Why are the incidents of Korach’s dispute and that of the golden calf reversed?
(1,1) “These are the words which Moshe spoke to all Yisrael on the other side of the Jordan in the wilderness, in the plain opposite the Red Sea, between Paran and Tofel and Lavan and Chatzeros and Di Zahav.”
Rashi explains that Moshe was alluding in this posuk to all the places where Yisrael had angered Hashem, and the last two places - Chatzeros and Di Zahav - allude to Korach’s dispute with Moshe and the sin of the golden calf. But the problem with this is that the incident of the golden calf occurred before that of Korach, so why did Moshe mention the places in reverse order? There is a similar problem in Tehillim 106, where it first mentions in posuk 16 Korach’s jealousy of Moshe, and then afterwards in posuk 19 it mentions the sin of the golden calf, again in reverse order.
But we can explain it according to the Midrash that Rashi brings in parshas Yisro, that Moshe said to Hashem: Why do You want to punish Yisrael for the sin of the golden calf - did You not say “I am Hashem, your G-d” and “you shall have no other gods besides Me” in the singular? Therefore, it was only me that You commanded, and not them. With this Moshe was able to defend Yisrael.
But in the dispute of Korach they argued that they had all heard from the mouth of Hashem “I am Hashem, your G-d” and “You shall have no other gods”. That is, they argued that since they had been addressed in the singular Hashem had intended to address everyone equally, and so they were all as important as Moshe in the eyes of Hashem.
Thus the order of the events were reversed because it was the incident of Korach which caused the sin of the golden calf to be aroused against Yisrael. Because now Moshe was no longer able to defend and justify them by arguing that Hashem was only addressing him, since the argument of Korach that they had all been addressed equally countered and neutralised this claim.
Why did Moshe think that he deserved to live more than 120 years?
(1,3) “And it was in the fortieth year that Moshe spoke to all Yisrael.”
The Yalkut Reuveni quotes the sefer Tzioni which says that in the fortieth year Hashem involved Himself with Moshe, and lectured on the juxtaposition between the posuk in Devarim 22:11 which says “you shall not wear a mixture of wool and linen” and posuk 12 which says “you shall make for yourself fringes on the four corners of your garment”. This is a very puzzling Midrash!
But the explanation is that it says in the Midrash that Moshe lived 120 years because he involved himself with the giving of the Torah for 120 days - forty days for the first set of tablets, forty more days until he was given permission to make the second set of tablets, and a final forty days for the second set. But behold, we know that Yisrael were punished by remaining in the wilderness for forty years, one year for each of the forty days that the spies had sinned. And this creates a problem - since we know that Hashem rewards in greater measure than He punishes, Moshe should have lived longer than 120 years!
But we can explain that this depends on whether Moshe was correct to break the first set of tablets. If he was, then it certainly can be argued that he should have lived longer than 120 years. But if we say that he was not correct to break them, then we can only count towards his merit the first forty days that he involved himself with the giving of the Torah, in which case Hashem clearly rewarded him in greater measure since he lived 120 years in the merit of only forty days.
Now, it says in the gemora in Shabbos 87a that Moshe“s decision to break the tablets was based on the following logical argument: if it says concerning the Pesach sacrifice, which is only one of the 613 commandments, that it is forbidden for someone who alienates himself from Hashem (a mumar) to partake of it, all the more so should Yisrael who have alienated themselves from Hashem by worshipping the golden calf be forbidden to partake of the whole Torah, and therefore he broke the tablets. But Tosafos point out that this logic is faulty, because with the Pesach sacrifice if the mumar repents he will have the opportunity to bring the Pesach sacrifice in the following month, on Pesach Sheni. But there is only one Torah, and so he should have given it to them and helped them to repent so that they would be fitting to partake from it, rather than completely remove from them the opportunity to receive the Torah.
Now, the commentaries explain that repentance helps to rectify a sin because the positive mitzvah of repentance overrides the negative mitzvah of the sin. And the gemora learns this general rule from the juxtaposition of “you shall not wear a mixture of wool and linen” and “you shall make for yourself fringes on the four corners of your garment”, which teaches that the positive mitzvah of tzitzis overrides the negative mitzvah of wearing a mixture of wool and linen, and so it is permitted to wear the blue thread which is made of wool together with white linen threads.
Thus the explanation of the sefer Tzioni is that in the fortieth year, when Moshe saw that Hashem had punished Yisrael one year for every day that they had sinned, he was bothered by the question of why death had been decreed upon him at the age of 120, since Hashem rewards in greater measure than He punishes. It must therefore be that he had been incorrect to break the tablets because of the argument of Tosafos that repentance would have helped Yisrael become fitting to receive the Torah by overriding their sin. Therefore, Hashem lectured to Moshe about the juxtaposition of the two posukim, so that he would learn from this that he could not argue that he should live longer.
How large should Yisrael expect to become as a result of Moshe’s blessing?
(1,11) “May Hashem, the G-d of your forefathers add to you a thousand times as many as you are.”
R. Eliezer ben Ya’akov taught in the Midrash: The blessing of Moshe is from one end of the world to the other. Because instead of writing אלף פעם (which means a thousand times) the posuk writes אלף פעמים (which means the same thing, but the plural of the word 'times' is used).
This puzzling Midrash can be explained according to the gemora in Pesachim 94a which teaches that the circumference of the world is six thousand parsas. And in Eruvin 55b Rabbah bar bar Chana commented on the posuk in Bamidbar 33:49 “And they encamped by the Jordan, from Beis HaYeshimos until Avel Shittim that he had seen that place, and it was three parsas by three parsas. From this we know that the size of the camp of Yisrael in the wilderness was three parsas.
Thus, had Moshe blessed Yisrael that they should be אלף פעם he would have been blessing them that they should fill three thousand parsas. But now that he blessed them that they should be אלף פעמים he meant that they should increase until the camp will be six thousand parsas, since the use of the plural implies at least double. And this is the size of the circumference of the world, or in the words of R. Eliezer - “from one end of the world to the other”.