Why did Nachshon and the Other Nesi’im Join the Korach Rebellion?

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by Leonard Grunstein

Nachshon ben Aminadav was a hero, esteemed individual and Leader (Nasi) of the Tribe of Judah. He is renowned for his courage and faith in being the first to jump into the deep waters of the Red Sea, before they were miraculously parted. He was also profoundly human, as discussed below. 

It is shocking to recognize that the Midrash[1]Numbers Rabbah 18:3. places all twelve of the Leaders (Nesi’im) of the Tribes among the members of the two hundred and fifty men, who, deploying fire pans with incense[2]Numbers 16:17-19 and 35, as well as, 17:1-5.0), were incinerated in the Korach rebellion. It is all the more astonishing to realize that, by implication, Nachshon[3]See also Rabbeinu Bachya commentary … Continue reading jQuery('#footnote_plugin_tooltip_51803_2_2').tooltip({ tip: '#footnote_plugin_tooltip_text_51803_2_2', tipClass: 'footnote_tooltip', … Continue reading The Bible does not expressly name those who were among the two hundred and fifty. The Midrash explains this is because their desire to be closer to G-d was not wicked, per se, even though their actions were wrong. However, beyond this amorphous statement, the precise nature of their participation in this notorious event and their motivations present a veritable enigma. 

The Bible documents that Nachshon was born,[4]Numbers 1:7 and I Chronicles 2:10. was the brother of Elisheva, Aaron’s wife,[5]Exodus 6:23. ascended to the leadership of the Tribe of Judah,[6]Numbers 2:3 and 10:14. brought the first sacrifice of the Leaders of the Tribes at the dedication of the Tabernacle[7]Numbers 7:12. and was the ancestor of King David.[8]Ruth 4:20-22 and I Chronicles 2:10-11. It does not otherwise explicitly describe his life, triumphs, travails or likely tragic end. It also does not accord him a speaking part or expressly praise him, as it does Caleb,[9]See Numbers 13:30; 14:24 and 30; 26:65; and 32:12; as well as, Deuteronomy 1:36. See also Joshua 14:6 and 13-14; Joshua 15:13, et seq.; Judges 1:12-14; and I Chronicle 2:18, et seq. his successor as leader of the Tribe of Judah.[10]Numbers 13:6 and 34:18-19. Neither was he provided a dispensation from the judgment of the Sin of the Spies,[11]See Numbers 14:30, 26:65 and 32:12, as well as, Deuteronomy 1:35-36. as was Caleb. He passed away in the desert, with the rest of that generation, sometime in the second year after the Exodus.[12]Seder Olam Rabbah 12.

Despite his prominent and heroic role in the miraculous parting of the Red Sea, the Bible[13]Exodus 14:1-31. does not mention his presence, let alone his exploits there. It is left to the Talmud[14]BT Sota 36b-37a. and Midrash[15]Mechilta D’Rabbi Yishmael 14:22. to record how he was a seminal figure in this miraculous event. He is reported to have been the person who jumped in first, into the deep water, nearly drowning and precipitating the miracle of the splitting of the Red Sea. It does not appear that anyone urged him to jump in or that he consulted with Moses or anyone else; he just unilaterally decided to do so. Interestingly, these accounts do not expressly describe anyone immediately following in his wake.[16]Cf. Pirke D’Rabbi Eleiezer 42:1, which describes how the Tribes of Binyamin and Judah were arguing about who would go first, when Nachshon, who was known as holy and great in the eyes of everyone, … Continue reading Rather, the emphasis is placed on how G-d told Moses to cut his prayers short, lift his rod to part the Sea and save his beloved,[17]The Hebrew term used in the Midrashic account is Yedidi (Cf.Talmudic account, which uses the plural Yedidii, i.e.: with an extra yud). The word choice is interesting. It didn’t, for example, say my … Continue reading a reference to Nachshon.[18]This is the opinion of Rabbi Yehudah. Rabbi Meir appears to disagree about Nachshon being the first to jump into the water. He described the Tribe of Benjamin entering the Red Sea first and being … Continue reading His depiction, as being out front, in the deep water alone, where no one followed him, is cogent. There is no question that he was courageous; however, was he also reckless and an ineffective leader? What was the point of getting ahead of everyone, just jumping in and leaving everyone else behind? Seeing Nachshon bobbing around in the deep water and nearly drowning[19]See BT Sota 37a, as well as, Mechilta D”Rabbi Yishmael 14:22. could not have been a genuine confidence builder. Moreover, absent G-d’s miraculous intervention, he might have drowned, which would have deterred, rather than encouraged, the Jewish people moving forward and crossing the Red Sea, safely. The Bible[20]Exodus 14:31, as interpreted by Onkelos. reports the people looked to Moses (not Nachshon) and believed in G-d and the prophecies of his servant Moses.

Nachshon was rewarded for his personal heroism at the Red Sea, by being honored with bringing the first sacrifice at the dedication of the Tabernacle.[21]See Numbers Rabbah 13:7 and Ohr HaChaim commentary on Numbers 14:12. Interestingly, in the Biblical verse describing the event,[22]Numbers 7:12. he is not referred to by the title of Nasi, as are the other Tribal Leaders. His distinction was personal courage. The lacuna implies that there was more to the story. Consider, something must have been amiss to precipitate his shortly being replaced[23]See also Nachmanides commentary on Numbers 30:2. by Caleb, as head of the Tribe of Judah. It does not appear he had a particularly praiseworthy or distinguished career of positive accomplishments[24]Interestingly, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, in his book, Vision and Leadership (at page 45), discusses Judah’s leadership qualities in contrast to those of Joseph. In this regard he references … Continue reading as a Nasi. Indeed, to the contrary, his tenure as Nasi was problematical. It was marred by the catastrophic events summarized below and, as insinuated by the Midrash, his role in the Korach Rebellion.[25]Numbers 16-18. Cf. the Gra commentary on Seder Olam Rabbah 12, discussed below, as well as, the Pri Tzadik, Sefer Kedushat Shabbos, Ma’amer 6, by Rav Zadok HaKohen Rabinowitz of Lublin, who instead … Continue reading  

The miraculous Exodus from Egypt and parting of the Red Sea presaged an intense and tempestuous period of approximately two and one-half years.[26]See Seder Olam Rabbah 8. During this compressed time frame, the Torah was given at Mount Sinai;[27]Exodus 19-20. the Sin of the Golden Calf occurred;[28]Exodus 32-33. the Sin of the Complainers [29]Numbers 11. and Graves of Desire ensued; the Tabernacle was built and dedicated [30]Leviticus 9.; a war was fought with Amalek and won [31]Exodus 17:8-16.; the Sin of the Spies [32]Numbers 13-14. that doomed the generation of the Wilderness unfolded; and the Korach Rebellion [33]Numbers 16-17. erupted and failed. Nachshon passed away some time during this period [34]The Tabernacle was dedicated two years after the Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 40:1). According to the Gra, in his commentary on Seder Olam Rabbah 12, Nachshon passed away approximately one month later, … Continue reading. He appears to have participated in many, if not all, of these events; playing a positive role in some, like the Tabernacle and, tragically, a negative one in others 

Tosafist, Rabbi Joseph ben Isaac [35]Bechor Shor commentary on Exodus 32:2. See also Daat Zekeinim commentary thereon., provides a most interesting back-story on the Sin of the Golden Calf that sheds light on Nachshon’s personality. It seems that Aaron contemplated appointing Nachshon, Caleb or one of the other greats at the time to be the interim leader, until Moses returned from Mount Sinai. He hoped this would assuage the dread that had taken hold of the people about who would be their leader, if Moses failed to come back. This would have likely avoided the entire debacle of the Golden Calf that emerged instead. However, Aaron second-guessed himself. He presumably knew his brother-in-law Nachshon well and yet, he felt Nachshon would not have voluntarily stepped down when Moses returned. Similarly, Caleb and the other putative leaders he might have selected. He reasoned it was better to avoid the controversy and resentment it would have generated and bloodshed that would have ensued. 

Chizkuni [36]In his Chizkuni commentary on Numbers 7:2. expresses a somewhat similar concern in explaining why Nachshon was not called a Nasi, when he was honored with bringing the first sacrifice of the Tribal Leaders, at the dedication of the Tabernacle. He posits that if Nachshon had both been called Nasi and received the prestigious honor of being first, then he would have lorded it over the other Tribal Leaders [37]The Sifrei (Bamidbar 47) posits Nachshon was not also honored with the title Nasi, when bringing the first sacrifice of the Tribal Leaders in the Tabernacle, in order to prevent him from insisting, … Continue reading. It is hard to imagine the most humble Moses [38]Numbers 12:3. or Aaron acting similarly. Nevertheless, this appears to have been a genuine concern in relation to Nachshon. 

It is suggested there is also the issue of his recklessly putting himself in danger at the Red Sea, which is not an admirable quality. The Talmud [39]BT Kiddushin 39b and Shabbos 32a. cautions a person against risking peril in reliance on miracles. Curtailing the predisposition to be courageous from turning into hubris and impulsive and reckless conduct is no mean achievement. It requires constant vigilance, practiced self-control and judicious restraint; made all the more difficult, because it often seems counter-intuitive, given the typical acclaim showered on those displaying bravery. 

Rabbi Menachem Azariah of Fano [40]In his work, Gilgulei Neshamot, Letter Aleph, under Elizur ben Shedeiur. See also Rav Hayyim Vital’s Sha’ar HaGilgulim 33:4, where he links Nachshon to Avihu and also to love of G-d. recounts how it is well known that Nachshon sanctified G-d’s name by plunging up to his nose into the surge [41]In the original Hebrew: ‘nachshol’ and, hence, his name Nachshon. See also Numbers Rabbah 13:7. of the waters of the Red Sea. However, he goes on to point out there is no saint on Earth who only does good acts and has not also sinned [42]At the same time, Nachshon is also portrayed as the spiritual ancestor of Otniel ben Kenaz (Gilgul Neshamot, Letter Ayin, under Otniel ben Kenaz), who is the first of the Judges mentioned in the Book … Continue reading

Nachshon’s unrestrained courage and resolve, the very force of his personality that ennobled him, may have also negatively affected his judgment and put him in harm’s way. The difference between the positive expression of the character trait of bravery and the negative impulse of hubris is often, in practice, just a matter of degree. The Talmud [43]BT Shabbos 156a. notes and Maimonides [44]Maimonides, Mishne Torah, Hilchot Deot. explains, our inborn character traits are neutral; they may be sublimated in pursuance of a higher purpose or misused. Thus, a person who has an otherwise ruthless killer instinct can, with the right motivation, become a gifted surgeon, excellent butcher or talented mohel. As discussed below, Nachshon’s unrestrained courage and zeal and his unbridled love of G-d [45]See also Rav Hayyim Vital’s Sha’ar HaGilgulim 33:4., may have fueled his impulse to pursue a more intimate, intense and boundless connection to the Divine [46]To appreciate the depth of his overwhelming need and courageous nature, consider, this was despite the very real risk of fatal consequences ensuing from rejection, as experienced by his own nephews, … Continue reading, despite it being inappropriate under the then prevailing circumstances. 

This is not intended to detract from the extraordinary character of Nachshon, who was a true hero. Rather, it is an attempt to draw on sources to provide insights into what might have motivated him to join, rather than utterly reject, the Korach rebellion. Given his unabashed bravery at the Red Sea and love of G-d, he might have been expected to balk at participating in a rebellion against those selected by G-d to serve. Indeed, the Meshech Chochma [47]Meshech Chochma commentary on Numbers, Korach 8 (regarding Numbers 16:17). asserts Nachshon tried to talk his fellow members of the elite two hundred fifty into walking away from Korach; but they demurred. They refused to listen to his good counsel because they presumed he was biased, as Aaron’s brother-in-law. 

The Shelah [48]Shelah (Shnei Luchot HaBrit), Torah Shebichtav, Numbers, Parshat Korach, Torah Ohr 11. He explains that all twelve Tribal Leaders were included in the two hundred and fifty and were the same … Continue reading is not so kind. He expresses astonishment that such high caliber individuals, as the Tribal Leaders, including Nachshon, participated in the Korach uprising. After all, they all had personally witnessed, with their own eyes, the great miracles that G-d had wrought. He wonders how they could just reject the venerable leadership roles entrusted to them, in order to pursue some personal quest for more power and the perception of a greater exalted position.

 The Shelah goes on to single out Nachshon, who was supposed to embody the role of leader of the entire nation entrusted to Judah. He asks rhetorically, could Nachshon have actually intended to profane himself this way? It is inconceivable he would have such sordid motives. To the contrary, as noted in the Talmud [49]BT Bava Batra 91a, cited by the Shelah, it was Nachshon’s merit, which sustained his progeny. Why then did Nachshon throw in his lot with the rebels; why didn’t he courageously follow his own unique path? What motivated him and the other Tribal Leaders to participate in the Korach Rebellion?

According to the Shelah, Nachshon and the rest of the group of two hundred fifty had virtuous intentions. They wanted to be holy. They reasoned they weren’t trying to rebel against G-d; but rather desired more fully to embrace G-d and holiness. They wondered why it was that only Aaron and his sons were involved in these holy ritual activities and not them? They thought this was only because Moses had used his unique position and access to G-d to implore and pray to G-d to appoint his brother and nephews to these roles [50]Ironically, coveting someone else’s position as a means of achieving sanctity is itself sanctimonious. Genuine holiness is not some perk earned merely by assuming some position or function. That … Continue reading. However, this only begs the question of why this obsession with being personally and intimately involved with the performance of sacred rituals performed by the Kohanim? What was it that they were actually trying to achieve? They already had wonderful and meaningful jobs as leaders; why aspire to become what was in essence a functionary in the Tabernacle? What did they hope to gain?

It is suggested they sought these positions because they mistakenly believed that proximity to the holy spatially and in terms of function would yield them a closer connection to the Divine presence and facilitate their readily attaining Ruach HaKodesh. They loved G-d and craved the exhilaration and euphoria felt while being engaged in Ruach HaKodesh. Nachshon [51]Yalkut Shimoni on Torah 736:6. and those like him, who had been among the Seventy Elders [52]Numbers 11:16. The term used in the Biblical verse is Zekeinim. appointed expressly for the purpose of receiving the prophetic flow from the Divine presence, must have felt this need particularly acutely. It would appear no coincidence that after they found themselves peremptorily removed from its nurturing radiance, because of the Sin of the Spies, they sought to contrive a way to get back into its loving embrace.

 The Meshech Chochma [53]Meshech Chochma, Beha’alotcha 55. provides an extraordinary insight into the nature of this need, in his analysis of the precipitating cause of the incident of the Graves of Desire. He notes it occurred after the Kohanim and Levites [54]Numbers 8. were separated out from the rest of the Cildren of Israel, for service. As a result, others felt disconnected from the ultimate completeness of being connected to the Divine. They, therefore, thought why not overindulge in physical delights, without restraint? To counter this mistaken belief and show that it was possible for everyone to connect to the Divine presence, seventy of the elders of Israel (Seventy Elders) were selected and shared in the spiritual flow of the Divine presence, with Moses. This public display was intended to inspire people to want to attain this same esteemed and true status of enjoying Ruach Hakodesh [55]As more fully discussed herein, the process of actually attaining Ruach Hakodesh is no easy task. The visible spectacle of Seventy Elders enjoying Ruach Hakodesh was, in essence, a form of … Continue reading

However, as the Shelah [56]Shnei Luchot HaBrit, Torah Shebichtav, Korach, Torah Ohr 11. notes, the two hundred fifty men, including Nachshon, died in the process of seeking a connection to the Divine, because, despite otherwise being great people, they craved this status in order to satisfy their desire for personal honor. Their misjudgment was analogous to a similar fatal error made by another set of otherwise great people, Nachshon’s nephews Nadav and Avihu [57]It’s noteworthy that despite the horrible result of Nadav and Avihu each taking a fire pan and performing the sacred ritual of burning incense, the two hundred fifty were willing to repeat what … Continue reading

In essence, they wanted to attain Ruach Hakodesh and its benefits the easy way, by appointment to the position. They didn’t seem interested in earning it the hard way, as anyone might, by fully satisfying the rigorous standards and strictly following the process outlined in the Mishna [58]Mishna Sota 9:15., Talmud [59]BT Avodah Zara 20b and JT Shekalim 14b. and Midrash [60]Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:1:9.. It is a most arduous program, as described in detail in the Ramchal’s Mesilat Yesharim, a practical guide to achieving this goal. Nachshon and his colleagues may have felt unbridled love for G-d and wanted to connect with the Divine presence, however, the means they chose to achieve this goal was fundamentally inconsistent with this exacting program. It required restraint and respect for boundaries, which are essential to achieving holiness. Their very participation in the Korach revolt was indicative of the very opposite. Cultivating humility is also an essential part the process. As the Talmud [61]Ibid. notes, humility may be an even more critical element in achieving Ruach HaKodesh, than holiness. Humbleness, though, was a character trait Nachshon and the others appeared to be sorely lacking.

Having fear of sin and awe of G-d is also an essential part of the program and these qualities would typically tend to engender feelings of unworthiness and uncertainty. This would appear to be another deficiency in their approach, given their audacious, immodest and unreserved attitudes that enabled them to believe they were entitled to have Ruach HaKadosh. They, in effect, brazenly demanded reconnection with the Divine and eschewed any pretense of humble submission. They reasoned, if only they could play a role in the Tabernacle service, in proximity to the Divine presence, they would ecstatically be basking in its radiance. The arrogance, sense of entitlement and overindulgence demonstrated by the two hundred fifty in their approach to the Divine was eerily similar to the misguided efforts of Nadav and Avihu. It was antithetical to achieving true holiness and an anathema in terms of attaining Ruach HaKodesh. Being holy and attaining Ruach Hakodesh did not require being present in the holy precincts or performing holy rituals as a pre-requisite. Indeed, as Nadav and Avihu demonstrated, it might also be a serious impediment, since their proximity exposed their every character flaw. 

Everyone can be holy [62]Numbers 19:6. and the Bible [63]Leviticus 19:2. urges us to do so. However, achieving holiness is no easy task. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch [64]Hirsch commentary on Leviticus 19:2. explains it is all about mastery of our powers and natural tendencies and sublimating them to the higher purpose of emulating G-d’s ways. He posits that character traits, from the most spiritual to the most sensual, are not inherently bad or good. Rather, it is how they are applied in practice, to foster positive goals and avoid violating limits designed to prevent negative outcomes, which determine the person’s actual nature. 

Rabbi Hirsch agrees with Nachmanides [65]Ramban commentary on Leviticus 19:2. that the existential state of being holy is achieved by acting judiciously and with restraint in the realm of what is otherwise permitted [66]Rav Hirsch discusses the application of this fundamental principle of refined behavior primarily in the context of relationships with parents, the Sabbath, purity of belief in G-d and business and … Continue reading and not already expressly prohibited. Thus, it’s not about avoiding consumption of non-kosher food or engaging in prohibited relationships, which are expressly forbidden. Rather, as Nachmanides notes, it relates to not being gluttonous when eating kosher foods, lecherous with a spouse [67]Illustrating this concept with the image of a rooster constantly hovering over the chickens, as noted in BT Brachot 22a. or guzzling kosher wine. Similarly, even though the Bible [68]See also Rambam, Mishne Torah, Hilchot Deot, Chapter 5. does not expressly prohibit using vulgar language, holiness requires avoiding such abusive speech. 

Being holy is all about, in effect, separating [69]This is Nachmanides’ novel interpretation of the Hebrew term ‘Perush’ (separation), which is often equated with ‘Kodesh’ (holiness). from overindulgence in or abuse of those things that are otherwise permissible, by establishing boundaries that honor the spirit, not just the letter of the law.  The essence of being holy is not so much about doing something in particular; rather, it is about what should not be done. It’s about exercising restraint [70]C.F. Maimonides (Sefer Hamitzvot, Shoresh 4), who defines being holy as performing all the Mitzvot. . Nachmanides encapsulates this concept in a pithy phrase loosely translated, as a person should not be ‘a scoundrel with the permission of the Torah’ [71]His expression in the original Hebrew is: “Naval B’Reshut HaTorah” .. It’s a most laudable principle; but, unfortunately, it’s often only honored in the breach. 

It appears that the twelve Tribal Leaders, including Nachshon, were not guided by this kind of concern for the propriety of their actions in their obsessive pursuit of reigniting their prior spiritual connection to the Divine presence. As a result of the Sin of the Spies, they no longer received this special benefit, effortlessly, by virtue of their appointment to the Seventy Elders. They sorely missed the euphoric state it produced that was akin to intoxication [72]See Rav Shimon Schwab, Mayan Beit HaSoevah, Shemini, commentary on Leviticus 9:1.. Like the rest of the two hundred fifty, they craved such a connection, almost like an addiction, without pre-conditions and boundaries. It was not for the benefit the nation; but rather for their own personal enjoyment [73]As to Nadav and Avihu, see Chizkuni (in his commentary on Leviticus 10:1), who notes they also compounded their errors by engaging in the unsanctioned Temple ritual solely for their own personal … Continue reading. It is also submitted that it was not tempered by awe of G-d [74]Exodus 24:11 and see Haemek Davar commentary thereon.

The analogous experience of Nadav and Avihu can help elucidate what motivated them and how this all occurred. Rav Shimon Schwab describes how Nadav and Avihu breached barriers out of their abundance of love for G-d; unlike Moses and Aaron, who understood the need for restraint and following the rules. The enjoyment of spiritual rewards can be every bit as seductive and captivating as physical delights [75]See also Rav Nachman of Breslov, Likutei Moharan, Torah 41:1, who presents a darker view of this desire, as being rooted in the Yetzer Hara, as opposed to being a misguided desire to overindulge the … Continue reading. Zealously pursuing them leads to the same kind of inability to be satisfied, because the desire for them is also insatiable [76]Ibid and see BT Makkot 10a (cited by Rav Schwab) and Maharsha commentary thereon. See also Ecclesiastes 5:9 and Rashi commentary thereon, as well as, Deuteronomy Rabbah 2:26.. As the Sefat Emet [77]Sefat Emet, Shimini 636, s.v. B’Shem and B’Mishna. soberly notes, we are not supposed to become slaves of G-d for the purpose of receiving reward. It is noteworthy that the Mishna in Avot [78]Avot 1:3. The teaching is also recorded in in BT Avoda Zarah 19a, without the reference to Yirat Shamayim. See also Avot D’Rabbi Nathan 5:1, which contains the reference to having Yirat Shamayim … Continue reading, which records this teaching, also goes on to say that the fear of heaven should be upon us. The Bartenura explains that serving G-d out of love is insufficient; G-d must also be served out of awe [79]The Bartenura notes love, absent awe, promotes a tendency to focus only on the performance of the positive commandments and ignore the negative ones. On the other hand, serving solely out of fear … Continue reading. It’s the combination that enables a more complete devotion to Divine service. In essence, both these strong emotions must be applied in balance in order to achieve completeness [80]See also JT Sota 25a, which notes that serving out of awe diminishes the tendency to reject.

The Midrash [81]Sifra, Shemini, Mechilta D’Milluim 2:32. describes how Nadav and Avihu, in their joyful exuberance, came to add love to love, by adding their own fire to the heavenly one and introducing their own ritual service, as an addition to the one directed by G-d. However, G-d told us how to worship. It requires not just love of G-d [82]Ahavat Hashem., but also awe of G-d [83]Yirat Hashem.. Unbridled enthusiasm, reckless abandon and exuberance are not characteristic of the restraint associated with awe of G-d. Neither is arrogance [84]See Leviticus Rabbah 20:10 and Pesikta D’Rav Kahanna 26:9, which refer to them also arrogantly and irreverently feasting their eyes on the Divine presence. To put this in perspective, consider, in … Continue reading

Nadav and Avihu experienced the Divine presence [85]See BT Brachot 17a, which describes the spiritual bliss, which G-d bestows on the righteous in heaven, as sitting with crowns on their head and enjoying the radiance of the Divine presence (Ziv … Continue reading at Mount Sinai. It was an overpowering feeling that was likened to eating and drinking [86]Ibid.. They were exhilarated by the experience and wanted desperately to renew the euphoria they felt; it was intoxicating. 

After the Sin of the Golden Calf, G-d diminished the ready access to the Divine presence among the people, generally [87]Exodus 33:5.. The Tabernacle was moved to outside the physical encampment of the people and the center of the tangible presence of the Divine spiritual force shifted with it [88]Exodus 33:7-11.. It was there that Moses went visibly to connect with G-d. 

As noted above, after the Sin of the Complainers [89]Numbers 11. , Nachshon [90]Tanchuma, Beha’alotcha, Siman 16 and Yalkut Shimoni on Torah 736:6. However, the Gra would exclude Nachshon, as noted above. According to the Tanchuma, noted above, the original set of 70 Zekeinim … Continue reading and the rest of the Seventy Elders [91]Numbers 11:16. comprised an elite group, who were selected to renew a Divine connection. However, after the Sin of the Spies, when their entire generation, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb, were sentenced by G-d to pass away in the wilderness, they were abruptly cut off from receiving this special spiritual source of nourishment [92]Number 14:22-24.. It appears that they began to suffer from withdrawal and sought once again to achieve that euphoric feeling, by joining in the Korach rebellion to achieve their ends. Much like Nadav and Avihu, they loved G-d and missed the loving feelings they experienced, which were irresistible and not tempered by the proper awe of G-d. It was this lack of restraint and misguided and unbridled enthusiasm that were among the root causes, which resulted in the fatal blunders of Nadav and Abihu [93]They also engaged in a disastrous course of conduct that led to their untimely (Leviticus 10:1-2) and spectacular demise (Sifra, Shemini, Mechilta D’Miluim 2:22-23). They and Nachshon had similar … Continue reading, as well as, the twelve Tribal Leaders, including Nachshon. Despite his many redeeming qualities, he too was seduced, just like his fellow Tribal Leaders. They had all experienced the extraordinary feeling of being connected to the Divine presence, by reason of their appointment to the position. Moses and Aaron seemed to enjoy interacting with the Divine presence regularly and, based on their own prior experience, they incorrectly presumed there was something about their jobs that made it so. Why not then seek a position that emulated this entre to the Divine? After all, didn’t G-d assure them they were all holy [94]Exodus 19:6.

One of the cogent lessons of the two hundred fifty, including Nachshon, is that even the very best people can do wrong, despite having the best of intentions; no one is immune. They were out of control, in the throes of their personal passions and guided only by their impulses. They were also so sure of themselves and Nachshon’s excessive bravery and resolve may have been a real impediment to his exercising sober and independent good judgment, under the circumstances. After all, why didn’t he at least consult with his brother-in-law Aaron about his issue? Why didn’t he and the others seek advice from Moses [95]This was one of the critical mistakes made by Nadav and Avihu, as noted above., their teacher and leader? Moses might have offered them some solace and wise counsel about how best to deal with the situation. Moses’ extraordinary personal example of nobility in the face of being advised of his own fate is legendary [96]See Deuteronomy 31 et seq. and, for example, Ramban, Ibn Ezra and Chizkuni commentaries on Deuteronomy 31:1.. Why didn’t they at least ask Moses to intercede with G-d to provide them with some sort of role that might have afforded them the closer connection to the Divine presence they so desired [97]Moses had no issue with others possessing Ruach Hakodesh, as he demonstrated in the incident of Eldad and Medad, recorded in Numbers 11:26-29. or some other solution to their problem?  Instead, they eschewed any advice and forfeited the opportunity for Moses to help them [98]Nachshon’ nephews, Nadav and Avihu, similarly failed to consult with Moses and also avoided consulting with their father Aaron or even each other, as noted above., by participating in the Korach rebellion. They were not circumspect; they acted with abandon to indulge their impulses. They took outsized risks for what was in essence just an attempt to gratify their personal desires [99]In this respect, it is suggested he also, in effect, abused the entre offered by his position for the satisfaction of his personal desires, not in a representative capacity for the benefit of the … Continue reading

Perhaps, they were caught up in the malaise that infected their generation when they learned of their fate, after the unmitigated disaster of the Sin of the Spies. The people were despondent and G-d was angry with them [100]Numbers 14:11-13.. G-d heard Moses’ impassioned plea [101]Numbers 14:13-19. and, ironically, gave the people the very thing they had asked for [102]Numbers 14:19-23., not to face the challenge of conquering the Land. Instead, they were to wander the desert for 40 years. It was, effectively, a life sentence, without parole, for all adults, over the age of 20 at the time of the Sin of the Spies, other than Joshua and Caleb [103]Numbers 14:30.. The predictable reaction for most was one of depression and despair. Perhaps, Nachshon and the others among the Seventy Elders were even more profoundly affected, suffering from their own unique form of ennui, as noted above. 

The motivation of love of G-d and attachment to the Divine presence is also fraught with danger. Love of G-d may sound noble, but absent awe of G-d, it may just be another exercise in excess and overindulgence. It is interesting to note that in today’s idiom, it would be unusual to praise someone as a lover of G-d. The normative custom is to refer to a righteous individual as G-d fearing. Respect for boundaries, restraint, humbleness and following the commandments are qualities that animate our traditional observance and have proven to be an integral part of the sustainable model of Judaism. Our practical approach to love of and attachment to G-d is to emulate the ways of G-d through acts of kindness and righteous behavior [104]See BT Sota 14a; Berachot 33b (which references Deuteronomy 10:12); and Shabbos 31b. Maimonides, in his Guide for the Perplexed (3:52), explains that love of G-d is achieved through knowledge of the … Continue reading.

May G-d reward all of our noble efforts to achieve true holiness, be G-d fearing and demonstrate our love of G-d through emulating G-d’s ways with success and keep us safe and well. 

 

Endnotes

1Numbers Rabbah 18:3.
2Numbers 16:17-19 and 35, as well as, 17:1-5.0), were incinerated in the Korach rebellion. It is all the more astonishing to realize that, by implication, Nachshon((See also Rabbeinu Bachya commentary on Numbers 16:1.
3See also Rabbeinu Bachya commentary … Continue reading was likely a part of this cabal, as not only one of the Tribal Leaders, but their recognized chief.((Head of the Tribe of Judah (Number 2:3) and deemed the king-like head (Sifrei, Bamidbar 47:1) of all the Tribal Leaders.
4Numbers 1:7 and I Chronicles 2:10.
5Exodus 6:23.
6Numbers 2:3 and 10:14.
7, 22Numbers 7:12.
8Ruth 4:20-22 and I Chronicles 2:10-11.
9See Numbers 13:30; 14:24 and 30; 26:65; and 32:12; as well as, Deuteronomy 1:36. See also Joshua 14:6 and 13-14; Joshua 15:13, et seq.; Judges 1:12-14; and I Chronicle 2:18, et seq.
10Numbers 13:6 and 34:18-19.
11See Numbers 14:30, 26:65 and 32:12, as well as, Deuteronomy 1:35-36.
12Seder Olam Rabbah 12.
13Exodus 14:1-31.
14BT Sota 36b-37a.
15Mechilta D’Rabbi Yishmael 14:22.
16Cf. Pirke D’Rabbi Eleiezer 42:1, which describes how the Tribes of Binyamin and Judah were arguing about who would go first, when Nachshon, who was known as holy and great in the eyes of everyone, jumped in first. It reports that it was through the hand of a son of Judah, Nachshon, that all of Israel entering after them (citing Psalms 114:2, that Yehuda became his holy nation, Israel his dominion). The reference, though, to everyone following is not after ‘him’ (i.e.: Nachshon), but after ‘them’ (i.e.: the members of the Tribe of Judah). This is consistent with the report in BT Sota (36b-37a), noted above, which interprets the verse from Psalms and the one immediately following about the Sea seeing it and fleeing (Psalms 114:2-3), as the reason Judah merited to govern all of Israel. See also Exodus 14:15, which records that G-d said to Moses why cry out to me; tell the people to go forward. This is inconsistent with the view that they moved forward on their own because of Nachshon.
17The Hebrew term used in the Midrashic account is Yedidi (Cf.Talmudic account, which uses the plural Yedidii, i.e.: with an extra yud). The word choice is interesting. It didn’t, for example, say my righteous one, but rather my beloved one. It is suggested the word selected may ironically adumbrate to what caused Nachshon’s undoing. He may have loved G-d more than most and, hence, his jumping at the chance to show his love. However, his singular focus on loving G-d may have been at the expense of his being deficient in Yirat Shamayim (awe of G-d), as more fully discussed below.
18This is the opinion of Rabbi Yehudah. Rabbi Meir appears to disagree about Nachshon being the first to jump into the water. He described the Tribe of Benjamin entering the Red Sea first and being berated by the Tribe of Judah, who claimed this privilege. Nevertheless, it is submitted that both stories could be true at the same time. The Tribe of Benjamin was in the shallows, while Nachshon had already plunged into the deep water, nearly drowning. Depending on the perspective and focus of attention, one person might see one picture before them of many people in the water and entirely miss the detail of a single person in the distance, head bobbing in the waves of the deep water (i.e. both could true. See Midrash Tehillim 114:4). King David also alludes to both these narratives (in Psalms 63:2-3 and 16 and Psalms 68:28), as described and interpreted in BT Sota 37a.
19See BT Sota 37a, as well as, Mechilta D”Rabbi Yishmael 14:22.
20Exodus 14:31, as interpreted by Onkelos.
21See Numbers Rabbah 13:7 and Ohr HaChaim commentary on Numbers 14:12.
23See also Nachmanides commentary on Numbers 30:2.
24Interestingly, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, in his book, Vision and Leadership (at page 45), discusses Judah’s leadership qualities in contrast to those of Joseph. In this regard he references Judah’s lion’s heart and mentions Nachshon as his descendant, who inherited this personality trait, as evidenced by his role at the splitting of the Red Sea. Rav Soloveitchik does not ascribe any other leadership qualities to Nachshon.
25Numbers 16-18. Cf. the Gra commentary on Seder Olam Rabbah 12, discussed below, as well as, the Pri Tzadik, Sefer Kedushat Shabbos, Ma’amer 6, by Rav Zadok HaKohen Rabinowitz of Lublin, who instead place Nachshon among the leaders incinerated in the Sin of Complainers and Graves of Desire.
26See Seder Olam Rabbah 8.
27Exodus 19-20.
28Exodus 32-33.
29Numbers 11.
30Leviticus 9.
31Exodus 17:8-16.
32Numbers 13-14.
33Numbers 16-17.
34The Tabernacle was dedicated two years after the Exodus from Egypt (Exodus 40:1). According to the Gra, in his commentary on Seder Olam Rabbah 12, Nachshon passed away approximately one month later, in the conflagration that engulfed the leaders in connection with the Sin of the Complainers, at Kivrot HaTa’avah (Graves of Desire). This view would also provide a simple explanation for why Nachson was not the Tribal leader of Judah picked by Moses to be a part of the Spies. He had already passed away by then and, by extension, was also not around to participate in the Korach rebellion. However, as noted herein, Midrashic accounts and other commentators disagree with this point of view.
35Bechor Shor commentary on Exodus 32:2. See also Daat Zekeinim commentary thereon.
36In his Chizkuni commentary on Numbers 7:2.
37The Sifrei (Bamidbar 47) posits Nachshon was not also honored with the title Nasi, when bringing the first sacrifice of the Tribal Leaders in the Tabernacle, in order to prevent him from insisting, as the equivalent of a king, that he also be a part of the presentation of each of the sacrifices of the Tribal Leaders.
38Numbers 12:3.
39BT Kiddushin 39b and Shabbos 32a.
40In his work, Gilgulei Neshamot, Letter Aleph, under Elizur ben Shedeiur. See also Rav Hayyim Vital’s Sha’ar HaGilgulim 33:4, where he links Nachshon to Avihu and also to love of G-d.
41In the original Hebrew: ‘nachshol’ and, hence, his name Nachshon. See also Numbers Rabbah 13:7.
42At the same time, Nachshon is also portrayed as the spiritual ancestor of Otniel ben Kenaz (Gilgul Neshamot, Letter Ayin, under Otniel ben Kenaz), who is the first of the Judges mentioned in the Book of Judges (3:9) and the genius credited with deriving the three hundred or more laws forgotten during the mourning period after Moses passed away (BT Temurah 16a).
43BT Shabbos 156a.
44Maimonides, Mishne Torah, Hilchot Deot.
45See also Rav Hayyim Vital’s Sha’ar HaGilgulim 33:4.
46To appreciate the depth of his overwhelming need and courageous nature, consider, this was despite the very real risk of fatal consequences ensuing from rejection, as experienced by his own nephews, Nadav and Avihu.
47Meshech Chochma commentary on Numbers, Korach 8 (regarding Numbers 16:17).
48Shelah (Shnei Luchot HaBrit), Torah Shebichtav, Numbers, Parshat Korach, Torah Ohr 11. He explains that all twelve Tribal Leaders were included in the two hundred and fifty and were the same individuals who brought the Tribal leader sacrifices at the dedication of the Tabernacle. This perforce included Nachshon.
49BT Bava Batra 91a
50Ironically, coveting someone else’s position as a means of achieving sanctity is itself sanctimonious. Genuine holiness is not some perk earned merely by assuming some position or function. That kind of thought process is more likely to yield profanation than holiness. It is also ironic that in zealously seeking to achieve holiness this way, they were thereby undermining its attainment.
51Yalkut Shimoni on Torah 736:6.
52Numbers 11:16. The term used in the Biblical verse is Zekeinim.
53Meshech Chochma, Beha’alotcha 55.
54Numbers 8.
55As more fully discussed herein, the process of actually attaining Ruach Hakodesh is no easy task. The visible spectacle of Seventy Elders enjoying Ruach Hakodesh was, in essence, a form of advertising that might induce some to undertake the process. This was viewed as an example of the principle of Metoch Shelo Lishma Bo Lishma. Undergoing the prescribed and arduous multi-step process of refinement needed to achieve Ruach Hakaodesh is itself a life-changing process. It is calculated to transform the individual into a noble one, perforce having the proper motivation of being in service of G-d and not just seeking personal enjoyment from a spiritually induced high. In this regard, the pre-requisite steps include achieving true holiness, humbleness and fear of sin (BT Avodah Zara 20b).
56Shnei Luchot HaBrit, Torah Shebichtav, Korach, Torah Ohr 11.
57It’s noteworthy that despite the horrible result of Nadav and Avihu each taking a fire pan and performing the sacred ritual of burning incense, the two hundred fifty were willing to repeat what appeared to be the very same mistake. This is particularly so for Nachshon, who personally suffered the loss of his nephews this way and just prior to his bringing the first sacrifice of the Tribal Leaders at the dedication of the Tabernacle. What then were he and the others thinking? Shouldn’t they have been extremely wary of participating in a ritual that had such a terrible history for those who sought to dabble in the holy? The Chizkuni (in his commentary on Numbers 16:33) notes that Moses had instructed them each to take a fire pan and incense. This was unlike Nadav and Avihu, who had each done so on their own, without prior sanction. Perhaps, Nachshon and the others thought they were, therefore, immunized from suffering similar consequences.
58Mishna Sota 9:15.
59BT Avodah Zara 20b and JT Shekalim 14b.
60Shir HaShirim Rabbah 1:1:9.
61, 86Ibid.
62Numbers 19:6.
63Leviticus 19:2.
64Hirsch commentary on Leviticus 19:2.
65Ramban commentary on Leviticus 19:2.
66Rav Hirsch discusses the application of this fundamental principle of refined behavior primarily in the context of relationships with parents, the Sabbath, purity of belief in G-d and business and social affairs, based on the juxtaposition of the Biblical verse on holiness in this textual context in Leviticus, Chapter 19. Nachmanides appears to apply the principle more broadly.
67Illustrating this concept with the image of a rooster constantly hovering over the chickens, as noted in BT Brachot 22a.
68See also Rambam, Mishne Torah, Hilchot Deot, Chapter 5.
69This is Nachmanides’ novel interpretation of the Hebrew term ‘Perush’ (separation), which is often equated with ‘Kodesh’ (holiness).
70C.F. Maimonides (Sefer Hamitzvot, Shoresh 4), who defines being holy as performing all the Mitzvot.
71His expression in the original Hebrew is: “Naval B’Reshut HaTorah” .
72See Rav Shimon Schwab, Mayan Beit HaSoevah, Shemini, commentary on Leviticus 9:1.
73As to Nadav and Avihu, see Chizkuni (in his commentary on Leviticus 10:1), who notes they also compounded their errors by engaging in the unsanctioned Temple ritual solely for their own personal benefit and not in a representative capacity for the benefit of the entire community.
74Exodus 24:11 and see Haemek Davar commentary thereon.
75See also Rav Nachman of Breslov, Likutei Moharan, Torah 41:1, who presents a darker view of this desire, as being rooted in the Yetzer Hara, as opposed to being a misguided desire to overindulge the Yetzer Tov.
76Ibid and see BT Makkot 10a (cited by Rav Schwab) and Maharsha commentary thereon. See also Ecclesiastes 5:9 and Rashi commentary thereon, as well as, Deuteronomy Rabbah 2:26.
77Sefat Emet, Shimini 636, s.v. B’Shem and B’Mishna.
78Avot 1:3. The teaching is also recorded in in BT Avoda Zarah 19a, without the reference to Yirat Shamayim. See also Avot D’Rabbi Nathan 5:1, which contains the reference to having Yirat Shamayim and adds that as a result the reward will be twice as much in the future.
79The Bartenura notes love, absent awe, promotes a tendency to focus only on the performance of the positive commandments and ignore the negative ones. On the other hand, serving solely out of fear tends to reinforce the careful observance of only the negative commandments.
80See also JT Sota 25a, which notes that serving out of awe diminishes the tendency to reject.
81Sifra, Shemini, Mechilta D’Milluim 2:32.
82Ahavat Hashem.
83Yirat Hashem.
84See Leviticus Rabbah 20:10 and Pesikta D’Rav Kahanna 26:9, which refer to them also arrogantly and irreverently feasting their eyes on the Divine presence. To put this in perspective, consider, in striking contrast to their attitude, Moses did not feast his eyes on the Divine presence and hid his face, because he was afraid to gaze at G-d (See Numbers Rabbah 2:25 and Exodus 3:6).
85See BT Brachot 17a, which describes the spiritual bliss, which G-d bestows on the righteous in heaven, as sitting with crowns on their head and enjoying the radiance of the Divine presence (Ziv HaShechinah). It goes on to cite Exodus 24:11, which describes that they beheld G-d and ate and drank. See also Rashi commentary thereon, who explains they were nutured and satisfied by the Divine presence, as if they ate and drank. The Maharsha commentary thereon equates the experience of the Azilei (the leaders or nobles, comprising according to Rashi, Ramban and Ibn Ezra on Exodus 24:11, Nadav and Avihu and the 70 of the Zekeinim referenced in Exodus 24:9) at Mount Sinai noted in the verse to the spiritual bliss experienced in heaven, as described in this Talmudic text. See also Onkelos on Exodus 24:11, as well as, Bechor Shor and Kli Yakar commentaries thereon. Cf. Vayikra Rabbah 20:10, Numbers Rabbah 15:24, Midrash Tanchuma, Beha’alotcha 16:1 and Pesikta D’Rav Kahanna 26:9, as well as Chizkuni commentary on Exodus 24:1, where refer to Nadav and Avihu and the Zekeinim actually and disrespectfully eating and drinking, while experiencing a vision of the Divine presence at Mount Sinai.
87Exodus 33:5.
88Exodus 33:7-11.
89Numbers 11.
90Tanchuma, Beha’alotcha, Siman 16 and Yalkut Shimoni on Torah 736:6. However, the Gra would exclude Nachshon, as noted above. According to the Tanchuma, noted above, the original set of 70 Zekeinim were picked to participate (with Nadav and Avihu) at Mount Sinai. They were the Ketzinim (officers), who were incinerated at the Ketzin (edge) of the encampment. A new set of 70 Elders was then chosen as noted above. It was this new set that included Nachshon, according to the Yalkut Shimoni, noted above.
91Numbers 11:16.
92Number 14:22-24.
93They also engaged in a disastrous course of conduct that led to their untimely (Leviticus 10:1-2) and spectacular demise (Sifra, Shemini, Mechilta D’Miluim 2:22-23). They and Nachshon had similar goals and, it appears, had some similar character flaws, although, as detailed below, Nadav and Avihu had many more issues and their conduct was even more egregious, as detailed in the Midrash (Sifra, Shemini, Mechilta D’Miluim 2:21 and 32; Leviticus Rabbah 20:6-11 and 12:1 and 5; Yalkut Shimoni on the Torah, 524:5-9; Numbers Rabbah 2:23-24; Sifra, Acharei Mot 1:1; Tanchuma Acharei Mot 6:1; and Pesikta D’Rav Kahanna 26:9) and Talmud (BT Sanhedrin 52a, Eruvin 63a, Yoma 53a and Yevamot 64a). These included an unsanctioned entry into the innermost holy precincts of the Tabernacle; bringing an unauthorized ritual offering; firing it from an outside source; not consulting with their father Aaron or uncle Moses, who were in charge, before engaging in this inappropriate conduct; not consulting with each other; drinking an alcoholic beverage on the job; not being properly attired; not washing their hands and feet, as required, in advance of performing a Temple ritual; not being married; not having children; eating and partying below Mount Sinai, even as they perceived the Divine Presence, while Moses was receiving the Torah from G-d; and wondering out loud when Aaron and Moses would pass away so that they could replace them and take over their leadership roles. The Chizkuni (in his commentary on Leviticus 10:1) notes they also compounded their errors by engaging in the unsanctioned Temple ritual solely for their own personal benefit and not in a representative capacity for the benefit of the entire community. The fact that they violated the rules in the process, to benefit only themselves personally, is a source of further profanation rather than sanctification. Leviticus Rabbah (Chapter 20) is extremely critical in its analysis of their character flaws. It discusses how they were arrogant, entitled, self-indulgent, haughty and selfish. It notes they didn’t marry because they didn’t view anyone as a worthy match. They didn’t respect their father Aaron or Moses and felt they were better than them. Hence, they didn’t feel the need to consult with them prior to taking their misguided and fateful action. Indeed, they didn’t even caucus first. Each acted impulsively, with reckless abandon and without prior consultation with the other. They otherwise had many redeeming qualities and were slated to have a brilliant future (See Numbers Rabbah 2:4 and Sifra, Shemini, Mechlita D’Miluim 2:32). However, their hubris and sanctimonious behavior were inexcusable and disqualifying.
94Exodus 19:6.
95This was one of the critical mistakes made by Nadav and Avihu, as noted above.
96See Deuteronomy 31 et seq. and, for example, Ramban, Ibn Ezra and Chizkuni commentaries on Deuteronomy 31:1.
97Moses had no issue with others possessing Ruach Hakodesh, as he demonstrated in the incident of Eldad and Medad, recorded in Numbers 11:26-29.
98Nachshon’ nephews, Nadav and Avihu, similarly failed to consult with Moses and also avoided consulting with their father Aaron or even each other, as noted above.
99In this respect, it is suggested he also, in effect, abused the entre offered by his position for the satisfaction of his personal desires, not in a representative capacity for the benefit of the entire community. See Chizkuni (on Leviticus 10:1) who makes this comment with regard to Nadav and Avihu. 
100Numbers 14:11-13.
101Numbers 14:13-19.
102Numbers 14:19-23.
103Numbers 14:30.
104See BT Sota 14a; Berachot 33b (which references Deuteronomy 10:12); and Shabbos 31b. Maimonides, in his Guide for the Perplexed (3:52), explains that love of G-d is achieved through knowledge of the Torah, which encompasses attainment of true knowledge and appreciation of the existence of G-d. Awe of G-d is achieved by performing the Mizvot prescribed by the Torah.

About Leonard Grunstein

Leonard Grunstein, a retired attorney and banker, founded and served as Chairman of Metropolitan National Bank and then Israel Discount Bank of NY. He also founded Project Ezrah and serves on the Board of Revel at Yeshiva University and the AIPAC National Council. He has published articles in the Banking Law Journal, Real Estate Finance Journal and other fine publications.

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