The Torah portion of Korach describes the rebellion Korach fomented against Moshe Rabeinu. In defense of his selfless style of leadership and integrity, Moshe said, לֹא חֲמוֹר אֶחָד מֵהֶם נָשָׂאתי וְלֹא הֲרֵעֹתִי אֶת אַחַד מֵהֶם – “I have not taken even one of their donkeys, nor have I wronged any one of them.” The commentaries discuss why Moshe focused on not having taken a donkey.
The Donkey from Midian to Egypt
(based on the Midrash Tanchuma
) writes that Moshe was alluding to the donkey that he used to transport his wife from Midian to Egypt when he was on the way to redeem the Jewish people. One would expect that Moshe would be reimbursed for this expense which he incurred in the process of saving the Jewish people. Despite this, Moshe declared that he did not accept payment for this donkey.
Changed for Ptolemy
It is noteworthy that the Talmud says that when translating the Torah for King Ptolemy
the sages (unbeknownst to one another) changed the word חֲמוֹר (donkey) to חֶמֶד (desired object) as they felt it might otherwise imply that Moshe may have taken from people objects of lesser value than a donkey.
In addition, when translating the book of Shemot, the sages changed the word “donkey” to “camel” regarding the animal Moshe used for the trip as they felt it would seem disrespectful that Moshe had to use a donkey instead of camel which is a more comfortable mode of travel. As such, in this verse, the word “donkey” did not make sense and they replaced it with “desirable object.”
More About the Donkey
Here is some information about the special donkey that Moshe used to travel to Egypt.
- It was the same one that Avraham used at the time of the Akeidah.
- It will be also used by Moshiach in the future.
- This donkey was created during twilight of the first Erev Shabbat.
- This donkey will never die as it did not eat from the Tree of Knowledge as did all the other animals since it was created after that sin.
- Some say that this was the same donkey which spoke to Bilaam.
- Until Moshiach comes, this donkey remains on Mount Nevo, near the burial site of Moshe Rabeinu.
Moshiach for Korach
I am not sure if and how this all ties into Moshe’s discussion in this parsha. It is possible that Moshe was alluding to the fact that Korach too would be included in the future redemption with Moshiach. As such, the verse can mean, “I did not remove (נָשָׂאתי means to lift) the donkey (of Moshiach) from even one of you (despite the rebellion you have fomented).”
Did Not Behave Like Other Kings
The Ramban and other commentaries
explain that Moshe was contrasting himself with the customary practice of other kings who would take objects (perhaps in the form of taxes) from their subjects. As the prophet Shmuel warned the Jewish people when they asked for a king, “He will take your male and female slaves, your choice young men, and your donkeys, and put them to work for him.”
points out that the prophet Shmuel echoed the words of Moshe when he was passing the baton of leadership to King Shaul. He said, “Here I am; bear witness against me before the L-rd and before His anointed (King Shaul); whose ox did I take, or whose donkey did I take, or whom did I rob; or whom did I oppress, or from whose hand did I take a bribe… and I shall restore it to you.”
Did Not Take any Spoils from Egypt
The Chatam Sofer
gives the following novel interpretation: The Talmud says that when leaving Egypt “there was not one member of the Jewish people that did not have ninety Nubian donkeys with him, laden with the silver and gold of the Egyptians.” There was one Jew who did not take any of these spoils.
This was Moshe Rabeinu. He was busy locating the grave of Yosef and taking his coffin. It was most appropriate that the leader of the Jewish people take on this task which mirrors G-d’s actions who also buries the dead. What Moshe meant is that it would make sense for him be reimbursed by the Jewish people for his missing spoils since Yosef had made them all swear to take his bones with them when they left Egypt. As such, Moshe was acting on the behalf of all of them when he excavated Yosef’s coffin. The least they could have done would be to make it up to him by giving him one donkey laden with the spoils of Egypt.
Moshe declared that despite his right to such a claim, he did not ask for it. By adding “nor have I wronged any one of them,” Moshe was saying that he did not stop anyone from taking Yosef’s coffin and that he would have been happy to share that mitzvah had anyone desired to help him.
“Nor Have I Wronged any One of Them”
The commentaries interpret this part of the verse in various ways:
Nothing Negative Ever
According to the Ramban
Moshe was saying that he had never done anything to take advantage, hurt, or embarrass anyone, i.e., he never pressed anyone into serving him, never obstructed justice, never disgraced anyone, nor did anything to harm anyone.
The Ohr Hachaim says that the term אַחַד מֵהֶם/”one of them” refers to a court case where there were two litigants and that Moshe never favored one over the other. In fact, Moshe never passed an incorrect judgment and therefore never found an innocent party to be guilty. The reason for this (in addition to Moshe’s wisdom and righteousness) is that he was assisted with Divine insight during all of his judgments.
Never Found Guilty
writes that Moshe meant that he had never found anyone (of the 250 men that were with Korach) guilty in a court case.
Never Made Anyone Bad
The Pardes Yosef (citing Kovetz Kerem Shlomo) points out that occasionally, when leaders or other influential people behave in inappropriate manners, people learn from their example and imitate their behavior. In extreme cases, people may stray from the path of Torah as a result.
Moshe Rabeinu was pronouncing that his behavior was beyond reproach and that, as such, he never caused anyone to become bad. The words וְלֹא הֲרֵעֹתִי אֶת אַחַד מֵהֶם should therefore be translated as “I did not make even one of them bad.”
Treated Colleagues with Respect
The Meshech Chochma
points out that there are people who pretend to be humble, but their inner feelings are not humble at all. As a public display of humility, such people will often show honor and respect to lowly people who they see as no threat to their stature.
But when it comes to someone who may be regarded as a peer, they are afraid to show them respect lest people think that they consider that person to be more important than they. Instead, they degrade and embarrass them as much as possible.
Moshe Rabeinu was not like that. He was happy when the 70 elders became prophets. And when Eldad and Meidad prophesized unexpectedly, he proclaimed, “Would that all of G-d’s people become prophets!” The word אַחַד can mean “a special person” as when King Avimelech referred to himself
as אַחַד הָעָם “one of the prominent people.” Thus, when Moshe said ,וְלֹא הֲרֵעֹתִי אֶת אַחַד מֵהֶם , he meant “I didn’t mistreat the prominent among you.”
Connected to Every Jew
The Kedushat Levi explains that Moshe meant he was always in a state of unity with every single Jew. As such, he never lifted up any individual person (חֲמוֹר can be translated as “corporality” or body) or befriended one person above another (הֲרֵעֹתִי can mean “befriended” since רֵעַ means “friend”). Rather, he lifted all of the people and befriended the entire community, all the time.
May we soon receive Moshiach and his donkey!
 Porat Yosef on Megillah ibid quoted in the Metivta Shas
 Shmiru Mishpat Tanina cited in Hirhurei Torah by Rabbi Yisroel Rubin, may he have a Refuah Shleima, pg. 404.
 Midrash Talpiyot, cited in ibid, page 410:5
 See Chochmat HaTorah by Rabbi Shlomo Kluger, pg. 397. See the opinion of Rabbi Eliezer in Sanhedrin 108a
 Bechorot 5a
 These were considered to be of superior quality.
The Megaleh Amukot (quoted in Pardes Yosef on Parshat Bo, ot 129) writes that the number 90 corresponds to Moshe who was a Tzadik. (The letter Tzadik is the gematriyah of 90.) Alternately, it can refer to the Tzadik Avraham in whose merit they received all of these spoils (ibid).
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach!