Back to this week's Parsha | Previous Issues

Parashat Korah


Historians justify their field by constantly telling us that history repeats itself. The truth is that they're correct, and the pasuk says so explicitly: "Remember the days of past," and, consequently, "you will understand the years for all generations." It has been said that the wise learns from the mistakes of others, whereas the fool doesn't learn even from his own errors.

Indeed, history repeats itself, only not necessarily in the same fashion.

The popular story is told of a mother who heard from outside the hysterical cries of a child. After just a few moments, she recognized the screams as those of her child. She ran outside and saw a group of exuberant children rolling a barrel, and she noticed that the frantic shouting originated from inside the barrel. The children quickly ran off as soon as they saw her, and she then proceeded to save the boy from his captivity. "What happened?"

she asked. Through the rivers of tears he managed to explain that the boys persuaded him to climb into the barrel and then closed the lid. Angrily, she scolded her son. "Never agree to climb into a barrel!" The next day, she heard the now familiar sounds of bitter crying and shouting. She ran outside and, once again, the group of children scattered in an instant, only this time leaving behind a closed sack. She untied the knot and released her son. "Didn't I warn you?" she shouted.

"You told me not to climb into a barrel," he cried, "so they asked me to go into the sack."

Similarly, the Egyptians learned from history, only they didn't know exactly how. They figured, if we try to destroy Yisrael with fire, Hashem will punish us with fire as he annihilated Sedom. But if we destroy them with water, His hands are tied, as it were, for He already promised not to bring another deluge. Answered the Almighty, "I will not need to bring a flood; you yourselves will run straight into the water, to drown in the Red Sea."

Indeed, it is critical that we learn from history sensibly, ensuring not to fall into the same traps that victimized those who preceded us, not to make the same mistakes that they committed.

Haman, for example, thought he was smarter than his predecessors. He thought to himself, Esav was foolish for deciding to wait until his father's death before killing Yaakov; in the meantime, Yaakov established a large family. Similarly, Pharaoh decreed that all males among Benei Yisrael be killed; in the meantime, the girls still survived and grew up. Thus, Haman decided "to destroy, kill and annihilate from child to elder, toddlers and women, in a single day." He looked only at the decrees of his predecessors, only not at their eventual failure.

Thus, as we approach this week's parashah, we focus our attention on the eternal messages contained therein, so that we do not make the same mistakes as those before us.

As we embark on an in-depth study of Parashat Korah, we will hear something very familiar: "Everyone is equal, everyone should receive money except the extremists..." Who said this? Korah!

Korah assembled the people and claimed, "For the entire nation is holy, so why do you elevate yourselves?" He protested the unique status afforded to the tribe of Levi, who asserted itself as devoted solely to the service of Hashem, and was thus unable to participate in the national project of settlement and development of the desolated areas; a tribe that didn't take part in the conquest and wasn't drafted to the army. "[The tribe of Levi] was designated to serve Hashem, teach His upright ways and righteous statutes to the masses. Therefore, they didn't go out to war along with the rest of Yisrael. Rather, they are the army of Hashem, as it says, 'May Hashem bless its army'" (Rambam, Hilchot Shemitah Veyovel 13:10). Korah could not tolerate this tribe, which didn't take part in the joint endeavor and shook off communal responsibility.

Have we heard this recently?

Korah gathered everyone and insisted that it cannot be that we work so hard, plowing, sowing, harvesting, gathering, threshing, sifting - and then have to give terumot and maasrot, twenty-four different gifts to the kohanim who don't serve in the army.

Now let's ask ourselves again, have we heard this recently?

Indeed, this is a recurring chorus. For good reason the pasuk states that "Korah assembled the entire nation against them [Moshe and Aharon]." To allocate funds for the philharmonic, to channel money to theaters, to finance movies and water sports - this is culture, this is our obligation on behalf of the national spirit, our proud national responsibility. But to keep the coal burning, to learn Torah, to serve the Almighty in the Batei Midrash - no. We must do away with the tribe of Levi, and leave only a small, symbolic group...

How tragic it is that they don't read the end of the parashah, they never reach the disastrous conclusion. How sad it is that history must repeat itself, and the sacrifice of Korah was for naught...


"Say to Elazar that he should lift the incense-pans from the area of the fire"

Why did Hashem dictate that specifically Elazar, and not Moshe or Aharon, take the burnt incense-pans and make from them a covering for the mizbei'ah?

The Alshich zs"l answers that one could have contended that Korah's rebellion was eliminated so quickly and harshly only because it challenged Moshe and Aharon. Were Korah and his cohorts to have spoken only against the selection of the kohanim in general, then they would not have encountered the same divine wrath. Therefore, Hashem insisted that specifically Elazar, Aharon's son, deal with the burnt pans, thus demonstrating that the sanctity of Aharon has been extended to all his descendants, for all generations.

"Say to Elazar that he should lift the incense-pans from the area of the fire"

The Gemara (Berachot 27) tells the story of the controversy that occurred when the nasi (head of the Sanhedrin) publicly opposed the rulings of Rabbi Yehoshua. The scholars deposed the nasi but decided not to appoint Rabbi Yehoshua, the nasi's adversary, in is place. Instead, they appointed Rabbi Elazar ben Azaryah, despite his young age of eighteen years. Eventually, peace was restored and the nasi was reinstated.

Originally, however, why did the scholars decide not to appoint Rabbi Yehoshua, who was clearly the greatest among them? Rabbi Menahem Meiri zs"l answers that they learned the proper procedure from our parashah. After the heavenly fire consumed the two hundred and fifty challengers to Aharon's position of kohen gadol and offered incense, Hashem did not ask Aharon himself, their adversary, to take the incense pans. (The "Siftei Kohen" zs"l writes, " that they don't say that Aharon was pleased by their death and overjoyed at having seen the vengeance against his opposition - and I know he was like the angel of Hashem. But this was to save him from suspicion, that Yisrael wouldn't suspect him...") The Torah thus teaches the lesson of not "pouring salt over an open wound," and not to afford leadership to the one whose account the crisis surfaced. "In this way [by appointing the one who had been challenged initially], the one deposed will experience added depression." The Torah thus reveals such sensitivity, and the sages thus followed this directive, of being sensitive to the feelings of those who have been hurt.

"Say to Elazar that he should lift the incense-pans from the area of the fire"

Rashi explains the word "mahtot" (incense-pans) as utensils with a handle, used to stir the coals. Rav Ovadia of Bartenura zs"l asks, why did Rashi feel the need to translate the word again here, after already having done so back in Parashat Terumah? Secondly, why did Rashi have to inform us that the pans contained a handle? Is it not obvious that they had a handle so that the kohen offering the incense can properly hold the pan?

He answers that Korah knew full well of the dangers involved in presenting an unauthorized incense offering. He knew that a heavenly fire would descend. However, he was blinded by the handle. He thought to himself, "I'll be okay - there is a long handle, the fire won't reach me."


Korah and his cohorts were devoured by the ground and disappeared.

Meanwhile, the two hundred and fifty men who offered incense in protest of Aharon's exclusive stature as kohen gadol were burnt alive by a heavenly fire. Needless to say, the people were shocked. Already the next day, they were relaxed. They turned to Moshe and Aharon and asked, you could have forgiven. Why did you have to bring about so many horrible deaths? In response - "It happened when the people gathered against Mosheh and Aharon, they turned to the Ohel Moed, and behold, it was covered by the cloud...Hashem said to Mosheh, separate yourselves from this congregation, and I will destroy them in an instant!"

The Raman z"l asks, why were Mosheh and Aharon ordered to separate themselves from the nation? Certainly Hashem is capable of destroying the entire nation while Mosheh and Aharon still stood there, just as He killed the Egyptian first-born while sparing the Jewish first-born. The Ramban answers, "The Almighty ordered this in order to afford honor to the ssadikim, for so long as they are in the nation's midst, He will not smite them."

Indeed, the ssadikim protect their generation, as Hashem told Avraham regarding the wicked city of Sedom, "I will forgive the entire place for their sake." A city that has a rabbi who continues to achieve in Torah study, a kollel of young, vibrant students, a yeshivah - this is a city that is well protected. "Any place where they mention My Name - there I will come to you and bless you." Torah protects and saves, and thus all those located near it benefit from its protection and blessings.


A Series of Halachot According to the Order of the Shulhan Aruch,
Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a

By Rav David Yossef shlit"a, Rosh Bet Midrash "Yehaveh Da'at"

Chapter 8: The Laws of Sisit

The Procedure for Wrapping the Tallit (continued)

Those who have the custom of wrapping the tallit around their heads and bodies may recite the pesukim (Tehillim 36:8-11, that many have the practice following the wrapping of the tallit) during the wrapping, while the entire body is enwrapped in the tallit. However, those who have the practice of first wrapping the tallit only around the head should not recite the pesukim until after they have lowered the tallit around the entire body. If, however, one did recite the pesukim after wrapping the tallit around his head, before lowering it over his entire body, a new berachah is NOT required. Since he at least began the performance of the misvah, the pesukim do not constitute an interruption in between the berachah and the performance of the missvah. Some authorities write that during the wrapping one should quietly recite the pesukim of Tehillim 46:8, 84:13, 20:10 ("Hashem Seva-ot imanu..."; "Hashem Sseva-ot ashrei adam..."; "Hashem hoshi'ah...").

One should preferably cover his head with the tallit, since this covering subdues a person's heart and enhances his fear of Hashem. Some say that one must cover his head with the tallit throughout the entire tefilah.

According to the Kabbalists, one must cover his head with the tallit whenever he wears tefillin, and the head-tefillin should be covered with the tallit. On Shabbat and Yom Tov, when tefillin is not worn, one must cover his head, according to this view, through the end of the Shemonah Esreih.

Nevertheless, with regards to the actual halachah, it seems that there is no obligation to cover one's head with the tallit throughout the entire tefilah service. Thus, strictly speaking, once one has completed the wrapping at the time of the berachah, he may then lower the tallit over his shoulders for the duration of the tefilah. Therefore, one who feels that covering his head with the tallit will interfere with his concentration during tefilah, e.g. it falls off his head from time to time, may leave the tallit on his shoulders, not covering his head.

With regard to all these halachot, there is no distinction between single and married men. Thus, even single men should, optimally, cover their heads with the tallit during tefilah.

Some Ashkenazim, however, have the custom that single men do not wear a tallit at all, fulfilling the misvah of sisit with the tallit katan worn underneath their clothing; they wear a tallit only when leading the tefilah service or when going up to the Torah for an aliyah. However, the custom among all Sefardic communities, and some Ashekanizic communities, requires that even single men wear a tallit during tefilah, including children once they have reached the age suitable for education.

Upon the completion of the wrapping, one should take two ssissit in front and two in back, so that he is completely surrounded by misvot. Some have the custom of affixing an "atarah" (decoration) to one end of the tallit to indicate which sisit should be in front. The underlying concept is "we ascend in sanctity and do not descend." Therefore, the two ssissit that had achieved the special status of being in front should always retain that stature. The basis for this concern in a passage in the Talmud Yerushalmi (Shabbat 12:3) regarding the boards used for the mishkan, that a board used in the northern side should never be allowed to descend from this level of importance and be used somewhere else. Some say that the atarah should not be made from gold or silver, because then it would seem that the atarah was affixed for the sole purpose of covering the head.

In any event, regarding the actual halachah it would seem that there is no need to have an atarah placed on the tallit. This is because the principle of "we ascend in sanctity..." applies only to objects of sanctity, such as a Torah scroll, tefillin, and the like. A tallit is an object of missvah, but not an object of sanctity to which the principle of "we ascend in sanctity..." would apply. It has been reported that the Ar"I zs"l was not insistent that the same two sisit be situated in front all the time.

Even those who are stringent and wear an atarah on the tallit, may turn the tallit upside down if the side with the atarah is torn and he wishes to wear that end towards the bottom.


The Sense of Smell

Gases circulating through the air reach, over the course of their movement, the nostrils of the human being. During the process of breathing, these gases stimulate the nerve cells inside the nose. This results in one of the most marvelous phenomena in nature - the sense of smell. The greatest wonder associated with the sense of smell is man's ability to discern between different smells. How does this miracle occur? Generally, molecules emit smells that are similar to one another in both size and shape. One scientific theory claims that the molecules of any given material have a certain smell that precisely fits the tiny holes located along the surface of the hairs in the nose. These holes are embedded in such a fashion that only a molecule of a certain shape can penetrate each one. In this sense, this arrangement resembles that of a key inserted into a lock. This theory would explain another amazing feature of the sense of smell. As we all know, often when one smells a particularly good or bad smell, he becomes accustomed to it after a certain amount of time has passed. Although the molecules still float through the air and reach his nostrils, the person cannot smell them. For example, a person standing in a flower shop for an extended period of time will no longer recognize the fragrance of the flowers, despite the fact that the smell hasn't gone anywhere. We generally just call that "getting used to" the smell, or adaptation. However, the aforementioned theory contends that the sense of smell turns into a sponge of sorts. It is as if each hole, which corresponds to a molecule of a certain shape, has been blocked by previous molecules, so that no new molecules can enter.

Those with healthy senses of smell can smell and taste foul odors and tastes. One would not eat food that produces such an odor unless specifically instructed to do so by a physician. However, someone whose senses are inoperative cannot detect a putrid smell that would ordinarily serve as a warning regarding the poor quality of the food. Therefore, one must be alert and not allow himself to become accustomed to a foul odor or inappropriate conduct. One must realize that there is a more pleasant smelling place, where life is fresher and hope continuously prevails. One needs only to use his senses to discover from the aroma drifts, and follow the smell to that location. As Jews, we know already from the days of our patriarchs from where the beautiful smells come - from good deeds, misvot, and the study of the sacred Torah.


Father and Son (20)

Flashback: Two brothers - one a saintly sadik, and the other a brilliant Torah scholar - managed a store they inherited from their father until it could not support both growing families. The younger brother - the rabbi - left to find a rabbinical post, and along the way lodged in an inn ran by a generous philanthropist, whom the rabbi blessed upon his departure that his wife should bear a son. He then continued on to a city where he became a rabbi and established a large yeshivah where he taught Torah. Once, an ignorant boy came to the city, and it turned out that this was the son of the righteous innkeeper, born as a result of the rabbi's blessing. Since the boy's parents had died, the rabbi adopted the boy, and because he could not learn , the rabbi appointed him to run errands for the Bet Din. Some time later, the rabbi received a telegram from his righteous brother to return to his hometown and bring his best student to marry his daughter. Upon the rabbi's arrival, his brother turned down his best student, and instead chose the ignorant young man as a match for his daughter.

The rabbi was gripped by shock. He still demonstrated the same respect and reverence he had for his brother, but his pleasant countenance masked his confusion and bewilderment. The sadik paid no attention. He ordered that the groom should be hurried to the bathhouse and dressed in honorable garments. However, contrary to expectations, he remained the same ignoramus even after being washed and dressed in beautiful clothing. The sadik then said, "Hazal instructed that one may not betroth a woman before seeing her first. Let, therefore, the bride and groom meet!" In his heart, the rabbi wished that his niece would refuse to marry unenlightened boy who would be an embarrassment for her. Much to his surprise, the girl came out and expressed her consent. This hope, too, fell through. His brother was right after all - this is her mate, as difficult as it may be to swallow.

Two weeks later, the wedding was made. During the meal the rabbi thought in his mind the dictum of Hazal, "When the daughter of a talmid hacham marries an ignoramus, the meal is not a meal of misvah." He forgot for a moment that his brother was blessed with ru'ah hakodesh. The proud father of the bride turned to his new son-in-law and said, "Rabbi Yossef, open your mouth and let your words shine!" The groom closed his eyes, opened his eyes, and began expounding on issues of both halachah and midrash, elaborating in both the "revealed" and "hidden" areas of the Torah. The rabbi, meanwhile, sat there gaping, unable to believe what he was hearing. "You have brought about a miracle, my righteous brother!" he muttered in shock. "This is no wonder," answered the brother. "Explain to him, my son."

The groom was a bit taken aback, and then responded: "From the moment I was born, people tried to teach me and give me knowledge. Already from age two, private tutors were hired, but I disappointed each one. When I turned four, my parents died in anguish. I cried and cried, until one night my father came to me in a dream. He said, 'My son, gather your strength. I want you to realize that some children develop their talents only later in life. Soon enough, you will catch up to everyone your age. Only one thing I ask - just as I conducted myself modestly, hiding my deeds, I want you to do the same.' And, indeed, when I reached the rabbi's home and he began teaching me, I absorbed everything I was taught; the wellsprings of wisdom opened before me. But true to the promise I made to my father, I kept everything inside."

"Indeed," said the rabbi, "the son is a tribute to his father!"

the end


Rabbi Meir Abuhassera zs"l

It is explained in the writings of the Ar"I zs"l that all the months are alluded to in the head of the person. The months of Tammuz and Av correspond to the right and left eyes. On account of the blemishes of the eyes, caused by seeing that which is forbidden, the destruction occurred, in fulfillment of the verse, "My eye, my eye pours water." When this sin will be corrected, the Creator will send us Eliyahu and Pinhas, the numerical value of whose names (together) equal twice the numerical value of the word "ayin," eye, to inform us of the imminent redemption.

For good reason, specifically these months are designated for the correction of this sin. One must therefore take extra special care during these months. Especially, one should be careful not to go to places that pose a threat in this regard. Who knows what these sins of the eyes cause, and how they delay the unfolding of the redemption!

Rabbi Meir Abuhassera zs"l once traveled to greet his father the Baba Sali zs"l upon his return from a trip abroad. The flight was delayed, and Rabbi Meir had to wait with those accompanying him in the waiting room. His entourage formed a division between him and the rest of the people, and he sat with his head down and his eyes closed. He sighed painfully and said, "Who knows if the great misvah of honoring one's father is lost by the danger posed of seeing forbidden sights. Those who heard were terrified.

If the sacred ssadik is so distressed, even when he closes his eyes and is surrounded by his entourage like a fence, and he is concerned about the possibility of catching a slight glimpse of some forbidden sight, what can be said by those who walk around the streets indulging their eyes in immodesty?

One of his students tells that years later he went to visit the sadik in Ashdod. When he saw the student he said, "I seem to recall that you were among those who accompanied me to Lod. I want you to know that I have been doing teshuvah for that until this very day!"

Back to this week's Parsha | Previous Issues

This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,

provided that this notice is included intact.

Jerusalem, Israel