A New Creation
"If Hashem will create a creation and the earth will open its mouth and swallow them and all that is theirs and they will descend alive to the grave and you will know that these men have blasphemed Hashem."
But if a creation - RASHI: A new one. "Hashem will create" to slay them by the kind of death by which no man has until now died. And what is this creation? "And the earth will open wide its mouth" and swallow them. Then "you shall know that" they "have provoked" the Holy One, blessed be He, and that I have spoken with the Almighty's authority. Our Rabbis interpret this "If the mouth of the earth was created during the six days of Creation, fine, but if not. Let Hashem create it [now]."
A few words of background will help place our verse in its context.
Korach had confronted Moses and Aaron, claiming that they had exploited their power for personal gain. Moses had appointed Aaron, his brother, to become the High Priest and Elitzaphan, son of Uziel, to be the Prince of the Kehat family, passing over Korach who was also a family member. This latter appointment in particular hurt him, since he was sure that this post was coming to him.
Moses was understandably upset by the rebellion against him and his authority. So he decided to make a test to determine, for all to see, ("with this you shall know") whether his decisions were based on God's instructions ("that Hashem has sent me") or whether, on the other hand, he had acted on his own ("from my own heart"). The test would be: "If these men die a common death of all men or if they be visited by a visitation of all men, then Hashem has not sent me." Then comes our verse which presents the other side of the equation: If a miracle happens, this would be a sign that Moses acted according to God's will ("these men have provoked Hashem").
Now let us look at Rashi's comment. Actually, Rashi himself asks his question openly. What is it?
WHAT IS RASHI'S QUESTION?
Rashi asks: "What is the new creation?"
What would you ask about Rashi's question?
A Question: Why does Rashi have to ask this question? Does not the Torah itself say "The earth will open its mouth wide"? This is obviously the new creation.
What is bothering him about this obvious answer?
WHAT IS BOTHERING RASHI?
An Answer: Rashi could not accept that the earth's opening its mouth was the new creation, because the earth had opened its mouth once before. This phenomenon was not a new creation. See Genesis 4:11: "Therefore you are cursed from the ground which opened its mouth wide to receive your brother's blood from your hand." Since Rashi realized that the earth opening its mouth wide alone was not the newly created phenomenon, he had to explain the meaning in a different way.
What was the creation according to Rashi?
An Answer: Rashi says "And the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them."
The death by earth-swallowing was the creation that God was to create, for no one had ever died this way before.
A CLOSER LOOK
Notice that Rashi adds the word "az" before the word "viy'datem" meaning "then you will know."
Why does he do this? What does this add to our understanding?
A CLOSER UNDERSTANDING
An Answer: By adding the word "then" before the words "you shall know" Rashi shows us that this is a separate and final clause; it is the consequence of Moses passing the test, so to speak. Without Rashi explicitly adding the word "then," I might have read it this way:
"If Hashem will create a creation, (then) these people will be swallowed up, and you will know that they have provoked Hashem." Such an interpretation would mean that the important consequence will be that they will be swallowed up and only secondarily that the people will know that they have provoked God. Rashi reads the verse differently. The creation constitutes both the earth opening its mouth as well as the people being swallowed by it.
"Then" comes the ultimate consequence of this miracle - that the people will know that Hashem has been provoked by Korach and his congregation.
What is the significant difference between these two readings? Can you see any difference?
THE PROFOUND MESSAGE: MOSES' UNASSUMING PERSONALITY
An Answer: The first way of reading the verse places the punishment of the sinners as the primary event; the second way of reading the verse, which is Rashi's way, places the people's knowledge of God's being provoked as the main outcome.
It is crucial to notice that Moses places God's interest before his own. Moses was personally attacked and affronted by this rebellion. If there would be a dramatic punishment of his enemies by a clearly Divinely directed death, this would emphatically show that Moses was in the right. It certainly would have given him much justified satisfaction. Nevertheless, Moses' main concern was to uphold God's glory "then you will know that these men provoked Hashem."
FURTHER (SUBTLE) EVIDENCE FOR MOSES' MODESTY
Do you see that Moses doesn't even mention that this miracle would be irrefutable proof that he was sent by God? Notice the subtlety of his "death, then Hashem did not send me." But when he presents the other possibility, that there will be a new creation and a miraculous death for the sinners, he does not say "you will know that Hashem sent me." Rather he says "you will know that these men have provoked God." Clearly Moses was concerned less about his "correctness" than he was about the honor of God. See that Rashi adds "that I have spoken with the Almighty's authority" to Moses' explicit words. Moses didn't actually say these words. Rashi had to add them to remind us of the point that Moses was in fact divinely authorized to act as he did. Moses' modesty prevented him from being so blunt.
This is quite characteristic of Moses' acknowledged modesty and his absolute subservience to God's will. His behavior highlights the great difference between himself and Korach. His behavior is the complete antithesis that of Korach, who thought first and foremost of his own glory. (See Chizkuni, Mizrachi)