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Parashat Korach 5757
Moshe sent a messenger to call Datan and Aviram the sons of Eliav. They brazenly disregarded his summons, saying, "We will not come to you! Is it not enough that you took us out of a land of milk and honey (Egypt!) in order to kill us in the desert? Must you also lord over us? You have not brought us to the Land of Milk and Honey, nor have you given us fields and vineyards. Will you gouge out *those men's* eyes? We will not come up!"
Datan and Aviram's choice of threat is rather strange. Who ever mentioned gouging out anyone's eyes? And to which men were Datan and Aviram referring, when they mentioned "those men's eyes?" The Midrashim and Torah commentators have proposed various explanations for this verse. Here are three of my favorites.
TARGUM YONATAN (ad loc., as embellished by Kli Yakar) explains as follows: Datan and Aviram were accusing Moshe of not being able to bring them to Eretz Yisroel because the inhabitants were too powerful -- as the Jewish spies had claimed in last week's Parasha. In truth, there was of course nothing to be afraid of. Moshe had promised the Jewish People that no matter how powerful the inhabitants of Eretz Yisroel were, they would be easily conquered by the Jewish nation because Hashem would send hornets into Eretz Yisroel "to sting the Canaanites in their eyes and blind them," humbling them before the Jews (Shmot 23:28, according to Gemara Sota 36a).
Datan and Aviram doubted Moshe's word. They were taunting him, saying, "Will Hashem really send hornets to gouge out the eyes of the Canaanites, as you promised, so that we can get our promised fields and vineyards? Since it does not look like He will, our nation certainly will not "go up" to Eretz Yisroel (Aliyah = going up)!"
Alternatively, Datan and Aviram were telling Moshe that he had nothing to threaten them with. The nation had already been warned that they would not enter the Land of Milk and Honey (they would step foot no further than "Ever Hayarden," or the eastern Trans-Jordan, which lacked "milk and honey" according to the Sifri's comment on Devarim 26:9) -- hence, "You have not brought us to the Land of Milk and Honey." In Ever Hayarden, Moshe would not be the one to *give out* "fields and vineyards" to the nation (since the Jewish People conquered it on their own, without Moshe's explicit command -- Sifri ibid. 26:10), hence "Nor have you given us fields and vineyards."
There was only one thing that Datan and Aviram could still be threatened with: Moshe could prevent them from even *seeing* Eretz Yisroel from the outside -- something that Moshe Rabbeinu would later yearn for, and be granted (Rashi Devarim 3:27). This is why they exclaimed, "Even if you were to threaten us with gouging out our eyes, so that we would not be able to behold Eretz Yisroel, we still would refuse to listen to you!"
(MESHECH CHOCHMAH, 16:1. This explanation is based on Rashi's contention -- 16:14 -- that "their eyes" refers to Datan and Aviram's *own* eyes. When referring to calamity a person will talk in the third person even though he really is referring to himself.)
We may suggest another approach. Moshe Rabbeinu had relayed Hashem's promise to the Bnai Yisroel, that He would bring them to a land flowing with milk and honey. Datan and Aviram were upset that they were not yet brought to such a land.
It occured to Datan and Aviram that Moshe could counter that they already *were* in a land "flowing milk in honey." Although they were encamped in the desert, the divine Manna fell around their camp every day. The Manna tasted as sweet as honey and was white as milk (Shmot 16:31), and when the sun rose every morning, what was left in the fields melted into rivulets that flowed through the desert (Rashi ibid.). Moshe could therefore claim to have brought the Jewish People to a land "flowing with milk and honey"!
Datan and Aviram prepared themselves for such an argument. They told Moshe Rabbeinu, "You haven't brought us to a *real* land of milk and honey -- you haven't given us a land with *fields and vineyards*, just a barren desert!"
What difference did it make to Datan and Aviram if the Manna was their milk and honey or if they received "true" milk and honey? Didn't the Manna taste just as good as milk and honey? In fact, we are told that any taste one would desire could be tasted in the Manna (Rashi Bamidbar 11:5). Why should Datan and Aviram be disappointed?
The reason they were disappointed could only have been because they in fact did not enjoy the Manna quite as much as true delicacies, since all they could *see* when eating was the bland-looking Manna. Part of the pleasure of fine dining is enjoying the *sight* of the food (Yoma 74b, with regard to the Manna).
This, then, may be the meaning of the concluding statement of Datan and Aviram. Their complaint was based on their lack of visual pleasure. They arrogantly added, "Even if you gouge out our eyes so that we have nothing more to complain about, since we won't have visual pleasure even from the fruit of fields and vineyards, we still won't heed your requests!"
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