June 19, 2014
This week’s parsha tells us of the first major organized rebellion against Moses and Aaron from within the Jewish camp. It also teaches us about the motivations which hid behind them. Let us look at one of Rashi’s comments.
Verse 5. as a reminder for the children of Israel, so that no outsider, who is not of the seed of Aaron, shall approach to burn incense before the Lord, so as not to be like Korah and his company, as the Lord spoke regarding him through the hand of Moses. ה. זִכָּרוֹן לִבְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לְמַעַן אֲשֶׁר לֹא יִקְרַב אִישׁ זָר אֲשֶׁר לֹא מִזֶּרַע אַהֲרֹן הוּא לְהַקְטִיר קְטֹרֶת לִפְנֵי יְהֹוָה וְלֹא יִהְיֶה כְקֹרַח וְכַעֲדָתוֹ כַּאֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר יְהֹוָה בְּיַד משֶׁה לוֹ:
Rashi: so as not to be like Korah: Heb. וְלֹא יִהְיֶה כְקֹרַח, lit. and there shall not be like Korach. In order that there shall not be like Korah.
Rashi inserts his words ‘kdei sheh’ in place of the Torah’s one letter ‘vav’. Then he continues with the Torah’s words, “And he will not be as Korach.” This means that he is guiding us away from a misunderstanding.
The words “And he will not be as Korach” can have several different meanings:
1. And he shall not be as Korach (a command).
2. And there will not be like Korach (in the future – a promise).
3. So that he will not be as Korach (an explanation of purpose).
Rashi rejects the first two options and has chosen the last – “so that he will not be as Korach. “
Only the third option corresponds to the context of the verses. In verse 3 Moses is told to take the fire pans and save them as a “sign” for the Children of Israel. Verse 5 refers to them as a memorial “in order that no stranger, who is not of the seed of Aaron, shall offer incense etc.”
Rashi tells us that the words ‘lma’an asher’ “in order that” of verse 5 must also be applied to our verse. It is as if the Torah says “in order that a stranger shall not offer … and so that he not be as Korach…” This explains the purpose of the fire pan memorial.
This comment teaches us something very important in understanding Biblical Hebrew. The letter ‘vav’ is usually translated as “and” but in fact it has several possible translations. In addition to “and,” it can also mean:
The letter that transforms a verb from the past tense to a verb in the future tense and vice versa. Example: yomar means “he will say” while va’yomar means “he said.”
“So that” as in our case.
“Or” as in “mekallel aviv v’imo mot yumat” which means “He who curses his father or (not ‘and’) his mother will be put to death” (Exodus 21:17).