The Yerushalmi in Cheilek writes that Korach was guilty of denying two ikkarei emunah: 1) he was kofer in the nevuah of Moshe Rabeinu; 2) he denied Torah min ha’shamayim. (Nonetheless, at least some Tanaim as well as the Midrash hold that Korach and his camp did not lose their olam ha’ba like other kofrim.) The Brisker Rav explained that this is what Moshe meant by the double-phrasing of, “B’zos teid’un ki Hashem shelachani … ki lo mi’libi.” (16:28) “Ki Hashem shelachani” is an affirmation that Hashem appointed Moshe to be a navi; “Ki lo mi’libi” is an affirmation that all of Torah is min ha’shamayim and not made up by Moshe.
Since earlier in the week I posted about whether/how tefilah can tilt the scales of bechirah, I wanted to follow up with a problem raised in the chumash shiurim from R’ Eliyahu Baruch Finkel from the Mir. The Rambam writes in Iggeres Teiman that if someone denies the authority of Moshe’s nevuah it is a sign that that individual was not present at Har Sinai when Hashem declared, “V’gam becha ya’aminu l’olam,” that after seeing mattan Torah it would be impossible to question the authority of Moshe Rabeinu. Two problems with the Rambam: 1) Korach serves as a counterfactual, as Korach was at Har Sinai, and yet he denied both the nevuah of Moshe Rabeinu and the fact that Torah was given min ha’shamayim; 2) how can the Rambam say no one can deny belief in Moshe’s nevuah – doesn’t that take bechira chofshis off the table at least for this item?
Rav Shach (as quoted in the sefer) answered that the Rambam does not mean denying Moshe’s nevuah would be impossible -- all the Rambam meant is that the scales are tilted decidedly against such a belief. Bechira chofshis doesn’t mean you have to have a 50-50 choice. It can be a 99-1 choice, so long as you are free to make it.
Coming back to the issue of Moshe’s tefilah for Yehoshua interfering with his free choice, based on this approach so long as Yehoshua could choose which path to follow, even if Moshe’s tefilah made the possibility of his choosing badly into a remote possibility, his bechira chofshis remained intact.
The problem with this answer is it that for all intents and purposes it undermines the Rambam’s point. The Rambam asserts that if you deny Moshe’s nevuah it means you weren’t at Sinai – why? Maybe the denier was at Sinai, like Korach, but simply chooses to be part of the 1%?
I’m not comfortable with this idea of a 99-1 shot still being called a free choice, and I don’t think I’m the only one that has problems with it. Rav Dessler in Michtav vol 1 develops the idea that there is a “nekudas habechirah.” In theory, I could wake up tomorrow morning and decide to join the circus. The likelihood of that happening is beyond remote. I could decide to go out to McDonalds for supper tonight. Again, the likelihood is remote. Skipping McDonalds is not something I choose to do – it’s not even on my radar screen of possibilities. Davening ma’ariv at 8:30 instead of later at the zman is something I may choose to do, or might not. That’s my nekudas habechira – it’s a decision that requires I actively exercise my ability to choose. Bechirah chofshis doesn’t mean we have to decide every day whether to eat kosher, to daven, etc. What it means is that we have to choose between the narrow menu of options on our radar screen at that moment. I would read the Rambam as saying that once there was a declaration of “gam becha ya’aminu l’olam,” the possibility of choosing otherwise may remain open, just like the possibility of my joining the circus tomorrow remains open, but I think it places it outside the nekudas habechirah.
Let me put the answer the Steipler gave into my own words. There are people who believe the moon landing was a hoax. There are people who believe Martians have landed on earth. People believe all kids of outlandish things with no basis or evidence to back them up. What the Rambam means is that a rational person who stood at Sinai could not entertain the belief that Moshe is a liar. An irrational person, or a person motivated by ta’avah or ga’avah to make irrational choices, may believe anything. Rashi asks: Korach was an intelligent person – why did he get involved in “shtus,” foolishness? In other words, why was he making a choice that defied rationality?