The Earth Opened its Mouth and Swallowed Them Measure for Measure
And the human knew Eve his woman and she conceived and bore קַיִן (qayin), Cain, and she said, “I have got me, a man with YHWH.” And she bore as well his brother הֶבֶל (hevel), Abel, and Abel became a herder of sheep while Cain was a tiller of the soil. And it happened in the course of time that Cain brought from the fruit of the soil an offering to YHWH. And Able too had brought from the choice firstlings of his flock, and YHWH regarded Abel and his offering but He did not regard Cain and his offering, and Cain was very incensed, and his face fell…. And Cain said to Abel his brother, “Let us go out to the field.” And when they were in the field Cain rose against Abel his brother and killed him. And YHWH said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” And he said,“I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” And He said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cry out to me from the soil. And so, cursed shall you be by the soil that gaped with its mouth to take your brother’s blood from your hand.” And Cain said to YHWH, “My punishment is too great to bear” (Genesis 4:1–11).
“From the filth [injected into Eve by the primordial serpent] Cain came forth and killed Abel the shepherd, of whom it is written: For he is but flesh (Genesis 6:3). בְּשַׁגַּם (Beshagam), for (ibid.), is Abel, and he killed him, as is known. However, בְּשַׁגַּם (beshagam), for, [he is but flesh. Let his days be a hundred and twenty years] is certainly [a hint to] Moses and he was firstborn of the [primordial] human [בְּשַׁגַּם (beshagam), for, is numerically equivalent to מֹשֶׁה (moshe), Moses, see BT Ḥullin 139b].
And with all this, for the sake of covering the nakedness of his father, Moses took the daughter of Jethro to be his wife. Of Jethro, it is written: And the sons of the Kenite, the father-in-law of Moses (Judges 1:16)—this has already been explained [see Sifrei Bemidbar, Be-Ha’alotekha, 78; Shemot Rabbah 27:7; Mekhilta Yitro, Amaleq, 1; Tanḥuma, Shemot, 11; cf. BT Bava Batra 109b; Zohar 3:215b (RM)]. Why was Jethro called Kenite? Because he detached himself from Cain, as is written: And Heber הַקֵּינִי (ha-qeni), the Kenite, had separated from קַיִן (qayin), Cain (Judges 4:11)” (Zohar 1:28b, Tiqqunei ha-Zohar).
“And they taught about Jethro: Why is his name called ‘Kenite?’ Because הַקֵּינִי (ha-qeni), the Kenite, had separated from קַיִן (qayin), Cain (Judges 4:11). The Holy Lamp [Rabbi Shim’on son of Yoḥai] rose and said: Therefore it is said: קָנִיתִי (Qaniti), I have got me, a man with YHWH (Genesis 4:1), for [Eve] saw through the Holy Spirit that in the future [Jethro’s] sons would sit in the Chamber of Hewn Stone [meeting place of the Sanhedrin, see BT Sotah 11a]” (Zohar 3:215b, Ra’aya Meheimna Pineḥas).
“He who sheds human blood by humans [his blood will be shed] (Genesis 9:6)—that very man himself. The one slain will kill the one who killed him, according to ‘Because you drowned [them], they drowned you…’ (M Avot 2:7). Thus Abel killed Cain in the days of Moses, and the death of Korah by swallowing, measure for measure, is known. Like Korah, test and demand with warp and woof and you will find a wondrous secret [i.e., comb the fabric of the text (Numbers 16:1) lengthwise and breadthwise. Cf. M Kil’ayim 9:8; BT Sanhedrin 110a]” (Rabbi Menaḥem Tsiyyoni, Sefer Tsiyyoni, 82, Qoraḥ):
וַיִּקַּח קֹרַח בֶּן יִצְהָר בֶּן קְהָת בֶּן לֵוִי (Va-yiqaḥ qoraḥ ben yitshar ben qehat ben levi), and Korah son of Izhar son of Kohath son of Levi, and Datham and Abiram sons of Eliab and On son of Peleth sons of Reuben, took up, and they rose before Moses, and two hundred fifty men of the Israelites, community chieftains, persons called up to meeting, men of renown. And they assembled against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, “You have too much! For all the community, they are all holy, and in their midst is YHWH, and why should you raise yourselves up over YHWH’s assembly?” And Moses heard and fell on his face…. The ground that was under them split apart, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households and every human being that was Korah’s, and all his possessions (Numbers 16:1–4, 32)—קַיִן (qayin), Cain; הֶבֶל (hevel), Abel.
“‘Rabbi Akiva said: The company of Korah has no share in the world that is coming. Rabbi Eli’ezer said: YHWH kills and gives life, brings down to Sheol and raises up (1 Samuel 2:6)’ (M Sanhedrin 10:3). Our Rabbis taught: for it is said, And the earth covered over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly (Numbers 16:33)—this is Rabbi Akiva’s view. Rabbi Yehudah son of Batira said: They are as a lost article, which is sought, for it is said, I have wandered like a lost sheep. Seek Your servant, for Your commands I did not forget (Psalms 119:176).
Korah took (Numbers 16:1). Resh Laqish said: He took a bad bargain [or: purchase] for himself, being plucked out of Israel [קֹרַח (qoraḥ), Korah, puns on קֵרֵחַ (qereaḥ), baldness]. Son of יִצְהָר (yitshar), Izhar (ibid.)—a son who incensed the whole world with himself as the [heat of] צֹהַרִים (tsoharim), noon. Son of קְהָת (qehat), Kohath (ibid.)—a son who קֵהֶה (qeheh), set on edge, the teeth of his progenitors [i.e., who disgraced his parents]. Son of לֵוִי (levi), Levi (ibid.)—a son who joined the לְוָיָה (levayah), retinue, of Hell. Then why not say too ‘son of יַעֲקֹב (ya’aqov), Jacob,’ [implying] a son who עַקָב (eqev), marched, himself into Hell?—Rabbi Shemu’el son of Rabbi Yitsḥaq answered: Jacob supplicated for himself [not to be counted amongst Korah’s ancestors], as is written, In their council let me never set foot, their assembly my presence shun (Genesis 49:6): In their council let me never set foot—the spies [in no case is the genealogy of the spies traced to Jacob (Rashi)]; their assembly my presence shun—to the company of Korah. דָתָן (Datan), Datham [Korah’s ally], (ibid.)—stepped over the דָת (dat), law, of God; אֲבִירָם (Aviram), Abiram (ibid.)—stoutly refused to repent; אוֹן (on), On (ibid.)—he sat in אֹנינוֹת (oninot), lamentations; פֶּלֶת (pelet), Peleth (ibid.)—פֶּלֶאוֹת (pele’ot), wonders, were done for him [since he abandoned the conspiracy, and was miraculously saved from its fate]; son of רְאוּבֵן (reuven), Reuben—a son who רֵאָה (re’ah), saw, and הַבִין (havin), understood.
Rav said: On son of Peleth was saved by his wife. She said to him, ‘What does it matter to you? Whether the one [Moses] remains master or the other [Korah] becomes master, you are but a disciple.’ He replied, ‘But what can I do? I have taken part in their counsel, and they have sworn me [to be] with them.’ She said, ‘I know that they are all a holy community, as is written, For all the community, they are all holy (Numbers 16:3). Sit here, and I will save you.’ She gave him wine to drink, intoxicated him and laid him down within [the tent]. Then she sat down there at the entrance and loosened her hair. Whoever came [to summon him] saw her and retreated.
Meanwhile, Korah’s wife joined [the rebels] and said to him [Korah], ‘See what Moses has done. He himself has become king; his brother he appointed High Priest; his brother’s sons he has made the vice High Priests. If terumah is brought, he decrees, Let it be for the priest; if the tithe is brought, which belongs to you [being a Levite], he orders, Give a tenth part thereof to the priest. Moreover, he has had your hair cut off [in accordance with the purification rites of the Levites (see Numbers 8:7)], and makes sport of you as though you were dirt; for he cast his eyes on your hair [i.e., he is envious].’
He said to her, ‘But he has done likewise!’ She replied, ‘Since all the greatness was his, he said also, Let me die with the Philistines! (Judges 16:30) [this was used proverbially to denote readiness to suffer, so that others might suffer too—Moses, retaining all the greatness himself, did not mind shaving his own hair off, seeing that he had caused all the rest to do so, thus depriving them of their beauty]. Moreover, he has commanded you, Set [fringes] of indigo wool [in the corners of your garments (see Numbers 15:38)]; but if there is virtue in indigo wool, then bring forth indigo wool, and clothe your entire academy with it.’
Thus it is written, Every wise woman has built her house (Proverbs 14:1)—wife of On son of Peleth; and Folly with her own hands destroys it (ibid.)—Korah’s wife” (BT Sanhedrin 109b–110a).
“Come and see: The Levites, who come from the side of Judgment, are not purified until their hair is removed, as is written: Thus you shall do to them to purify them: sprinkle on them expiation water and have them pass a razor over all their flesh (Numbers 8:7). And in order for them to be further assuaged, the priest, who comes from the side of Ḥesed, must elevate them, as is written: Aaron shall make of the Levites an elevation offering before YHWH (ibid., 11)….
Rabbi Yitsḥaq said, ‘The greatest of all Levites was Korah, whom the blessed holy One made below corresponding to the pattern above, calling him קֹרַח (qoraḥ), Korah…. He is קֵרֵחַ (qereaḥ), bald (Leviticus 13:40). When Korah saw his head hairless and saw Aaron bedecked with royal adornments, he felt belittled and was jealous of Aaron [cf. Tanḥuma, Qoraḥ 3; Tanḥuma (Buber), Qoraḥ 6; Bemibar Rabbah 18:4]. The blessed Holy One said to him, ‘I made you corresponding to the pattern above. You do not wish to ascend among those above? Go down and be among those below!—as is written: and they go down alive to Sheol (Numbers 16:30). What is Sheol? Hell, where the wicked cry out and no one has compassion on them. Yet they are destined to ascend and be revived when the blessed Holy One awakens His people and revives them, as is written: YHWH kills and gives life, brings down to Sheol and raises up (1 Samuel 2:6)” (Zohar 3:49a).
“Every conflict that is for the sake of heaven is destined to endure, while any conflict not for the sake of heaven is not destined to endure. Which conflict is for the sake of heaven? The conflict between Hillel and Shammai. Which conflict is not for the sake of heaven? The conflict of Korah and his entire band” (M Avot 5:17, cf. Liqqutei Moharan 64:4).
“In the act of Creation a conflict arose between left and right, and in that conflict aroused by the left, Hell emerged, clinging there. The central pillar, who is the third day, entered between them, mediating the conflict, reconciling the two sides. Hell descended, left merged in right, and peace prevailed over all [cf. Zohar 1:87a].
Similarly the conflict between Korah and Aaron was left against right. Moses, contemplating the act of Creation, said, ‘It is fitting that I mediate the conflict between left and right.’ He endeavored to reconcile them, but the left was unwilling, and Korah stiffened his resistance. He [Moses] said, ‘Hell must certainly join in the heat of the conflict of the left. Since he does not want to join above, merging in the right, he will certainly descend below by the intensity of his rage.’ Korah did not want this conflict to be harmonized by Moses because it was not for the sake of heaven; he cared nothing about the supernal glory and denied the act of Creation. As soon as Moses saw that he had denied the act of Creation and been thrust outside, Moses became very angry (Numbers 16:5). Moses became very angry because they had denied the act of Creation. Korah denied everything above and below, as is written: who strove against Moses and Aaron as part of Korah’s band when they strove against YHWH (ibid. 26:9), below and above. So he joined what befitted him [i.e., Hell, Sheol].
A conflict arrayed as above, ascending, not descending, established rightly, is the conflict of Hillel and Shammai. The blessed holy One mediated between them, harmonizing them. This was a conflict for the sake of heaven, so Heaven [Tif’eret] mediated the conflict, and upon this conflict the world was established. This resembled the act of Creation, whereas Korah totally denied the act of Creation, disputing heaven, seeking to deny the words of Torah. He certainly adhered to Hell, so there he clung. This secret appears in The Book of Adam. When darkness aroused, it aroused intensely, thereby creating Hell, clinging to it in that conflict. As seething fury subsided, conflict of a different type arose: a conflict of love. There were two conflicts: one, beginning; one, ending. This is the way of the righteous: beginning harshly, ending gently [cf. BT Qiddushin 30b]. Korah was the beginning of the conflict: seething in wrath, he was compelled to cling to Hell. Shammai was the end of the conflict, when wrath subsides and one must arouse the conflict of love and be reconciled by heaven” (Zohar 1:17a–b).
“Composers of collections (Ecclesiastes 12:11)—those who enter and sit assembled in assemblies, declaring what is impure [to be] impure, and what is pure [to be] pure; what is impure in its place, and what is pure in its place.
Should a man think to himself, ‘Since the House of Shammai declare impure and the House of Hillel declare pure, so-and-so forbids, and so-and-so permits, how then shall I learn Torah? Therefore it says [And God spoke] all these words (Exodus 20:1).
Given from one Shepherd (Ecclesiastes 12:11)—one God created them. One Leader gave them. The Master of Deeds, May He be blessed, spoke them. Therefore make of your heart chambers and chambers and bring into it the words of the House of Shammai and the words of the House of Hillel, the words of those who declare impure and the words of those who declare pure” (Tosefta Sotah 7:12, cf. Job 22:22; BT Ḥagigah 3b; Bemidbar Rabbah 14:4).
“One who sees a crowd says, ‘Blessed is He who knows secrets. Just as their faces are different one from the other, so are their opinions different one from the other” (JT Berakhot 9:1, 13b).
“Within Torah is power of the right, as is said: from His right hand, a fiery law for them (Deuteronomy 33:2), and left is included in right. Whoever makes right left, and left right, is as if he destroys the world.
Come and see: Aaron is right; Levites are left. Korah sought to change right into left, so he was punished. Furthermore, he possessed the לָשׁוֹן הָרַע (lashon ha-ra), evil tongue, and he was punished entirely.
Rabbi Yehudah said, ‘Left is always included in right. Korah sought to change the arrangement of above and below, so he was eliminated from above and below.
Korah took (Numbers 16:1). What is meant by took? He took evil counsel for himself. If anyone chases after something that is not his, it escapes him; and what is more, he loses what he has. Korah pursued that which was not his; he lost his own without attaining the other [cf. Tosefta Sotah 4:19; BT Sotah 9b; Bereshit Rabbah 20:5; Mishnat Rabbi Eli’ezer 18, p. 334].
Come and see: The world exists only by peace. When the blessed Holy One created the world, it could not endure until peace came and settled upon all. What is it? Sabbath, which is peace of those above and below. Then the world endured. And whoever quarrels with it will be eliminated from the world [cf. M Avot 1:18]” (Zohar 3:176a).