By Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz
King David wrote psalms for every occasion. If he was happy, he sang to God. If he was sad, he sang to God. And these psalms were used for the Temple service and are still used in our prayers.
But one group of psalms is confusing. Psalm 42 is the first of a number of psalms that are attributed to the sons of Korah:
For the leader. A maskil of the Korahites. (Psalm 42:1)
According to the commentators, this either means that the sons of Korah composed these psalms, or were the ones who sang these psalms in the Temple. Either way, this leads to confusion. Korah led a rebellion against Moses and Aaron along with Dathan, Abiram and 250 other men. Korah, his family and all of his belongings were swallowed up by the ground, as it says:
They went down alive into Sheol, with all that belonged to them; the earth closed over them and they vanished from the midst of the congregation. Numbers 16:33
If Korah’s family was swallowed up by the ground, how could Korah’s descendants write psalms or sing in the Temple?
The answer to this question is provided by the Torah itself a few chapters after the story of Korah’s rebellion is recorded. When recording the census taken of the Children of Israel, the sons of Korah are listed. The Torah explains in simple terms:
The sons of Korach, however, did not die. Numbers 26:11
The medieval commentator known as Rashi explained that Korah’s three sons, Assir, Elkanah, and Abiasaph, had initially joined in their father’s rebellion. However, soon after they regretted their actions and repented. As a result, they were spared their father’s fate and survived. It was their descendants who later sang in the Temple (I Chronicles 6:18).
Rashi himself does not say that they were spared from being swallowed by the ground, but that an elevated area was set apart for them in Gehinnom, and they stayed there. Nachalat Yaakov, a commentator on Rashi, explained that the entire congregation of Korah descended into Sheol. Because of their thoughts of repentance, however, his sons did not die. Instead, they lived out their lives underground until the repercussions of the rebellion passed. Korah’s descendants eventually rejoined society, serving in the Temple as musicians.
According to the Talmud (Sanhedrin), while Korah’s descendants lived underground, they sang praises to God from the depths of Sheol, the very same praises that became immortalized in King David’s psalms!
Because of their thoughts of repentance, they were spared from the fate of death and the praises they sang to God were eventually included in the Book of Psalms. Though the Sons of Korah were initially involved in their father’s rebellion against Moses, they repented at the last moment and were saved from being killed with their father and his followers. Instead of having no legacy, this decision changed their future and allowed them go on to compose some of the greatest compositions of all time and become singers in the Temple. They even count Samuel the Prophet among their descendants!
Though they were literally at the brink of destruction, the sons of Korah managed to save themselves. All it took was one moment, one instant of yearning and regret, to change the course of their lives forever.
The lesson for us is obvious. It is never too late to turn things around and make a positive change in our lives. We don’t need to wait until we have enough time or until the moment is right. The story of the sons of Korah teaches us the power of repentance and the transformative impact of a change of heart. It highlights the idea that it is never too late to make amends for past mistakes and start anew, and that a single moment of sincere remorse can have a profound effect on one’s future.