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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


Korach took (separated himself). (16:1)

Korach's dispute superficially seemed focused l'shem Shomayim, for the sake of Heaven. He sought to elevate himself spiritually, to serve Hashem on a higher plane. The Kehunah, Priesthood, was the next step on the ladder of spiritual ascendancy. This is the medium that the yetzer hora, evil-inclination, employs when enticing us to sin. It is always l'shem mitzvah, for the purpose of carrying out a mitzvah. How can it be wrong? The yetzer hora convinces us to transgress, but it is most certainly in the guise of a mitzvah. Anyone who has a modicum of common sense can see right through its ruse. Regrettably, many of us are deficient in this commodity.

What is the litmus test? How does an individual distinguish between the yetzer hora's blandishment and the "real thing"? The Agra D'Kallah gives us a practical guideline towards differentiating between the truth of one's actions and the purity of his intentions. A person should cogently ask himself if his avodas Hashem, service to the Almighty, with regard to all other mitzvos has the same level of intensity as does this endeavor upon which he is now embarking. Does he observe Shabbos with the same devotion? Is his davening, prayer, attendance as fully committed? Does his general mitzvah observance parallel his present attitude towards this mitzvah? If he perceives a disparity between his general observance and his devotion to his present undertaking, he should see a red flag. Something is seriously wrong. This mitzvah is the work of the yetzer hora, and less of a mitzvah than he has been led to think.

The Satmar Rebbe, zl, noted that we often find people whose general commitment is, at best, lukewarm, but when the opportunity to fulfill certain mitzvos surfaces, they suddenly become filled with a newly discovered passion that is inconsistent with their overall relationship with Torah and mitzvos. That is the yetzer hora speaking, motivating them to commit to a certain endeavor, despite the misgivings of the gedolei Yisrael's, Torah leadership's, sage counsel. They are under the influence of the yetzer hora, which has captivated their minds and hearts.

Eisav ha'rasha was the paragon of evil. Yet, Chazal say that no one had ever been able to achieve his level of Kibud av, honoring his father. How are we to understand this? How could one who is the archetype of evil fulfill a mitzvah so well? Horav Chaim Mordechai Katz, zl, explains that when one chooses to fulfill one mitzvah out of the entire Torah, that is not mitzvah fulfillment. It is another form of worship - certainly not directed towards Hashem. We cannot pick and choose mitzvos out of convenience or personal affinity. One is either committed to Hashem, or he is not. While it is true that it is easier for us to relate to certain mitzvos, and certain mitzvos have greater appeal to human nature, one's attitude and level of commitment towards all mitzvos must be on the same level. Otherwise, he has lost sight of the meaning and purpose of the mitzvos.

Korach took (separated himself). (16:1)

Chazal teach us that prior to the destruction of the Bais Hamikdash, Klal Yisrael heard prophesy from three Neviim, prophets. The message was the same, although the venues were disparate. Yirmiyahu prophesized in the markets and the public square, where the people could be found. Tzephaniah went to the shuls and batei medrash to reach those who did not hear the message in the markets. Chuldah spoke to the women. The reason is that there was limited time. If Yirmiyahu had waited for the people to come to him, he would have had no listeners. He was compelled to go to the streets to reach the people. Tzephaniah communicated with those who were not in the market, but in the bais hamedrash. The women heard on their own turf. Chazal are teaching us that there were no listeners "waiting" to hear the dvar, word, of Hashem. The Neviim had to go to the people's home ground to reach them. Furthermore, one Navi was not sufficient. They needed three Neviim.

Horav Shlomo Y. Elyashiv, Shlita, notes the contrast between conveying dvar Hashem and, l'havdil, Korach's message. When Korach commenced with his demagoguery, he had no problem whatsoever convening a crowd. When the message is anti-Torah, the crowds flock to listen. Korach shared with his captivated crowd the following story: In his neighborhood, a widow lived with two orphaned daughters. She owned one small field. When she was about to plow, Moshe Rabbeinu told her, "You may not plow with an ox and a donkey together." When she was about to plant, he told her, "You may not sow an admixture of seeds." When she was about to harvest, Moshe informed her to leave over Leket, gleanings, Shikchah, whatever stalks she had forgotten, and Peah, a small corner of the field for the poor. As soon as she was about to store the crops in the silo, he instructed her to separate Terumah and the Maasros, various Tithes. She accepted the Divine imperative and gave and gave again. Finally, she had no recourse but to sell the field and purchase two sheep for their wool and the offspring they would produce. It was not much different with her newly-acquired property. Moshe was very demanding. The sheep gave birth, and Moshe demanded its firstborn. She sheared the wool, and Moshe was there to collect the Reishis HaGez, first shearing. Finally, she said, "I cannot take it any more. I am going to slaughter the sheep." As soon as she slaughtered the sheep, Moshe was there to demand the Zeroa, Lechayayim and Keivah, forearm, cheeks and stomach. This was the last straw. She could take it no longer. "I am accepting it upon myself as a cherem to consecrate it, and nobody will have it!" Moshe immediately responded, "Every cherem belongs to me." Moshe took "his" sheep and left the poor widow and orphans to their misery and tears.

This is the bleak - but completely distorted - picture that Korach painted of Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon HaKohen. Yet, the people listened. They believed that Moshe and Aharon had nothing else to do but to badger poor widows and orphans, to take their possessions for themselves and the members of their family. However ludicrous this was, the people were fuming at their spiritual leadership.

Let us turn to Korach. Here was a man who represented the zenith of material wealth. Indeed, Chazal say that his total liquid assets were incredible. If he had been aware of a widow who lived in such abject poverty, why did he himself not help her? Furthermore, while he was criticizing the Torah's laws regarding Leket, Shikchah and Peah, he conveniently forgot to mention that these laws were specifically designed for the sake of the poor. Human nature is that way. People listen to what they want, and the sound of a poor widow and her orphans tugs at the heartstrings. Korach had it all in his favor. He could have won. His mistake was that he did not take into account the one factor that could thwart all of his evil machinations: Hashem.

This is the way it has been throughout the millennia. Those who seek to undermine the Torah, to impugn its veracity and values, often appeal to human nature and innocence. They may seem to be on top momentarily, to see their evil schemes triumph, but in the end they will fail as miserably as Korach did.

How does one battle the effects and influence of the Korachs of each generation? The only way is through mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, and determination to adhere to the truth. When people see that the expositors of Toras Hashem steer a course of integrity and devotion, they will eventually take their heads out of the ground and respond to the truth. Indeed, this is why we are still here today - growing, thriving and achieving new successes every day. The truth always prevails.

It is enough for you, O offspring of Levi. (16:7)

Moshe Rabbeinu responded to Korach saying that, as Bnei Levi, they had already been granted a distinguished position. Why were they seeking more? Chazal take issue with Moshe's reply. In fact, years later, when Moshe entreated Hashem to grant him entry into Eretz Yisrael, Hashem responded with, Rav lecha, "It is enough for you" (Devarim 3:6), implying that the reward that Moshe would receive in Olam Habah should be sufficient for him. The Midrash comments that Hashem deliberately used the same expression of rav lecha/lachem, "it is enough for you," as Moshe used when speaking to Korach, because Moshe should have spoken to Korach with greater sensitivity. Korach was wrong. His iniquitous actions were designed to undermine and impugn Moshe's leadership. Yet, Moshe is held accountable for not responding with greater gentleness. Korach was envious; Korach was acting reprehensibly, but Korach was hurting. Moshe should have accommodated him and spoken with greater empathy.

This is a powerful statement. Korach was bent on destroying the spiritual leadership of Klal Yisrael. He had no regard for Moshe or Aharon. His overwhelming envy was driving him to act in the most ignoble manner. Yet, Moshe is critiqued for not being more accommodating to him. We are taught here to what lengths we are required to go to cooperate with others, to think of and be sensitive to their feelings - regardless of who they are and how they act. When Korach had the effrontery to demand the Priesthood for himself, perhaps Moshe should have responded with a more obliging reply. "Let me see what I can do," he might have said. However, for responding curtly, "You have enough," Hashem responded to him with a similar answer, "You (also) have enough."

Let me add that Moshe certainly had his reasons for responding to Korach in the manner that he did, and, as the quintessential leader of our People, his response emanated from daas Torah, the wisdom inspired and acquired by the Torah. It is just that when one achieves such an apex in spiritual distinction, Hashem deals with him differently. Hashem deals with him on a level that is above our comprehension. It is in consonance with that unique position that Moshe's response to an individual such as Korach might be viewed as deficient. Nonetheless, for our own purposes, we are taught a valuable and compelling lesson.

"Is it not enough for you that the G-d of Yisrael segregated you… to draw you near to Himself… yet you seek Kehunah, Priesthood, as well!" (16:9,10)

Moshe Rabbeinu asks Korach and his cohorts why Leviah, being a member of the tribe of Levi and serving in the Sanctuary, is not sufficient for them. When we think about it, Moshe's question is enigmatic. Why should someone settle if he can aspire to an even greater spiritual relationship with the Almighty? True, being a Levi with its accompanying responsibilities is a lofty function, but it is not Kehunah. Can we blame Korach for wanting more? Is this not what we tell everyone: move higher; aspire for greater spiritual ascendancy; do not settle when it involves spiritual matters?

The Sefas Emes explains that one of the ploys employed by the yetzer hora, evil inclination, in its attempt to manipulate a person towards sin is to say, "You are too small for this endeavor. It is above you." A young Torah student assuages his lack of diligence in Torah study by saying, "When I will be older, I will daven, pray, with great kavanah, intention and devotion. Now, I am a young student and not ready for this type of life." One whose salary is low will say, "When I will be wealthy, I will give more tzedakah. Now that I have very little, I can hardly give at all." This goes on with regard to many mitzvos. Whenever one seeks an excuse, the yetzer hora helps him along and convinces him that he is not yet on the level in which he is able to participate fully.

The greatest proof that these excuses are the work of the yetzer hora is the fact that in regard to the gashmiyus, material/physical dimension, one does not settle, nor does one let something small go by. For instance, one does not forgo any amount of money by saying, "This will not make me wealthy, so why bother?" Every penny counts, and one is to explore every opportunity to increase his assets. Indeed, if our attitude towards ruchniyus, spirituality, would parallel our disposition vis-?-vis gashmiyus, we would be standing on a completely different spiritual plane.

There are two reasons why one should not be mevater, acquiesce, concerning even "small" things when it involves spirituality. First, there is no such concept as a small thing in ruchniyus. One moment of Torah and good deeds in this world is greater than all of life in Olam Habah. Furthermore, all of the "little" mitzvos add up to create a large, spiritual entity. In addition, there is another important point that should be noted. We are accustomed to the notion that a wealthy individual has little or nothing to do with those objects that are inconsequential to him. For instance, a multi-millionaire will not bother with pennies. There are those who think that the same idea applies to great tzaddikim, righteous persons, and gedolei Torah, giants of Torah: they have nothing to do with elementary-level spirituality. They are only concerned with spiritual matters of the highest order.

Reality could not be further from the truth. A true tzaddik cares and is concerned with every spiritual entity, regardless of its impact or consequences. In ruchniyus, everything is significant. Indeed, it is specifically because they care about the little things that they have become great. There are mitzvos that many of us seem to ignore. A truly pious person ignores nothing. Everything is important!

This is what Moshe was intimating to Korach and his henchmen. You are coming to seek Kehunah, because you have decided that Leviah is unimportant. The mere fact that Hashem has segregated you from the rest of Klal Yisrael to serve Him in the Sanctuary has very little meaning to you. You want more! That is your mistake. When a person realizes that everything spiritual is great, he receives more and more. One who denigrates every spiritual entity, claiming that it is not sufficient for someone of his elite standing, speaks for the yetzer hora and, thus, is not worthy of spiritual favor.

Dassan and Aviram went out erect at the entrance of their tents, with their wives, children and infants. (16:27)

Dassan and Aviram left their tents in defiance of Moshe Rabbeinu. They stood there, cursing and taunting, refusing to display any form of respect, acting as the total miscreants that they were. The Torah adds that they were not alone. They brought their entire families with them. Rashi adds that the sin of machlokes, unwarranted dispute, unmitigated controversy, has greater ramifications than other sin. While for other sins Bais Din does not punish a child until he or she matures into legal adulthood, concerning the sin of controversy, even the infants were punished. Yet, we must understand why. What is there about machlokes that affects even one's children? After all, they are infants. Why should they be held liable?

Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, cites the Ramban in his commentary to the beginning of Parashas Netzavim (Devarim 29:17), concerning the pasuk, "Perhaps there is among you a root flourishing with gall and wormwood." Ramban writes that a deficient root within the father, can, over time, bloom and flourish within the offspring to produce children that have the same bitterness and evil. The evil root can spawn generations of continuing evil.

Thus, Rav Zilberstein asserts that when the fathers are baalei machlokes, individuals embroiled in controversy, who seek and promote discord, who thrive on dispute and strife, their children will outshine them and achieve a greater nadir in creating disunity and destroying relationships. It is, therefore, better that they are removed while they are still innocent, before they have the chance to destroy the lives of others. This is no different than an infection filled with bacteria. It must be eradicated, or else it will spread and destroy healthy tissue.

The Maharam Schick, zl, was once asked concerning an individual who was infamous for causing much discord in his community, who had donated an ornament for the Sefer Torah and a "Shivisi" plaque for the shul. This scoundrel made sure to let everyone know that he had a greater share in the shul than they had. The Maharam Schick rendered that the value of these two objects be returned to the man, so that he not have a share in the sanctity of the shul. In contrast, the Maharam Schick clearly states in a previous responsa that the shul may accept a "Shivisi" plaque from one who is non-observant. The reason for this is that by reaching out to him and accepting his gift, it might create a feeling of harmony which will catalyze his eventual repentance and return to observance. Regrettably, the same is neither true of nor applicable to the baal machlokes.

What is the difference? Why is there hope for the sinner and not for the baal machlokes? I think that the answer lies in the root of the problem. The sinner has fallen under the control of his yetzer hora. He has fallen prey to its blandishments, and, thus, must overcome them to regain his position of commitment. This is achievable. Indeed, it happens all of the time. The baal machlokes, however, is a sick, insecure person, who preys on others and achieves satisfaction from destroying lives and sowing discord. This is an illness for which the therapy is much more intense. This is a sickness that, regrettably, destroys all parties.

Va'ani Tefillah

Baruch She'amar -

The concept that Hashem "speaks" and the world comes into being is eminently Divine. Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, explains that the pasuk in Tehillim 33:9, Hu amar va'yehi, "For He spoke and it came to be," which is a reference to the creation of the world, is teaching us that it is only when Hashem speaks that there is existence. This is in contrast to human speech, which is temporal. It exists only while it is spoken. Hashem, however, is beyond the limitation of time. For Him there is no such thing as past, present and future. Thus, the amar, (He) spoke, is the condition for the continuing va'yehi, "and it came to be." All of existence is, in reality, a word of Hashem. Before Hashem spoke, there was nothing, and, once He has finished speaking, there will once again be nothing.

Baruch She'amar is a general statement which is divided into three parts: Baruch oseh bereishis, Blessed is He Who constantly creates; Baruch omer v'oseh, Blessed is He Who makes His word a reality; Baruch gozeir u'mekayeim, Blessed is He Who makes decrees and fulfills them.

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