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PARSHAS KORACHKorach took (separated himself). (16:1)
Machlokes, controversy/dispute, is an extremely destructive force that has undermined our people's growth throughout the generations. Every community is plagued by it in one form or another. It usually begins with a desire for kavod, honor, and mushrooms into all-out war. Jewish unity has been the mainstay of our People, and the foundation of our strength and continued existence. Does this mean that we should avoid machlokes at all costs - under all circumstances? Yes. It is true that at times we must take a stand, particularly when the Torah is being degraded by usurpers whose goal it is to destroy everything the Jewish People stand for. Even then, however, there is an appropriate way to take a stand.
Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, the architect of Torah Judaism for the modern world, lived in Germany in an era in which secularism was a way of life and Orthodoxy represented a tradition that was an obstacle to the fruits of a gentile society. Jewish pride was at an all-time low, and assimilation meant much more than maintaining a simple, overt lifestyle which mimicked the gentile world. It meant shunning Bris Milah, Torah, Shabbos and anything that was reminiscent of Yiddishkeit. Intermarriage was encouraged and almost expected. Yet, Rav Hirsch made every effort to pronounce his opposition without anger or invective. He preferred to emphasize the positive aspects of his Orthodox kehillah, congregation, not focusing on the sins of the others. Indeed, when he advised a rav in Frankfurt to expel from the community those individuals who refused to circumcise their sons, he added that the expulsion be made in a strong, unambiguous, yet calm, manner - without anger or invective. He wrote that while expulsion would not turn these people around - because, regrettably, they were too far-gone - it must be made clear to them that this expulsion was meted neither as a punishment nor as a means to humiliate them, but only in order to rescue pure Judaism.
On the other hand, Rav Hirsch did not fall prey to counter-productive dialogue. Whenever discord arises between factions of the Jewish camp, between observant and secular Jews, there are always those who argue for tolerance. First, we must understand that the term secular in Rav Hirsch's day, represented something much different than today. Then it defined a group of Jews whose goal was to undermine everything that bespoke of tradition, Hashem, and Torah. These were not simply tinokos she'nishbu, children who were taken captive, a term applied to Jews who did not have the opportunity to study or be exposed to Torah-true Judaism. These were people, many of whom were shanah u'pireish, had once studied Torah and later rejected it. In other words, they knew better; they knew the truth. They just rejected it. Rav Hirsch considered them apostates, people guilty of heresy with whom dialogue - or even argument - was counter-productive and wrong.
He writes, "What should be said to the members of the fallen generation who, in their apostasy, fancy themselves as 'progressives,' and deride the loyal elders as 'backward'? To them, nothing should be said! The Divine Word teaches in relation to the wandering child, the inquiring boy, and the searching youth, V'Amartem le'bincha, V'higadeta l'bincha, V'amartem eilav, 'Tell your son, Say to him, Say to your son. In relation to the scornful generation, however, it does not say eilav - "to him," but simply, v'amartem, 'because to him you have nothing to say.' They wish to instruct you. They do not seek your instruction."
Rav Hirsch contends that the key to the hearts of these estranged Jews rests in the hands of Hashem. Only experience can bring them back. When they experience the hollowness and vacuosness of their lives, the bleakness and emptiness of their decisions, they will return. We have nothing to say to them - only to wait until the time in which they are ready to return. Then we will embrace them with open arms.
We may not, however, be totally silent. While we do not talk theology directly to them, we must resolutely and clearly express the Divine precepts - to ourselves. We must review and cherish them. We must attest to the bliss and joy inherent in keeping Hashem's mitzvos. We must set our conviction clearly against the doubts which they might raise - and our fidelity unambiguously in opposition to their heresy. We must take pride in the vitality which our way of life expounds, as opposed to the degeneracy and debauchery which epitomize their way of life. We accentuate our positive and ignore their negative.
Unity is all-important as long as the focus is on the li, "to Me," to Hashem. The call to Divine judgment is phrased in the words isfu li, "Gather to Me." The word esof denotes a gathering into one spiritual unit, withdrawing from any group that maintains a view contrary of the Torah view. The spiritual unity must be li, "to Me," bonded to Hashem and subordinated to His will. As Rav Hirsch explains, this is all included in the word chasidai, My devoted ones: "those who, in complete selflessness, devote themselves to the fulfillment of Hashem's will." Anything else is simply not unity.
Korach took (separated himself). (16:1)
Horav Chaim Plagi, zl, writes about the ill effects of machlokes, controversy. He attests that in every situation in which a person, a community or a city has ever been embroiled in a dispute, regardless of who was right or wrong, ultimately, everyone suffered both physically and financially. He exhorts every one to be tolerant and overlook what may come his way entailing controversy. Otherwise, whatever he might gain will be short-lived, as he will eventually lose out. Additionally, he notes that in every home that is the scene of a dispute on Erev Shabbos, close to Shabbos, or on Friday night, they can regrettably be assured that the week will not go by without some unfortunate occurrence.
Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zl, relates that a number of yeshivos which were able to withstand external and financial pressures, managing to maintain their spiritual stamina under the most difficult circumstances, fell prey to machlokes, and, as a result, eventually went under.
The Chida, zl, writes that the sin of machlokes is the cause of great casualty in the world. It can catalyze the premature passing of a tzaddik, righteous Jew, and other serious calamities that plague the Jewish community. Furthermore, the individuals who participate in the controversy and are the indirect cause of these collective consequences are doubly responsible for their actions in the dispute and for the catastrophic results.
The Alter, zl, m'Novordhok was an individual who abhorred machlokes. He would distance himself from any vestige of machlokes, even if it meant incurring a great financial loss. He felt that the momentary financial gain was not worth the ultimate eventual loss, both financially and spiritually. The story is told concerning a wealthy German Jew who passed away and left in his will that a large office building that he owned be endowed to the Novordhoker Yeshivah. The Alter quickly left by train for Germany to settle the estate. While enroute, it came to his attention that another Rosh Yeshivah was also on the way to "settle" the estate and take the building for his yeshivah. The Alter immediately decided that nothing was worth involving himself in a machlokes. He left the train at the next stop, refusing to entertain the reality that this meant losing his rights to the building.
Many years later, in Yerushalayim, after washing the family's clothes, a woman hung them up to dry on the clothesline in the complex where she lived. Her neighbor passed by and, for some reason, she just could not tolerate that the clothes were hanging publicly. She proceeded to cut the clothesline, causing all the clothes to fall to the ground and become soiled. The woman, whose wash was ruined, swallowed her pride and hurt, picked up her clothes, and washed them again. We must remember that washing clothes in those days was a backbreaking process, since there were no washing machines. Afterwards, she went to the next courtyard to hang her wash. That evening, when her husband returned from the bais ha'medrash, the woman was about to relate to him what had transpired that day and how she was hurt and humiliated. She decided to refrain and not speak lashon hora. Suddenly, the woman who had lost it during the day knocked on the door and asked if she could come in. "I am terribly sorry for what I did today. I do not know what overcame me. I just lost it. Hashem has already punished me for my actions. My young son is presently laying in the hospital suffering from a high fever. Please forgive me," she pleaded. The other woman replied, "I forgive you wholeheartedly. Indeed, let me recite Tehillim on behalf of your son."
One year later, this righteous woman was blessed with a son whose scholarship was to illuminate the Torah world. He is today's posek hador, Horav Yosef Shalom Eliyashuv, Shlita.
They stood before Moshe with two hundred fifty men from Bnei Yisrael… they gathered together against Moshe and Aharon… "Why do you exalt yourself over the congregation of Hashem?" (16:2,3)
Korach is infamous in Jewish history as the individual who led a revolt to undermine Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon's leadership. While others complained and argued about specific problems, it was Korach who fell prey to his desire for prestige and honor, seeking to sabotage the spiritual leadership of Klal Yisrael. He came with a number of claims that to the common person might even seem legitimate. Added to this was the scorn and humiliation that he heaped upon Moshe and Aharon. Thus, the ingredients for an outright rebellion were in place. One would think that this is all it would take to incur the tragic consequences that resulted from their dispute. The Targum Yonasan, however, adds something in his commentary that suggests a new perspective to this revolt. He writes that Korach and his assembly arose with chutzpah, insolence, to undermine Moshe and Aharon. It seems that the chutzpah is a more compelling factor than the humiliation and scorn of Korach's rebellion. How can the insolent manner in which they spoke, the impudence which they manifest, be of greater concern than the actual rebellion?
Horav Baruch Mordechai Ezrachi, Shlita, relates an incident that occurred concerning the Chafetz Chaim, zl, that sheds light on this anomaly. The mashgiach in the yeshivah of Radin came to the Chafetz Chaim with a tale of two students and two infractions in behavior. One student had apparently committed a major transgression for which the mashgiach felt the appropriate punishment could be no less than immediate expulsion. The other student was guilty of a lesser deficiency. He had acted with chutzpah toward the baalas habayis, woman of the house, where he boarded. He had been impertinent in the way he spoke to her with regard to the meals she was serving him. The Chafetz Chaim rendered his judgment. The first student, who had committed a grave sin, was to receive a punishment. Hopefully, with time and encouragement, he would perform teshuvah, repent. The second student, who had spoken contemptuously to the woman, was to be dismissed from the yeshivah! No, there was no room for discussion. He had indicated by his chutzpah that he had no respect for people; he was not a person who listened to - or cared about - others. One who did not "listen," who did not care, could never be a student. Consequently, he should be discharged from the yeshivah. It is one thing to sin; it is entirely another to be arrogant about it.
The story is told that the Alter, zl, m'Slabodka, was once upset with a certain student who had acted inappropriately for a ben Torah. Another student, who felt that the Alter was being a bit too strict with his friend, wrote a letter to the Alter, asking how the Rosh Hayeshivah could be so strict with such an exemplary student. The Alter read the letter - once - then read it a second time to let the words sink in. As soon as he completed reading the letter, he dismissed the letter writer from the yeshivah. The student who had made the original infraction was allowed to remain in the yeshivah after undergoing a process of introspection and teshuvah. The Alter explained that the first student had erred and, once he understood what he had done wrong, he could work on correcting his behavior. There was hope for him. The second student, who came to his defense, acted with chutzpah, since he demonstrated the attitude that he knew more than the Rosh Hayeshivah. Such a person does not listen, nor does he seek to grow. He is there already. He knows it all. For him, there was no hope.
This is the idea behind the "chutzpah" of Korach. Yes, the fact that he approached Moshe with chutzpah made a great difference. This indicated that he would not listen to reason. He had all of the answers. For him, there was no hope.
It is too much for you! For the entire assembly - all of them - are holy and Hashem is among them. Why doyou exact yourselves over the congregation of Hashem (16:3)
What was Korach's sin and, why was it considered to be so grave? Indeed, Korach's sin was one for which atonement was unattainable. Even the regular manner of execution, the arba missos Bais Din, four forms of execution which was administered by the Bais Din, was not sufficient for him and his cohorts. Hashem created a new death - one that was originally created on the first Erev Shabbos, during bein ha'shemashos, twilight time. Chazal even questioned whether they will arise during Techiyas Ha'meisim, Resurrection of the Dead. Furthermore, why did Moshe Rabbeinu refuse to pardon them? Was he not the most humble man on the face of the earth? This question is especially glaring in light of the fact that there was a personal affront made to Moshe. After the previous sins of Klal Yisrael, the Golden Calf, the complainers, the spies, Moshe made it his responsibility to intercede on behalf of his flock and entreat Hashem for atonement, but not in this case. Why?
The commentators explain that Korach's sin was a dual infraction, for which there is no room for forgiveness. First, his declaration that Moshe had no right to lead a nation in which everybody was holy contradicts the order of creation. The world was created upon the principle of a mashpia, one who influences, who inspires others, and on a mekabel, one who is influenced, who accepts from him. This is the relationship of male and female, heaven and earth, rebbe and talmid, teacher and student. Just as there is nothing on this physical world that is not in some way connected to the spiritual world from which it receives its sustenance, so, too, is everything in this world sustained through the mashpia/mekabel process. Korach wanted to exist beyond the parameters that Hashem set for this world. He wanted everyone to be equal. This indicated rebellion against Hashem's course of directing the world.
Second, Korach sought to divide up the Torah, seeking to pick and choose mitzvos and traditions as he saw fit. On the one hand, he claimed that the entire congregation was holy and Hashem was in their midst. On the other hand, he disputed a number of the directives that Moshe said he heard from Hashem. In short, Korach sought to create a selective form of Judaism, one with which he would be comfortable.
For someone who sought to undermine the order of creation; who wanted to live beyond the preset boundaries designated by Hashem; who felt that there were portions of the Torah he could live without; for him, Hashem created a unique way of leaving the world, one that was also beyond the periphery of human experience.
Seder Korbanos - The Order of Sacrifices
While our Tefillos may act as a substitute for the korbanos that were offered in the Bais Hamikdash, they are only a substitute. We entreat Hashem with the words, U'neshalmah parim sifsoseinu, "And let our lips substitute for bulls." Yet, there still remains a vast difference between the words that emanate from our lips and the sacrifices that were offered. The Gaon, zl, m'Vilna, explains that while tefillah and teshuvah effect a kapparah, an atonement, the aveirah, sin, remains. It does not disappear. The korban, however, is different. It completely eradicates the sin, as if it had never existed. The Korban Tamid that was brought in the morning abates the sins of the previous night, and the Tamid Shel Bein Ha'arbaim, of twilight, expunges the sins that were committed during the day. Tefillah cannot achieve this form of extirpation of sin. Hence, it serves only as a substitute for the korbanos. We must remember that our tefillos parallel the korbanos in the sense that they serve as a means for us to come closer to Hashem. Therefore, it goes without saying that we must study the meaning and significance of the korbanos, so that our prayers can become the proper substitute.
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