The story of Parashat Korach is fascinating, unprecedented, and historic. Korach begins his rise by gathering the members of Sheivet Re’uven and accusing Moshe and Aharon of exalting themselves over the entire nation, as Korach claims (BeMidbar 16:3), “Ki Chol HaEidah Kulam Kedoshim UVetocham Hashem UMadu’a Titnase’u Al Kehal Hashem,” “For the entire assembly – all of them – are holy, and Hashem is among them, so why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of Hashem?” However, by the end of this action-packed Parashah, Korach and his followers’ rebellion is put down, and they are swallowed by the ground. Why would the tribe of Re’uven join in the rebellion of Korach? After all, wasn’t it Re’uven who told convinced his brothers not to kill Yosef, saying, (BeReishit 37:22), “Al Tishpechu Dam,” “Do not spill blood,” and then suggesting to instead put Yosef in the pit? How could the tribe of Re’uven, known from Sefer BeReishit to be logical and rational, join such a destructive force as Korach?
Rashi (BeMidbar 16:1 s.v. VeDatan VaAviram) explains that Sheivet Re’uven had a southern camp (BeMidbar 2:10), as did the family of Kehat and his sons (3:29). Rashi relates Re’uven’s joining to a famous concept: “Oy LeRasha Oy LiShcheino,” “Woe to the wicked one, and woe to his neighbor” (Nega’im 12:6). The tribe of Re’uven, which camped next to the evil camp of Korach, was convinced by them to join in the rebellion. The concept which Rashi introduces is, at first, slightly difficult. How could 250 decent Jews be completely swayed to join in rebellion? Perhaps we can understand how certain members of Re’uven could join Korach, for example, Datan and Aviram, established trouble-makers since early in Sefer Shemot, but the entire Shevet?
Perhaps the warning of “Oy LaRasha Oy LiShecheino” is even more serious than one might have originally contemplated. In Pirkei Avot (1:7), Nitai HaArbeili teaches a similar lesson: “VeAl Titchaveir LaRasha,” “Distance yourself from a bad neighbor.” The Meiri on this Mishnah comments that taking part in a friendship with a sinner will yield punishment. However, there is a converse concept as well: “Tov LeTzaddik Tov LiShcheino.” By becoming close with and creating friendships with the righteous, one will heighten his own faith and be worthy of reward from Hashem. In this week’s Parashah, many members of Sheivet Re’uven joined Korach in rebellion. We can compare this contagion of rebellion to the recent situation in Northern Africa; very shortly after the citizens of Egypt rebelled against Hosni Mubarak, Libya, the neighboring country, waged a rebellion as well. Although the rebellion of Libya might have been justified, it most likely would not have been initiated without the rebellion next door.
In Parashat Korach, members of Sheivet Re’uven allowed themselves to be swayed by the rebellious Korach just like so many ordinary people continue to do today. If only the people in Sheivet Re’uven themselves would have been a bigger influence towards the positive, they might have conversely convinced Korach to stop his absurd plan. Tragically, the members of Re’uven were the ones influenced, and, “VaTiftach HaAretz Et Pihah VaTivla Otam VeEt Bateihem VeEit Kol HaAdam Asher LeKorach VeEit Kol HaRachush,” “And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the men with Korach, with all their goods” (BeMidbar 16:32).
Throughout our lives, there will be decisive events in which we must make tough decisions. It is always easy to let ourselves be influenced by others, and we therefore must be cautious of who we are friends with. Additionally, we should also make sure to be powerful and righteous leaders, so that we can be quintessential fulfillers of “Tov LeTzaddik Tov LiShcheino.” We hope that by making ourselves influential leaders of Torah and Chesed, Hashem’s message passed down through Moshe will be continued, and the rebellious words of Korach and others will be forever nullified.