Parshat Korach recounts the rebellion of Korach and his followers and the terrible punishment Hashem meted out to them. Yet we know as stated in Parshat Pinchas, that the sons of Korach repented and did not die.
Hashem elevated them above the flames of
where they composed psalms. The
Hegyonah shel Torah
asks, when did the sons of Korach do
? Why were they swallowed up if they repented? Why is their repentance recounted in Parshat Pinchas rather than in Parshat Korach when it actually happened? Why not state
they did not die?
If they were in
, how did they have descendants? When did they compose the psalms?
Rav Yonason ben Uziel explains that the sons of Korach did not join him in the rebellion and therefore all the other questions are moot, except for why their not dying is first mentioned in Parshat Pinchas. Rav Munk responds that the sons of Korach's survival is mentioned there rather than here, because Parshat Pinchas discusses the division of the land and his sons inherited their portion not through Korach but through their maternal grandfather.
The ArtScroll Tehillim cites Rashi's and the Yalkut Shimoni's interpretation. While Korach's sons originally joined their father's rebellion, when they saw Moshe passing by, they decided it was more appropriate to rise in the presence of a Torah scholar than to continue to accord their father the honor. This created a spark of repentance within them. The caption for one of their psalms invokes an appropriate metaphor for their salvation: "Lamnatzeach ... For the Conductor on the Shoshanim, on the roses." The rose, Korach's sons, were surrounded by the thorns of Korach and his assembly. It was necessary to burn the thorns and pluck the roses from the inferno of gehinom. But the rose, in order for it to flourish must raise its head toward the sky, and man, to do proper repentance, must train his heart toward heaven. As the Letitcha Elyon says, Hashem waits for the slightest stirrings of awakening, but it must then be followed with true teshuvah. While we can tap into a closeness with Hashem at any time, we must reach out to grasp Hashem's extended hand, writes Rav Shach.
If the sons of Korach could do teshuvah at that last moment, why didn't everyone else follow? The Ohr Doniel, citing Rav Schwadron, offers a tremendous insight into human behavior. It is hard to improve. Sometimes we tell ourselves that when we hit bottom, when we are at the gates of Hell, we will repent. But we see that if one has not already done some work and prepared himself for improvement, he will be unable to maintain his resolve and extricate himself from a dangerous spiritual, or even physical, situation. But thoughts themselves have transformative powers, even before being articulated, writes Rabbi Pliskin. Science validates how thoughts can immediately affect our emotions, even before being articulated in words. If thoughts of teshuvah are so powerful, how transformative is full teshuvah! Nevertheless, according to Rabbi B. Firer, because they did not articulate their teshuva, it was still of a limited nature.
Both the Ksav Sofer and the Taam Vodaath note that if you were the cause of other people sinning, you are accountable for their sins even if you yourself repent. The Bnei Korach didn't try to influence others to repent and this lapse kept them in gehinom. We all have a responsibility at least to pray for others even if we cannot help in a substantive way.
Rav Pincus notes that when Korach's sons were in the abyss, Hashem created a bubble for them protecting them from the fire. Similarly, we too must shield ourselves and our children from negative influences. Men primarily create this protective bubble through the study of Torah, while women attain this through modesty.
According to Re'em, when Bnei Korach were in the abyss, they declared, "Moshe emet v'Torato emet ... Moshe is the true [leader] and his Torah is true, and we are liars." . The commentators note that they were granted a short reprieve during which time they fathered children, and then they returned to the abyss. (There is an interesting custom on Simchat Torah that when the men sing Moshe emet ... they raise the children high to counteract the pull of the abyss that Korach and his group fell into.)
The Sifsei Chaim points out that the soul, as a reflection of The Holy One Whose seal is truth, recognizes truth. Falsehood derives from imagination and fantasy. Korach fantasized that he was the leader of Bnei Yisroel, and when he descended to the world of truth, his soul too recognized the truth. As the Maharal notes, gehinom is not a place, but the horror one experiences when one sees his potential and realizes how far short he came to realizing it.
This is what the Torah implies when, at the end of creation, Hashem sees that everything He had made was very good. According to Chazal,"good" refers to the Angel of Life, while "very" refers to the Angel of Death. Life clothes the soul in physical garments that obscure truth. Upon death, the soul sheds its physical garments and is clothed in spiritual garments. The righteous are fully clothed and not embarrassed. The totally evil are naked, for they have no spiritual merits in which to clothe themselves. Those who have some mitzvot are partially clothed with their merits, and repentance can add merits. The stirrings of teshuvah are glimpses of the truth. The sons of Korach merited a spot in gehinom from which they glimpsed enough of the truth that they were able to build on it and sing praises to Hashem. They saw that teshuvah was so powerful they could pull themselves up out of the abyss.