Have You Ever Been Told Judaism doesn’t Believe in Hell?, פרשת קרח, Parashat Korach, Bits of Torah Truths


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Parashat Korach provides us with a story of a power struggle between Moshe, Aaron, and Korach, Datan, Aviram, and Reuben. Moshe had heard Korach and these men were upset, claiming that Moshe and Aaron had made themselves to be kings due to their overseeing the services in the Tabernacle. As a result, Moshe calls them to come and talk, the Torah states the following according to Bamidbar / Numbers 16:12-13, יב וַיִּשְׁלַח מֹשֶׁה לִקְרֹא לְדָתָן וְלַאֲבִירָם בְּנֵי אֱלִיאָב וַיֹּאמְרוּ לֹא נַעֲלֶה: יג הַמְעַט כִּי הֶעֱלִיתָנוּ מֵאֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבַשׁ לַהֲמִיתֵנוּ בַּמִּדְבָּר כִּי-תִשְֹתָּרֵר עָלֵינוּ גַּם-הִשְֹתָּרֵר: [שני] יד אַף לֹא אֶל-אֶרֶץ זָבַת חָלָב וּדְבַשׁ הֲבִיאֹתָנוּ וַתִּתֶּן-לָנוּ נַחֲלַת שָֹדֶה וָכָרֶם הַעֵינֵי הָאֲנָשִׁים הָהֵם תְּנַקֵּר לֹא נַעֲלֶה: 16:12 Then Moses sent a summons to Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab; but they said, ‘We will not come up. 16:13 ‘Is it not enough that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to have us die in the wilderness, but you would also lord it over us? 16:14 ‘Indeed, you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor have you given us an inheritance of fields and vineyards. Would you put out the eyes of these men? We will not come up!’ (NASB) Here Moshe calls for these men, and they respond to Moshe’s request making a statement of putting out their eyes? This does seem a bit extreme. What does this mean? The Hebrew text uses the word כרם which translates as either “vineyard” or if the root word is כרה it could also mean “to dig” or “mine.” This then may be translated as “should you gouge out those men’s eyes?” (וָכָרֶם הַעֵינֵי הָאֲנָשִׁים הָהֵם) or as the NASB has translated the text as “to put out the eyes of these men.” Rashi on Bamidbar / Numbers 16:12, in Part 1 and 2 of his commentary, interprets Moshe’s words to be those of seeking peace between Datan and Aviram and the priesthood. Their response was “we will not ascend” (לֹא נַעֲלֶה). There is a lot of significance to the word for ascending. The ascension is paralleled to Moshe going up the mountain of Sinai to draw near to God. The rabbis derive much meaning behind the statement of either to ascend or not to ascend. The rabbinic interpretation is this is a reference to being willing to take upon one’s self the yoke of God’s commands or being unwilling to do so. Here Rashi states that their statement determined their fate, rather than ascending, they would descend to destruction into the depths of the earth (Gehenom or Hell). Chizkuni states that this phrase not to ascend (or “not to go up”) did not mean that Moshe stood upon an elevated platform but was a standard expression when people were asked to appear before a judge. Ibn Ezra states that it was possible the Tent of Meeting was located on high ground within the camp and therefore it was appropriate to use the language of “to go up / ascend.” The alternative interpretation is that this phrase describes the one who is in the service to HaShem or to work in the chosen place (במקום) of God. The disgruntled nature of their complaint about the priesthood follows on the story of their refusing to ascend to the Promised Land and receive the gift of God. Notice also how their response also ridicules what Moshe had portrayed as the nation ascending from Egypt saying, “is this what you call an ascent that you took us from a land flowing with milk and honey and now we are stuck in a desert, a place only fit to die? If this is your idea of an עליה, ascent, improvement in our lot, then no thank you, we do not want any part of it.” (Or HaChaim on Bamidbar / Numbers 16:12 Part 3) In their refusal to ascend, they also added כִּי-תִשְֹתָּרֵר עָלֵינוּ, “your sole purpose is to make yourself a prince over us.” They claimed Moshe’s purpose for Israel was to remain in the desert for a long time as they were dependent upon him and this strengthened his position as an autocrat (a ruler who has absolute power). Midrash Rabbah on Bamidbar Parashat 5 Part 23 states that Moshe’s position as king was in effect only while Israel was in the desert. The people here were allowing their anger and hatred to go unchecked. This caused them to decline the invitation of peace to ascend, to go up, and meet before God to discuss the issues or concerns that they had in regard to what Moshe was establishing. As we can see, anger clouds one’s mind, and blinds one’s eyes. Keeping anger/hatred in one’s heart towards another has devastating consequences based on what we are learning from Parashat Korach. The people’s anger / hatred led their consignment to Hell (Gehenna). This draws out the concept of hatred / anger causing on to be connected to the fires of Hell, and due to their anger / hatred, that sin itself dragged them down into the earth to die as the earth opened up to swallow them alive.

This is what we read according to Bamidbar / Numbers 16:31-33, לא וַיְהִי כְּכַלֹּתוֹ לְדַבֵּר אֵת כָּל-הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה וַתִּבָּקַע הָאֲדָמָה אֲשֶׁר תַּחְתֵּיהֶם: לב וַתִּפְתַּח הָאָרֶץ אֶת-פִּיהָ וַתִּבְלַע אֹתָם וְאֶת-בָּתֵּיהֶם וְאֵת כָּל-הָאָדָם אֲשֶׁר לְקֹרַח וְאֵת כָּל-הָרְכוּשׁ: לג וַיֵּרְדוּ הֵם וְכָל-אֲשֶׁר לָהֶם חַיִּים שְׁאֹלָה וַתְּכַס עֲלֵיהֶם הָאָרֶץ וַיֹּאבְדוּ מִתּוֹךְ הַקָּהָל: 16:31 As he finished speaking all these words, the ground that was under them split open; 16:32 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, and their households, and all the men who belonged to Korah with their possessions. 16:33 So they and all that belonged to them went down alive to Sheol; and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly. (NASB) Moshe said that God was going to do something that has never been seen or done before, due to their anger / hatred. The earth which was underneath them split and they descended into Hell (Gehenna). It is interesting, in the Hebrew text it states וַתִּבָּקַע הָאֲדָמָה “the earth split” and וַתִּפְתַּח הָאָרֶץ אֶת-פִּיהָ “the earth opened its mouth.” In the past we have discussed the differences between the use of the Hebrew words אֲדָמָה and אֲדָמָה. The interesting feature here as a reference to the ground (הָאֲדָמָה) and the land or earth (הָאָרֶץ) these words are being connected to Gehenna / Hell and anger. Nachmanides explains why the Torah had to mention both הָאֲדָמָה and הָאָרֶץ as “opening” in this verse. Had the Torah only written that the ground split open, the phenomenon could have been considered as an ordinary earthquake, although Moses had predicted the time and the place. Therefore, the Torah added the words “the earth opened its mouth” to explain to us that a great miracle, unparalleled, had happened here. This miraculous event had been predicted as a בריאה, a new creation. We are also told that the ground which opened up had returned to its original appearance as distinct from an earthquake which leaves behind clear evidence that there had been an upheaval. (Rabbeinu Bahya, Bamidbar / Numbers 16:31 Part 1) The significance of this Torah portion reveals to us the spiritual dangers of anger and hatred, and its ultimate resting place is in Gehenna / Hell. The text also states וְאֵת כָּל-הָרְכוּשׁ “all their property” disappeared with them, revealing to us that not only the people were destroyed, but all of their belongings including their tents, money, pets, everything was swallowed up, descended into the darkness. The reason these things were also destroyed is due to their potential to become an idol in our lives. The Talmud Bavli Sanhedrin 106 interprets the descent into the earth as being coupled to burning, they were swallowed up in darkness and burned in the fire, which is the definition of Hell. This is derived from Bamidbar / Numbers 26:10 “it swallowed them as well as Korach when the assembly died as the fire consumed the 250 men.” What these things teach us is about how these men who held onto anger were both swallowed up in darkness and consumed by fire. Hatred has the capacity to bring one down to Hell, this is the context Yeshua had when he explained in Matthew 5:21-22.

Matthew 5:21-22
5:21 ‘You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ 5:22 ‘But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. (NASB)

The Torah Portion for this week makes a distinction between love and hate. Love is connected to the God of Israel, to heaven, and hate is connected to Gehenna (Hell). The Zohar Bereshit A.6, reveals to us the reasons for both Gehenna and hatred are coupled together based upon the interpretation on Bereshit / Genesis 1:6-9.

Bereshit / Genesis 1:6-9
1:6 Then God said, ‘Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters, and let it separate the waters from the waters.’ 1:7 God made the expanse, and separated the waters which were below the expanse from the waters which were above the expanse; and it was so. 1:8 God called the expanse heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day. 1:9 Then God said, ‘Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place, and let the dry land appear’; and it was so. (NASB, ו וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי רָקִיעַ בְּתוֹךְ הַמָּיִם וִיהִי מַבְדִּיל בֵּין מַיִם לָמָיִם: ז וַיַּעַשֹ אֱלֹהִים אֶת-הָרָקִיעַ וַיַּבְדֵּל בֵּין הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר מִתַּחַת לָרָקִיעַ וּבֵין הַמַּיִם אֲשֶׁר מֵעַל לָרָקִיעַ וַיְהִי-כֵן: ח וַיִּקְרָא אֱלֹהִים לָרָקִיעַ שָׁמָיִם וַיְהִי-עֶרֶב וַיְהִי-בֹקֶר יוֹם שֵׁנִי: פ ט וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יִקָּווּ הַמַּיִם מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמַיִם אֶל-מָקוֹם אֶחָד וְתֵרָאֶה הַיַּבָּשָׁה וַיְהִי-כֵן:)

The Zhoar speaks metaphorically upon the firmament. The firmament is a division between the waters above and the waters blow. This is visually connected to the Sefirot a graphical picture of the 10 attributes/emanations of God through which He created the physical and the spiritual worlds. The Zohar identifies three forces that permeate all of existence and parallel this to the three pillars of the Sefirot. The central pillar is the binding force which joins the two sides of the Sefirot together. This is metaphorically related to the firmament that separates that which is above from that below, and also describes our lives as having the ability to share (symbolized as the right side) and the ability to receive (symbolized by the left side) and the middle column being our freedom of choice (free will). Using the freedom of choice, we resist the desire to receive (to take) and nurture the desire to share (to give). This concept is drawn out by the Zohar concerning the second day of creation. On the second day of creation, a dispute broke out, when the left side was aroused with this dispute against the right side, the Zohar states that the fire of anger between the two sides was fierce. Kabbalistically, it is said that from this dispute, from this fire of anger, Gehenna was created. Gehenna (Hell) was awakened and created by the left, and the left cleaved to it. This is interpreted as “whoever wants to strengthen the left shall fall into Gehenna which originates from the left.” This is a remarkably interesting Kabbalistic way of interpreting hatred / anger, and its connection being founded upon Hell itself. The concepts presented here in the Zohar describe these two sides (love and hate) and how there is the need for an intermediary to make peace.

James 3:6
3:6 And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell. (NASB)

Matthew 5:22
5:22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. (NASB)

James’ comment that the tongue is “the very world of iniquity” may be an allusion to the upper worlds in the sefirot where the left/right as they are being described in the Zohar. Yeshua also speaks of the danger of pride that may be puffed up in Bina (knowledge) which leads to the danger of jealousy and anger and when these things are completed one descends into the fire of hell. The Zohar states that an intermediary came along on the third day (Tiphareth, Beauty) and brought peace between the two sides ending the dispute between the left and the right. The Kabbalistic interpretation continues saying, as the intermediary made peace between the two sides, Gehenna (Hell) removed itself from the left and descended below, the left joined the right and there was peace everywhere. It was because of the power of disagreement, of anger, that Gehenna clinged (cleaved) to the left. This has a direct application to this week’s Torah portion Parashat Korach (Bamidbar / Numbers 16:1-18:32) where Korach did not want to ascend, to go up to the Lord, to be attached to that which is above, he refused to take upon himself the structure of holiness that God had laid out according to the Torah. So like the left, he joined himself with anger and Gehenna cleaved to him. This interpretation provides us with a reason why these things happened in the way that they did to Korach and those who joined with him. Because of their anger / hatred, those who joined themselves with this went down to Sheol (to the grave) descending into Gehenna (into Hell). Because of hatred / anger, one will be transformed by the fires of hell, just as James and Yeshua are stating according to the Scriptures regarding the dangers of the tongue, and pride, and hatting others, and its consequences. This is opposed to loving one another and loving even our enemies. Moshe, the intermediary of God, attempted to settle the dispute between Korach and the priesthood by calling them to ascend, to raise up and come into the presence of the Lord. Their anger led to their separation from God and ultimately to their deaths. We can see the parallels here as Anger drives one to be unbalanced, becoming heavy on the left (unrighteousness) as opposed to the right (love, righteousness, holiness, and truth).

The point of this week’s Torah portion is to help us understand that we should flee from anger and hatred. The Kabbalistic interpretation on the firmament causing a separation, our freedom of choice, the division between the left and the right (i.e. the creation account on the waters above from the waters below), Heaven and Gehenna (Hell), this teaches us about the need for an intermediary, the Anointed One, the Messiah sent from God! Note how this Messiah is the one who makes peace and prevents us from literally descending into hell! It is easy to see the many NT connections to Parashat Korach and the absolute imperative for us to have love and faith in Yeshua the Messiah for the salvation of our souls. Having Love for one another is the way God established for us to have true peace which is from above. A peace that is from within that is divinely created in our lives to overcome the anger, hatred, and pride in our lives. Yeshua the Messiah on the third day raised from the grave, overcoming these things which lead to death, and by faith He enters into our lives such that we may have His peace within, where both the left and the right, the desire to take, and the desire to give, are brought under His rule, and we live our lives according to His Word, for the glory of the Father in heaven! This week’s Torah portion also provides us with a strict warning against allowing anger and hatred to be cultivated in our hearts. This is connected to forgiving others so that our Father in heaven will also forgive us. (Matthew 6:14) The way of life God has established for us is to trust in God our Father above, believing in Yeshua the Messiah who laid his life down on our behalf, and loving one another as Yeshua has demonstrated for us by example. (John 13:34, John 15:12) All of these things reveal to us how the Torah and the Gospel Message work together, for salvation and life everlasting!