The power of repentance is amazing. Korach’s sons were the key movers and shakers in the rebellion against Moshe. Yet when push came to shove Korach’s sons repented just before they were swallowed up by the earth.
G-d allowed them to live and thus Korach’s sons were the reason why the great prophet Samuel was born. Samuel’s family heritage is traced back to Korach’s sons.
“G‑d instructed Moses to take a census of the Jewish people after the deaths caused by the epidemic and the administration of justice. Included in this census were the sons of Korach, the instigator of the mutiny against Moses 38 years earlier.
Korach’s sons did not die [in their father’s mutiny]. Numbers 26:11
The sons of Korach played a key role in his rebellion, and were therefore swallowed up into the ground along with the other rebels. However, since Korach’s sons – unlike the others – repented in their hearts, they were spared the death penalty: G‑d allowed them to stay alive in an underground cave until the rest of their generation died out, after which He allowed them to emerge from hiding and resume their lives in the community. Had they acted upon their regret, they would have been spared even this lesser punishment. Their survival shows us the tremendous power of repentance – even when it is not acted upon as it should be.
This insight should quiet any doubts that we may have about the possibility of redemption in our times. Even merely thinking about repenting is sufficient to bring about the final Redemption – especially when this is added to the merits we have accrued throughout our long exile: the Torah we have studied, the commandments we have performed, and the martyrdom we have suffered.1 Likutei Sichot, vol. 33, pp. 170 ff.