

What he took, according to the Midrash, was a tallit, and he displayed it to those who had been assembled. He showed them the ‘ptil techeliet’ – the blue cord. As a result of the tzitzit, the Jewish people can wear the garment.

But then he posed a question to Moshe: what happens if you have a garment which is ‘kulo techeilet’ – the whole garment is blue? Does it require the tzitzit? Moshe answered that of course it does, and then Korach and the assembly burst out laughing.

Next Korach said, “Well, what about a mezuzah?” Thanks to a mezuzah at the entrance to a room, that room is now kosher for us to live in, but what happens if you have a room in which there are sifrei Torah, holy books? The mezuzah just has one paragraph and here the room is full of them – does that room require a mezuzah? Moshe said yes, and again they burst out laughing.

Of course they didn’t appreciate the real essence of the mitzvot of tzitzit and mezuzah but Korach purposefully ridiculed Moshe in order to bring people behind him, to make them relaxed so that they would be willing to hear his message.

So from Korach let us remember how positive, constructive and delightful humour can be, but let’s also recognise how sometimes it can be abused and can be a danger to our society.

Shabbat shalom.