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PARSHAS KORACHAnd Dasan and Aviram, sons of Eliav, and On ben Peles, the offspring of Reuven.(16:1)
Machlokes is a maelstrom that sucks in anyone and everyone. It is a firestorm that feeds on dry vegetation. Nothing is safe from the path of its destruction. The parsha begins with a record of the notorious stars of the Korach dispute. Dasan, Aviram and On are infamous for involving themselves in a dispute which was not theirs, and from which they had nothing to gain. They were not Leviim, so Kehunah was out of the question. Bechorah, the rite of the firstborn, was also not theirs, since they were not firstborn. Other than creating discord, they had absolutely nothing to gain.
The Talmud in Sanhedrin lauds the wife of On ben Peles, calling her a chachamah, wise woman, and attributing to her the pasuk, Chochmas nashim bansah beisah, "The wise among women, each builds her own house" (Mishlei 14:1). She saved her husband from continuing his association with Korach, explaining that he had nothing to gain from it. Regardless of who won - Moshe Rabbeinu or Korach - he, On, would be nothing but a soldier, functioning in a secondary role. Leadership would elude him, so why bother? For this, she is revered as wise? She manifested nothing more than simple common sense. Why is she praised so lavishly?
Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zl, explains that this is the result of machlokes. It distorts the ability to think properly. If a person is able to come to a sensible conclusion at a time when he or she is witness to the fire of machlokes, it is an indication that chochmah, wisdom, has prevailed. To remain uninvolved in a fight that is not yours - and from which you have nothing to gain - is not simple common sense; it is chochmah! People lose their senses, their ability to cogitate properly. One who demonstrates self-control exhibits acute wisdom.
Korach separated (himself). (16:1)
The machlokes, dispute, initiated by Korach against Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon HaKohen was an effort to impugn the integrity of their leadership, with a claim that it had not been Divinely ordained. Hashem proved Korach wrong, as he and his henchmen met a horrible death. It is almost impossible to study this parshah and not be confronted with the question: "Why?" Why would an honorable man of Korach's elite status and lineage make a fool of himself, destroy his reputation and end up as an individual recalled with scorn and derision? Veritably, this question is one that continues to be reiterated generation after generation, as so-called champions of the Jewish People from the far-left to the far-right attempt to recreate the Korach debacle. Some lose outright, while others eventually receive their payback. The question, however, persists: "Why?"
To the innocent spectator, it is difficult to distinguish between the Korachs and the Moshes, since each one presents himself as authentic. Ultimately, the truth will out, and the individual who has acted for personal gain - not l'shem Shomayim, for the sake of Heaven, which seems to be the clarion call of all baalei machlokes - is put in his rightful place.
Introspection is definitely a requisite to joining the fray. What are your real motivations? Is it for Heaven's sake, or is it a guise for self-aggrandizement, jealousy, anger, or destroying the status quo? While I believe most people have their reasons for joining a dispute - some real, some perverted - we often ignore another aspect of machlokes: destroying the status quo; when things are too calm, some people seek to stir up trouble to see what happens.
In its commentary to Parashas Korach, the Zohar HaKadosh makes a startling - almost frightening - statement. Korach azil b'machlokes, "Korach went in controversy machlokes, plugta d'shalom, controversy - fighting against people, u'man d'palig al shalom; and he who fights peace; palig al Shma Kaddisha, is fighting the Holy Name, b'gin d'Shma Kaddisha Shalom ikri, because the Holy Name is called Shalom." The Zohar continues that when Hashem created the world, it could not exist until shalom descended upon it. And what was that shalom? Shabbos Kodesh! Thus, according to the Zohar, Korach was fighting against Peace, Hashem's Holy Name, and Shabbos! All of this was included in his disputes. The peaceful status quo, the harmony that existed within Klal Yisrael, disturbed Korach.
Truthfully, whenever unity and harmony reign among people it is difficult for anyone to take over the reins of leadership. Only once strife is fomented do factions emerge, a tumult is created, and new leadership is able to prevail. This is what all revolutionaries do. A revolution is a stirring up of the status quo, effectively destroying it.
Shalom is a concept of sheleimus, completion, perfection. As the Sfas Emes explains, we Jews believe in One G-d, one unifying factor that harmonizes everything in the world, with Him as its origin and source. Every creation draws its life from Hashem, Who is its unifying force. Thus, a multifaceted creation, such as the world, becomes one with Hashem when we consider that He is our Source of life. The secular world has difficulty with this concept. Therefore, they have adopted an approach which recognizes a pantheon of forces and god heads, each one addressing the conflicting forces within nature. We, however, see no conflicting forces, since they are all subordinate to Hashem.
Shabbos is Hashem's sign, os hee l'olam, a sign to the world, that the day of completion, the day of rest, the day of unification, has descended to the world. It is the day of peace, the day when it all comes together. On Shabbos, the world connects to its roots, and the spiritual unity of Hashem is one. On Shabbos, man relinquishes his hold on the physical world, and individual accomplishment ceases. The world has reached completion. The oneness of Shabbos, which unifies everything in this world, becomes the day of Hashem, Who is Echad, One. It is the day of peace. This is how the Jewish people are to endure: One G-d, One Bais Hamikdash - One!
Korach fought against this perfection. Some people simply cannot deal with the power of One. They create diversity, adversity, dissent and dispute. In the end, all they do is destroy themselves - the source of conflict, so that perfection can once again dominate and peace can reign.
Moshe heard and he fell upon his face. And he spoke to Korach and to his company saying, "Let morning come and then G-d will make known who is His." (16:4,5)
Why did Moshe Rabbeinu find it necessary to fall down on his face? He could have responded to Korach without manifesting what appears to have been a melodramatic reply. The Baal HaTanya, zl, explains that Moshe left nothing to chance. Perhaps Korach was a Heavenly messenger sent to test him. Was it possible that the quintessential leader of Klal Yisrael was a bit too domineering? Was the position of leadership getting to him? Could Moshe be acting pompously? A great man has no qualms about introspecting. He wants to make certain that there is no flaw whatsoever in his leadership. Moshe put his face to the ground in deep thought, to review every minute detail, to discover whether an instance had ever occurred in which he had been even slightly out of line.
After deep review and personal introspection, Moshe arrived at the conclusion that he had been pure in his leadership. He had exhibited no aspect of nasius, pomposity, in his leadership. Clearly, if Korach was issuing a complaint, it was of a personal nature. He was not Heaven-sent. Korach was nothing more than a rabble-rouser, seeking to undermine Moshe's leadership, to impugn the Heavenly decision that Moshe and Aharon were to serve as the nation's spiritual elite. Once this had been determined, Moshe was ready to reply to Korach - on his terms. The "gloves" were off. Korach would be put in his place.
This is a powerful lesson. Part of public life is that one will inevitably have to face challenges and criticism. At first blush, our attitude is that "I" am right - "he" is wrong. Perhaps it is the other way around. Maybe we are not as perfect as we would like others to think that we are. If Moshe introspected before he replied to Korach, it should serve as a directive to each and every one of us to do the same.
And he (Moshe) spoke to Korach and to his company, saying, "Let morning come and then G-d will make known who is His. (16:5) Rashi cites the Midrash that details the conversation between Korach and Moshe Rabbeinu and his followers. Moshe explained that Hashem set boundaries within Creation, such as: night and day. They cannot be changed. It is either night or day. Likewise, Hashem separated Aharon HaKohen for the Kehunah Gedolah, High Priesthood. This was "set in stone." Horav Aharon Leib Shteinman, Shlita, explains that the division of Aharon from Klal Yisrael was more than a temporary separation that could be downgraded at any time. Aharon was separated in much the same way that night and day were separated from one another. Vayar Elokim es ha'or kitov vayavdel Elokim bein ha'or u'vein ha'choshech. "Hashem saw that light was good, and G-d separated between the light and the darkness" (Bereishis 1:4). Likewise, it is written concerning Aharon, Vayibadeil Aharon l'hakdisho, "Aharon was separated from the rest of Klal Yisrael." It is as immutable as the division of night from day. There is no room for discussion. The words, va'yavdel/vayibadeil, describe a severance that endures forever. This is possible through the notion that Aharon the Levi was transformed into a new entity, a new creation. He became Aharon HaKohen.
Korach and his minions had a problem accepting this verdict, since they were all bechorim, firstborn, who, up until the recent occurrence of the Golden Calf debacle, were the individuals carrying out the avodah, service, in the Mishkan. The bechorim were the original Kohanim. That, however, was then. Now is an altogether different story.
I think a powerful lesson can be derived from here. We often meet friends, classmates, associates with whom we had been friends many years back. They have changed - and so have we. In some instances, the changes have been so extreme that "we" and "they" are simply not on the same page. What happened? At a critical juncture in their development, an opportunity arose. It was probably a rare experience, a once in a lifetime opportunity, and they "took the ball" and ran with it. Hashem called - they listened, or, it could be vice versa - Hashem called - we listened.
The Jewish People transgressed with the Golden Calf. Moshe declared, Mi l'Hashem ei'lai, "Whoever is for Hashem should come to me!" Shevet Levi separated themselves and, with that move, began their ascension to spiritual distinction.
A well-known story describes a Shabbos visit which Horav Shimon Schwab, zl, had with the saintly Chafetz Chaim, zl. Friday morning, in the middle of a discussion they were having concerning the function of Kohanim, the Chafetz Chaim interjected and asked Rav Schwab, "Are you a Kohen?"
"No," replied Rav Schwab.
The Chafetz Chaim waited a moment, then said, "Perhaps you have heard that I am a Kohen."
"Yes, I have heard," was Rav Schwab's response.
"Perhaps you are a Levi?" the Chafetz Chaim asked.
"No," was Rav Schwab's reply.
"What a shame!" the Chafetz Chaim began. "Moshiach is coming, and this will herald the rebuilding of the Bais Hamikdash. Being that you are not a Kohen, you will not be able to perform the Priestly service in the Sanctuary. Do you know why? Because 3000 years ago, in the midst of the sin of the Golden Calf, your zaideh, grandfather, iz nisht geloffen, did not run forward when Moshe Rabbeinu called out, Mi l'Hashem eilai, 'Whoever is for Hashem should come to me!' Now take heart and listen. When you hear the call, Mi l'Hashem eilai, come running!"
This was the Chafetz Chaim's sage advice. When we hear the call, we must be ready to respond immediately. The window of opportunity closes quickly. The Leviim responded 3,000 years ago, and it was transformative. We all hear these messages every once in awhile, but we think, "If not today - tomorrow." Tomorrow, the window has already closed. This one decision determines where we will be twenty, thirty, forty years later. Is it worth deferring for another day?
"Is it not enough for you that the G-d of Yisrael has segregated you from the Assembly to draw you near to Him…Yet you seek Priesthood as well." (16:9,10)
One day, following the Gemorah shiur, lecture, in Yeshivas Slabodka, Horav Yechezkel Abramsky, zl, turned to his students and said, "You should know that as ones who devote themselves fully to Torah study without any deterrents whatsoever, you are among the greatest mezakei ha'rabim, earners of merit, for the multitudes. It is upon you that the world stands. It is through your learning that Hashem sustains the world. Indeed, you are the ones who impart the greatest sense of bitachon, trust, security for Klal Yisrael.
"This is what Moshe Rabbeinu said to Korach, Rav lachem Bnei Levi, 'As the sons of Levi, Klal Yisrael's spiritual elite, you have much more than the rest of the nation.' Ha'me'at mikem ki hivdil Elohei Yisrael eschem l'hakriv eschem eilav, 'Is it not enough for you that Hashem has separated you from the rest of the nation to draw you near to Him?' Why is this insufficient for you? Why do you denigrate your distinction, u'bikashtem gam Kehunah, Yet, you seek Priesthood, as well! Why do you search for other plaudits and honoraria, involving yourself in mundane areas just for the purpose of recognition? Your service to Hashem earns you the greatest degree of distinction. You need nothing else. The Kesser Torah, Crown of Torah, supersedes the Crown of the Priesthood. Why would you seek anything else?"
These are powerful words from a distinguished and venerable Rosh Yeshivah, Rav, and Dayan. Rav Abramsky understood the significance of being counted among the ranks of bnei Torah. The ranks of those who are counted among the present day Shevet Levi, bnei Torah, has grown by leaps and bounds. While certainly some get lost in the shuffle, many are distinguished talmidei chachamim, Torah scholars, yet manifest no gaavah di'Kiddushah, religious pride. A ben Torah should feel a sense of pride, even a sense of superiority, if, of course, everything else about him, his total demeanor, moral/ethical and spiritual, reflects a refinement found only in those for whom Torah is their life's sustenance.
Contemporary society measures stature commensurate with one's financial portfolio. Hence, often one who is either in Kollel or involved in religious endeavor, is viewed as the low man on the totem pole. While it is not my function to change the myopic views of Jewish society, I address the following to the scholars who devote their lives to Torah study and dissemination.
Vayigbah libo b'darkei Hashem, "His heart was elevated in the ways of Hashem" (Divrei Hayamim 2, 17:6). Much has been written and said concerning this pasuk which refers to Yehoshafat HaMelech, a righteous king who had amassed great wealth and power, using it to glorify Hashem's Name. His gaavah, pride, was in the ways of Hashem, exalting in the knowledge that he was serving the Almighty. Horav Yitzchak Hutner, zl, explains the concept of gaavah d'kiddushah, religious pride, sort of a spiritual arrogance.
Chazal teach that one who pursues honor will not grasp it, since honor will flee from him. Why is this idea expressed only with regard to honor? We do not find such an idea concerning any other taavah, desire. Do we have such a rule concerning he who is obsessed with money? He either succeeds - or he does not. We do not find money running away from him. Rav Hutner explains the reason for this phenomenon from a practical standpoint: One who requires honor is a person who is beholden to others. He needs their praise and adulation. Such a person is not honorable - he is a shmattah, a rag!
Thus, the only person who is able to achieve true pride is one who has conquered his desire for kavod, honor. He does not need the accolades conferred by others. He is his own man. Such a person can truly appreciate the moral superiority which is the product of religious pride. A true ben Torah is someone who does require kavod. He presents himself with dignity, refinement and shtoltz, regal bearing. He is not arrogant. Rather, he has a sense of pride in who he is, what he represents, and to Whom he has devoted his life. Such a person needs nothing else. In fact, he has it all!
But if Hashem will create a phenomenon…then you shall know that these men p Hashem. (16:30)
Moshe Rabbeinu makes a startling statement. The mutineers who followed Korach in his attempt to usurp Klal Yisrael's spiritual leadership were all going to perish in a miraculous manner. They were not simply going to be punished. Their punishment would be spectacular. It would be miraculous. Indeed, it would be the talk of the nation for generations. Was this necessary? If they would have died right there on the spot without fanfare, without an earthshattering miracle, would it have been any less of a vindication of Moshe's leadership? Why was a miracle an essential requirement for this lesson to be heard?
The Meshech Chochmah explains that Moshe needed an unprecedented miracle to occur in order to expose the profound truth concerning the insurrectors. He explains that the real tragedy of the Korach dispute was the disputants themselves. Korach, Dasan and Aviram were no slouches. They were distinguished members of the nation's elite. They were acutely aware that Moshe did not just proclaim himself as leader-- and Aharon as Kohen Gadol-- on his own. He was commanded by Hashem to do so. Indeed, everything that Moshe did was in accordance with Hashem's directive. Had they not been aware of this verity, their sin of insubordination would have been less severe; thus, it would have mandated a lesser punishment. Their greatest sin was their lying, which was intended solely to incite the nation to rebellion against Moshe. They succeeded in involving an unknowing populace to buy in to their subterfuge. Once the people were caught in Korach's web of deceit, it was almost impossible for them to extricate themselves.
Thus, Moshe did not tell the people that if Korach were to die it would prove that Moshe was right. He needed more than that to drive home his point. He told them that if an unusual death, unprecedented and intense in nature, were to destroy the mutineers, it would prove that niatzu ha'anashim ha'eilah es Hashem. Korach knew the truth, and acted in the way that he did, purely to enrage Hashem. Korach knew his Master and rebelled anyway. In order to vindicate Moshe, any punishment would have sufficed. To show what was in Korach's heart, what was his true motivation, a miracle must take place. This would wake the people up to the truth.
The Belzer Rebbe, zl, suggests another reason that Moshe was not satisfied with Korach and his henchmen receiving the punishment of death through anything less than miraculous circumstances. It is conceivable for one to be right in his critique, yet still held in contempt for expressing his complaint in an insolent manner. In the Talmud Bava Metzia 58b, Chazal teach that one who publicly embarrasses another Jew is guilty of a sin comparable to murder. He is considered a murderer; hence, he should be punished. It was possible for Korach to have been justified in his challenge to Moshe, but still deserving of death for acting inappropriately and shaming the gadol hador, pre-eminent leader of the generation.
People shame scholars. For some reason, the klei kodesh, those who devote themselves to the saintly, esoteric, spiritually-oriented pursuits, are often victimized by those who live for the purpose of casting aspersions on them. Perhaps it is jealousy, a feeling of inadequacy, which provokes them to vent. Maybe they are even justified. The scholar has acted inappropriately; the rabbi has insulted a prominent member of the congregation. He must be put in his place. After all, he is an employee of the congregation. The Rosh Yeshivah had no right to speak his mind. He needs our money. How can one speak this way? Veritably, the complainer might have reason to justify his chagrin - and even anger - but there is a way - and there is the Torah way. Arguing, character assassination, outright slander and prevarication, and name-calling are not the Torah way. The person might be right, although his methods might be totally wrong.
The Belzer Rebbe explains that the true measure of a person is how he acts when he is right. Korach had issues with Moshe's leadership. Korach was dead wrong. Yet, if he would have gone to sleep that night and not woken up, people might have conjectured, "Korach was actually right, but he employed a method of challenging Moshe which connotes murder. He was punished for his methods. Thus, people would have attended Korach's funeral thinking: Korach impugned Moshe's leadership in a derogatory manner; for this, he was punished. They would still think that Korach was right. Now that Hashem "intervened" in an unprecedented display of miracle, the people had clear proof that not only was Korach's method of challenging Moshe reprehensible, his actual complaint was bogus and totally out of place. Korach was wrong on all counts.
That he not be like Korach and his assembly.(17:8)
It takes two people to sustain a machlokes, dispute. If one seeks a fight and the other one simply walks away, no fight occurs. What should the one who is "right" do? To allow the other fellow to walk away with a "win" would be a travesty; to continue the fight is a tragedy. So what does one do? Let us look at the reaction of Moshe Rabbeinu to Korach's rebellion. Moshe told Korach that if he was right, Hashem would create a new phenomenon in which the earth would open up and swallow all the rebels. From where did Moshe conjure up this idea?
Horav Shimshon Pincus, zl, explains that the Torah writes, V'lo siheyeh k'Korach v'cha'ada'so, "We should not be like Korach and his assembly and engage in a dispute" (Bamidbar 17:5). In the Talmud Sanhedrin 110a, Chazal teach that one who engages in a machlokes transgresses a prohibitive mitzvah. Rav Shimson posits that the issur applies to both parties - even the one who is "right"!
We return to our original question: What is one to do? To get involved in machlokes is prohibited, to walk away from the dispute, appearing as if the other fellow is right, would also be wrong. Rav Shimshon says that if the side that is right can win the dispute - definitively, unequivocally and unanimously - then he should remain in the fray and walk away from the undisputed victor. If, however, the side which is wrong refuses to defer to the truth and is willing to continue the dispute - forever, if necessary - then the one who is right should simply walk away. This could be a time to take a "vacation," be mevater, yield to the other fellow and let the chips fall where they may. To remain in the machlokes constitutes a prohibitive act falling under the rubric of machlokes. Regrettably, rarely is there a dispute in which the side that is wrong will yield. I guess a lack of vitur, an ability to yield, goes hand-in-hand with being wrong.
We now understand what Moshe was intimating to Korach. If Hashem creates an extraordinary miracle which will effect the absolute demise of his disputants, this will be a Heavenly indication that Korach is wrong, Moshe is right, the argument is now null and void. However, if this does not occur and Korach is still alive and well with his argument in full force, then Moshe must concede - despite his legitimacy. Hashem, of course, backed Moshe. The earth trembled, opened up and swallowed Korach. The machlokes ceased to exist.
Sadly, many of us continue in a machlokes unabated, waiting for our own personal miracle to appear and justify our claims. If one is right, he should make his point and move on. Life is short, and it would be a shame to waste it on dispute. This is applicable when one side is completely in the right and the other side is completely wrong - which is hardly ever the case.
Ha'mechadesh b'tuvo b'chol yom tamid maasei Bereishis.
While everything Hashem has created is inherently good, He has added another "good" by renewing Creation on a daily basis. Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, interprets this pasuk practically. Imagine if the sun kept shining on the same surface continuously, all the moisture from the soil would evaporate, transforming the fertile land into desert wasteland. At nightfall, the sun's rays are cloaked, thereby allowing the earth to regenerate itself and regain its moisture. Furthermore, without night, men would continue laboring in their fields until their health fails. Hashem provides a "new day" every day for the soil, for the people. The fact that night ends with daylight is also a wonderful phenomenon which we often ignore. A person goes to bed at night, having had a difficult day, physically and emotionally. In the morning he arises to a new day, with new and increased vigor, looking forward with hope that the issues that plagued him yesterday will "today" be resolved. This inspiration accompanies him throughout the day. Last, the mere fact that Hashem has divided times into segments called "days" encourages men to begin each day anew, with an increased intensity and desire to repair "yesterday." Had time been continuous, men would run in the course of their accustomed and acquired ways in hopeless despair. Hashem's "renewal" allows for us to do likewise - renew, rejuvenate, repair.
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