In the middle of Parshat Pinchas, the text momentarily transports us back to a story from 3 weeks ago, namely that of Korach and his rebellion.
In the middle of the census, while enumerating the families of Shevet Levi, the Torah reminds us of Korach’s revolt, and mentions that Korach’s sons did not die along with their father and his cohorts.
The Maharsha in his Chidushei Aggadot says that they sang Tehillim 88:
The Zohar, on the other hand, says that they sang Tehillim 48 – otherwise known as the Shir shel Yom we say every Monday.
At first glance, it appears to be a strange song for Korach’s sons to sing, if their goal was teshuva. It describes the beauty of Yerushalayim, joining together and celebrating, mentioning kings from other nations trembling at the sight of Yerushalayim — this is a starkly different tone than Perek 88. What sort of teshuva is Perek 48??
Rav Taragin suggests that there are (at least) two types of teshuva:
One type is looking very insular, recognizing our wrongdoing and shortcomings of our actions and desires. We acknowledge our human frailties and reach out to Hashem to save us.
A second type of teshuva comes from connecting to the idea of geula and the larger community. The Midrash says that all of Bnei Yisrael’s sins were atoned for at Yam Suf through the singing of Az Yashir. But there are no passages in that shira about any admission of wrongdoing. Rather, the shira is an enthusiastic expression of geula – coming together as a nation to praise Hashem and bursting forth with excitement about entering Eretz Yisrael.
Teshuva isn’t only about retracting inward, but also about expanding our imagination and connecting to something larger than ourselves; joining a larger narrative (in song, at times), stripping away ego and replacing it with selflessness for the betterment of the Jewish people.
Korach and his followers felt they got passed over for leadership positions. As anyone is prone to fall victim to, they got wrapped up in their own personal aspirations, and forgot about the larger arc and national trajectory; they lost sense of the idea of going to Eretz Yisrael to set up a Mikdash; they “forgot” that Hashem knows what He’s doing, and finds the right leaders to carry out His will.
Teshuva requires both (i) moral/personal inventory, and (ii) communal/outward consciousness and sensitivity.
The stories are linked in that Adat Korach and the Meraglim both doubted Hashem’s decisions. Korach doubted Hashem’s choice and allocation of leadership, and the Meraglim doubted Hashem’s choice of a proper land. The lack of perspective of the Mergalim, in not remembering Eretz Yisrael’s intrinsic holiness and the promise that Hashem would deliver us there to serve Him, is another kind of example of neglecting the larger arc and trajectory, discussed above. They couldn’t get past their own fears, and the importance and beauty of the Land was lost in their eyes…
The Mergalim’s report includes the word רָאִינוּ three times in reference to the frightening sights that they encountered on their excursion. (Bamidbar 13: 28, 32, 33)
Here, the kings of the other nations see
כַּאֲשֶׁר שָׁמַעְנוּ כֵּן רָאִינוּ בְּעִיר ה’ צְבָאוֹת — the authors of this perek now see clearly the splendor of the land, instead of the shortcomings – that is the tikkun of the Meraglim. We are no longer “like grasshoppers” as the Meraglim described themselves to be, rather we are rejoicing in Yerushalayim’s towers and palaces (סֹבּוּ צִיּוֹן וְהַקִּיפוּהָ סִפְרוּ מִגְדָּלֶיהָ שִׁיתוּ לִבְּכֶם לְחֵילָה פַּסְּגוּ אַרְמְנוֹתֶיהָ) and reveling in Hashem’s enduring strength.