In a letter to his students (Mikhtav M’Eliyahu, pp. 304 – 306), the venerated mashgiach of Yeshivat Ponovezh (1892 – 1953), R. Eliyahu Dessler makes a noteworthy comment on the Torah section of Korach.
In introducing his comment, R. Dessler cites a parable mentioned by R. Hai Gaon in his responsa (13): “There is a parable about a lion who wanted to eat a fox for his dinner. The fox said to the lion, ‘What good can I be to you? I will show you a very fat human being whom you can kill and you will have plenty to eat.’ There was a pit covered with branches and grass and behind it sat a man. When the lion saw the man, he said to the fox, ‘I am afraid this man may pray and cause me trouble.’ The fox said, ‘Nothing will happen to you or to your son. Maybe your grandson will have to suffer for it. Meanwhile you can eat and be satisfied; until your grandson comes along, there is still plenty of time.’ The lion was persuaded and ran towards the man. He fell into the pit and thus was trapped. The fox came to the edge of the pit and looked down. The lion said, ‘Did you not tell me that the punishment would only come upon my grandson?’ ‘Your grandfather may have done something wrong and you are suffering for it,’ replied the fox. ‘Is that fair?’ asked the lion. ‘The father eats sour grapes and the children’s teeth ache?’ ‘So why did you not think of that before?’ replied the fox.”
It is not for no reason, R. Dessler argues, that the great R. Hai Gaon quotes in his responsa what seems to be no more than a children’s fable. There is actually an important message in this which relates to the Torah section of Korach.
R. Dessler notes: “We know that Korach was a very intelligent man and a great man, one of those chosen to carry the holy Ark. With him were two hundred and fifty heads of the Sanhedrin in the great generation which had received the Torah at Mount Sinai. How could they accuse Moses and Aaron of ‘taking them out of a land flowing with milk and honey’ – Egypt? Had they enjoyed the ‘milk and honey’ of Egypt? Had they not seen with their own eyes how Israel was enslaved in Egypt, how they were beaten and persecuted, their children slaughtered or buried alive in the walls of buildings? And all Israel joined in this cry, not only the mixed multitude of Egyptians and others who accompanied them. After all, in the desert they had all they needed. How could they present such a foolish argument, implying that they had been better off in Egypt?”
R. Dessler goes on to point out: “We must understand that even the views of the most intelligent people cannot be trusted when their personal desires block the truth. Not only does their intelligence not keep them from erring, but they use their intelligence to mislead others into accepting their foolish conclusions as if they were based on the most rigorous logic….Maybe this is one of the lessons which R. Hai Gaon wanted to teach us with his parable. The lion, king of the beasts, fell into the fox’s trap simply because he was attracted by the sight of some fat meat. His desire prevented him from seeing what he afterwards realized was the truth.”
R. Dessler concludes: “If we take a clear look at our own times, we shall see that those who run blindly after material things lose touch with the truth….But a critical person can soon distinguish between wisdom and foolishness. In the mind of one who is guided by faith in the Torah, ‘the fear of sin comes before wisdom.’ If G-d is near to him in his heart and G-d’s Torah is his delight, he will not easily fall into the traps laid for him by his desire.”
May we all learn a lesson from the lion and the fox and as it relates to Korach and may we all not allow our desires to overpower our reasoning.