Korach – Famous or Infamous

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 One of the first lessons the Ralbag learns from this week’s Torah portion of Korach is that “one should not get into fights with the gedolim, the leading rabbis of the generation. See what happened to Korach because of his argument with Moshe Rabbeinu a”h, the master of all prophets. “
 This seems to be an obvious life lesson but what was the reason Korach got into this argument? He was within the top 5 of hierarchy behind Moshe and Aharon, and he Chaza”l say he had the fortune but his downfall was that he let jealousy get the better of him. We know how powerful jealousy is, that even someone as great as Korach was, jealousy was still able to rot his heart and create this debacle which swept up many leaders with him. But if jealousy is so strong, how can it be stopped?
 This can be answered through a second lesson the Ralbag learns from this episode. “It’s not worthwhile to be jealous of someone else’s honor and position he has over you. But it is befitting to be satisfied with what the Exalted Hashem has graciously endowed you from this. With this we see that for Korach, because of his jealousy for the position and honor that Hashem gave Aharon, this was reason for him to convince many Jews to rise up with him in a fight that caused him to lose his life and all of them in this world and the next.” (Click here for Hebrew text.
We learn from here 3 approaches that should help a person avoid being swept up by the attribute of jealousy:

  1.  The first obvious reason that one should not let jealousy get the better of him and therefore he should at all costs stay away from jealousy is the results, i.e. punishment that results from this attribute. You might want other people’s stuff, position or honor, but you wind up with nothing. Korach wanted to be famous and he got the fame; Hashem made him infamous (he actually ended up being very famous)! Korach could have been a well-respected Tzadik, doing his role as a levitecarrying parts of the Mishkan, specifically the important position of carring the Holy Ark, since he came from the family of Kehas, which Hashem gave him. He would not necessarily have had the same mentioning as Aharon had throughout the Torah, but Hashem would have given him a very high seat next to His throne in the World to Come for fulfilling his destiny and potential in this world. But instead he made it into the Torah for all eternity with a whole parsha all to himself to remind us of his evil and destructive behavior. Is infamy what Korach really wanted? But that’s the result of jealousy!
  2. This leads us to the next reason to stop a person from becoming jealous, which is definitely more important, that is, the fact that one’s position and honor comes from Hashem. Hashem decides who gets and who doesn’t, so being jealous of what others have won’t help one iota, and it’s not even worth it.  Hashem has a reason for why a certain person gets this position and another gets a different position.
  3. Lastly, a position comes with responsibilities, not just honor. Who says you can live up to the responsibility that the other person’s position has, and on the contrary, you might gain more through the help of the person who is in that position? For example, in this case with Aharon, he might have been the high priest, the number 1 Levite, but the pressure to ensure everything was being done correctly in the mishkan was immense, and if done wrong is punishable by death. Wrong means even with improper intent. Why would Korach want this responsibility for himself; Hashem gave it to Aharon for a reason, because He knew Aharon earned that position, and automatically the honor comes with it. The honor just doesn’t come out of the blue for any random reason. It is earned and Divinely given. Be thankful that the pressures and responsibilities that come with that position is not on your shoulders. Appreciate what you do have, the position you are in, and the fact that people in higher positions can help you with your needs without you needing to do it yourself.

If Korach only looked at what he had and figured out the most of what he can do to fulfill his role in life which was destined by Hashem and understand that we are all in it together to help each other than this infamous episode in history would never have happened and the Jews would have had many more leaders in their own right guiding them on the right path.

Korach – The Response to Anarchy

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Korach’s rebellion with his followers takes place in this week’s Torah portion of Korach. The beginning of the portion states: “Korach the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi took [himself to one side] along with Dasan and Aviram, the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Pelet, descendants of Reuvain. They confronted Moshe together with two hundred and fifty men from the children of Israel, chieftains of the congregation, representatives of the assembly, men of repute. They assembled against Moshe and Aharon, and said to them, “You take too much upon yourselves, for the entire congregation are all holy, and the Lord is in their midst. So why do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?” Moses heard and fell on his face. He spoke to Korach and to all his company, saying, “In the morning, the Lord will make known who is His, and who is holy, and He will draw [them] near to Him, and the one He chooses, He will draw near to Him” (Bamidbar 16:1-5).

The Medrish Rabba explains in more detail the conversation Korach and his followers had with Moshe and Aharon. They said to Moshe and Aharon that the entire nation are all holy and all of them heard on Har Sinai the mitzvah of, ‘I am the Lord your G-D’ so why should you reign over the congregation of Hashem?! We could understand if everyone didn’t hear the receiving of the Torah on Har Sinai, except for you, but now that everyone heard so why are you elevated over everyone else (Bamidbar Rabba 18:6)?

In the next paragraph of the Medrish Rabba (18:7), in the second answer of how Moshe responds the Medrish says that Moshe said to them, Hashem created boundaries in His world. Are you able to combine day and night? That is what the pasuk says in the beginning, ‘And it was evening, and it was morning’ (Breishis 1:5), ‘and G-D separated between the light and between the darkness’ (1:4 there). This was done for the practicality of the world. So just as He differentiated between light and darkness for the practicality of the world, so too He separated the Jewish people from the rest of the nations, as it says, ‘And I separated you from the rest of the nations to be for me’ ( 20:26). And so too He separated Aharon, as it says, ‘And he separated Aharon to make him holy in the Holy of Holies’ (Divrei HaYamim alef 23:13). If you are able to combine the  separation between light and the darkness, you are able to nullify this also, therefore Moshe said to them, ‘Morning, and Hashem knows what is His and the Holy and he offered on it, it is already fixed, and that which he chooses he shall bring close to Him.’

The Rada”l on the medrish clarifies that if light and darkness combined together the world would  be able to benefit from it’s useful purpose. So too the Jews separated from the rest of the nations of the world and Kohanim separated from Yisrael, through their separation, that is their use in order to stay holy and to be free to serve Hashem. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

Korach and his followers’ claim is that everyone should be equal, we all are holy and together like one man with one heart who received the Torah then why should Moshe and Aharon be elevated to a higher status than everyone else? This statement is an anarchist, utopian like statement. What is Moshe’s response? Moshe breaks it down for them as clearly as possible, stage by stage to make clear that there is a logical need for a hierarchy, and it is unhealthy for the world to be one big melting pot.

Moshe first gave the example of the light and darkness, imagine if light and darkness would be combined, not light shed onto a pitch black room, but combined like if you would combine yellow and blue which makes green then you would never get the benefits of yellow and blue if they were always mixed, so too if light and darkness were combined then you wouldn’t be able to see as well or sleep as well, the combination would not be useful at all, at least at its optimal potential. The same is true about the Jews and the rest of the nations. By Hashem setting us apart and giving us a status of a light upon all other nations, princes to the King Of All Kings, he set us apart to keep us holy and focused on our mission to serve Hashem at great heights. If He would not have separated us from everyone else and we would just be intermingled with the rest of the world then there would be no push or sense of responsibility to be focused on being holy and to serve Hashem to the optimum since we’d all be doing the same thing and there would be no impetus to not do what everyone else is doing  and finds interesting. This means that the very essence of being set apart and put on a higher pedestal is what gives the proper motivation for one to succeed in what he is asked to do, the hierarchy and sense of being unique and special gives one a sense of responsibility to produce proper results. In this case of course every Human being was created in the image of Hashem, and has high degrees of intellect with potential to reach great heights in serving Hashem but Hashem still put the Jewish people on a pedestal in order so that they feel that sense of responsibility to be unique and separate, holy, so that they can be an example and benefit to the world in serving Hashem to their optimum.

So too within the Jewish people Hashem created a hierarchy of Kohanim over Yisraelim. The kohanim have to be even more scrupulous in their holiness and they are given the special job of the only ones able to perform the service in the Mishkan and Beis Hamikdash, they have benefits such as  the priestly gifts, but their sanctified status comes with a lot of responsibility and if every Jew would have equal status, anyone can perform the sacrificial service, for example, then no one would adhere to the level of holiness required. This is similar to  people who wish to have no government or law and order because it is not right that some people have higher status and control over others. Yet without the positions of leadership there would not be an impetus or responsibility to get things done properly and the whole world would fall into chaos.

Even at the risk of abusive control, haughtiness and all other negativity that comes with leadership we see from here that it is more worth while to have a sense of hierarchy and not anarchy in the world in order to infuse a sense of responsibility and purpose  for the benefit of the world.

All Korach and his followers wanted was anarchy, a utopia where everyone is equal, but Moshe’s response was that it would be useless and harmful to the world because if everyone is equal. If there is no leadership then there is no responsibility and the world would then fall apart.

Korach – Formulas of Success

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Did you ever wonder why, after our shemone esray at shachris and mincha, we bend over and cover our heads with our arm when saying tachanun, beseeching Hashem to forgive our iniquities? Where did it come from, and what is its significance?

Rabbeinu Bachye
says it comes from this week’s Torah portion of Korach. While the outrageous rebellion of Korach and his followers raged and seemed to be picking up steam, “The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron saying, “Dissociate yourselves from this congregation, and I will consume them in an instant. They fell on their faces and said, “O God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, if one man sins, shall You be angry with the whole congregation” (Bamidbar 16:20-22).

On this last pasuk Rabbeinu Bachye says that from here we know that we have to “fall on our faces” (nefilas apayim) during davening. One should understand that the concept of nefilas apayim, falling on one’s face, during davening has a threefold intention: (1) for the awe of the Shechina (Holy Presence). (2) To show pain and submission, and (3) to show subjugation of our senses and nullification of our feelings. The first one, for the awe of the Shechina, is in order to enwrap oneself with shame and modesty, for covering one’s face is the way of the humble and embarrassed. And since the intention of the one davening should be that the Shechina is in front of him or her, as it says: “I have placed the Lord before me constantly” (Tehillim 16:8), it was therefore enacted as part of the tactics of prayer to cover one’s face. All this is to instill fear of the Blessed Hashem, as it writes about Moshe: “And Moshe hid his face because he was afraid to look toward G-D” (Shemos 3:6). (Click here for Hebrew text.)
There are a few interesting observations that could be made here:
1. Why specifically 3 intentions (kavanos)?
2. Why is the first one so much different than the second two, the second two are showing something, whereas the first one as described afterwards is actually feeling emotions?
3. Why not just list in the first one the emotions that should be felt instead of calling it “awe of the Shechina”?
4. Also, how does all this add up to fear of Hashem as he says “All this is to instill fear of the Blessed Hashem?”

It would seem that Rabbeinu Bachye is giving us a formula to instill in ourselves a sense of Fear of Heaven at this point in our prayers, when we beseech Hashem to forgive us for the sins we have committed. The formula is based upon the action of covering our face with our arm, which should produce the feelings of shame and humility, while simultaneously realizing we are  sitting (or standing) before The Almighty Judge, King Of All Kings, The Holy One Blessed Be He. This action of covering our face with our arm also shows pain and submission, as well as our senses: taste, smell, sight, hearing, and even touch – being subjugated, and our feelings being nullified. All this put together is a formula to instill into ourselves fear in Hashem.

As in any formula, like the Coca Cola formula, or a beer formula, gas formula, medicine formula, cereal formula, etc., etc. they all need or needed time to be perfected, through trial and error. So too this formula, while it may not need time to become perfected, as we see by Moshe at the burning bush that it was perfected – however for each one of us it takes time to master this formula. Indeed, it might take a long while, longer for some than for others, but the Rabbeinu Bachye is teaching us that there is a formula that can be used to instill fear in Hashem and to help us repent, specifically at this point in davening.

In a similar vein the Ramban, when addressing his sons in the famous Iggeres HaRamban, writes: “Hear, my son, the instruction of your father and don’t forsake the teaching of your mother (Mishlei 1:8). Get into the habit of always speaking calmly to everyone. This will prevent you from anger, a serious character flaw which causes people to sin. As our Rabbis said (Nedarim 22a): Whoever flares up in anger is subject to the discipline of Gehinnom as it is says  (Koheles 12:10), “Cast out anger from your heart, and [by doing this] remove evil from your flesh.” “Evil” here means Gehinnom, as we read (Mishlei 16:4): “…and the wicked are destined for the day of evil.” Once you have distanced yourself from anger, the quality of humility will enter your heart. This radiant quality is the finest of all admirable traits (see Avodah Zarah 20b), because (Mishlei 22:4), “Following humility comes the fear of Hashem.”
Through humility you will also come to fear Hashem. It will cause you to always think about ( Avos 3:1) where you came from and where you are going, and that while alive you are only like a maggot and a worm, and the same after death. It will also remind you before Whom you will be judged, the King of Glory, as it is stated (I Melachim 8:27; Mishlei 15:11), “Even the heaven and the heavens of heaven can’t contain You” — “How much less the hearts of people!” It is also written (Yirmeyahu 23:24), “Do I not fill heaven and earth? says Hashem.”
When you think about all these things, you will come to fear Hashem who created you, and you will protect yourself from sinning and therefore be happy with whatever happens to you. Also, when you act humbly and modestly before everyone, and are afraid of Hashem and of sin, the radiance of His glory and the spirit of the Shechina will rest upon you, and you will live the life of the World-to-Come!” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
We find a formula in the Ramban as well. A formula to strengthen our Fear of Heaven in order to avoid sin and be happy with our lot in life, as he says: “When you think about all these things, you will come to fear Hashem who created you, and you will protect yourself from sinning and therefore be happy with whatever happens to you.” It is a very similar formula: It begins with an action of always talking softly which leads to controlling one’s anger that infuses humility in oneself and finally arouses fear of Hashem. This formula is also not easy to master in a short time and is not expected to be that way. It takes much focus and toiling.

If the perfection of product formulas take a while then all the more so the mastering of a formula which is beneficial for life can take a very long while, possibly a lifetime for many but it is all worthwhile as the Ramban says, “and you will protect yourself from sinning and therefore be happy with whatever happens to you… the radiance of His glory and the spirit of the Shechina will rest upon you, and you will live the life of the World-to-Come!”