Question: Is there any connection between Korach and Shabbat Rosh Hodesh (when the 1st day of a Jewish month occurs on Shabbat)?
Answer: Hmm – interesting. Korach and Rosh Chodesh don’t seem that obviously connected, but the Torah is one; every part is connected to every other. So I asked some others, and my daughter suggested the following, which I thought was a beautiful idea:
Rosh Chodesh was actually the first commandment given to Israel at the very creation of the nation, in Egypt: “This month shall be for you the first of the months… (Exodus 12(2))” Our sages understand that this verse includes the mitzvah of arranging the months and the calendar.
Chodesh in Hebrew means New (“chadash”). Every month we have a new moon, every month represents a new beginning with new opportunities. Rosh Chodesh is a good time to make plans, new resolutions: there are those who say special prayers Erev Rosh Chodesh, to take note of the chance to restart and redirect. Ambitious people want to grow; they don’t want to stand still.
Newness is an exciting opportunity, but one that carries risks as well. We also want to hold on to what we have accomplished already. Unless things are so disastrous that a brand new start is the only way, we generally want the growth to work within the framework of what we have.
On to Korach. Korach was a great person. The Midrash says that he was one of the nos’ei ha’aron, one of the group of Levites that carried the Ark of the Covenant! A very select group indeed. But, spiritual as he was, Korach felt that he could do more. He wanted to rise higher still.
That’s not a bad thing at all. But it has to take place within a framework. Holiness means, to connect to G-d. It’s not just about me.
Korach couldn’t handle that. He couldn’t see any room for further growth in the system, so he demanded that the system get out of his way. If he’s holy enough to be a Levi, why can’t he be a Cohen as well? His desire to grow blinded him to the fact that there are rules, that a relationship based on G-d is going to depend on G-d’s wishes.
The remarkable thing is that there was a way for him to achieve his goals. Rashi’s commentary quotes the Midrash: Korach, keenly perceptive, knew that a descendent of his was going to be successful. That was Samuel, the prophet. Our sages make an amazing statement about Samuel: that he was equal to Moses and Aharon put together (Berachos 31b).
Those sages also say that Samuel was a nazir, a nazir for life. Now a nazir is something like a high priest (see Ramban). He is forbidden to drink wine, as a cohen may not drink wine and serve in the Mishkan. He is forbidden to ever touch the dead, even very close relatives – exactly like the high priest.
And Samuel was also a Levi, but he grew up as a servant of Eli, the high priest. He had that intense drive for holiness and for growth, but it came through working within the system.