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Torah Attitude: Parashas Korach: "Jealousy, lust and honour [seeking] take a person out of this world."
"Whoever was present at the Revelation at Mount Sinai will believe in the prophecy of our teacher, Moses." Since Korach no doubt was present at Mount Sinai, how could it be that he denied the truth of the Torah and of Moses' prophecy? Cain said, "There is no judgment and there is no Judge; there is no World to Come and there is neither reward for the righteous nor punishment for the wicked." Sometimes a person's actions speak louder than his verbalized expressions. "Jealousy, lust and honour [seeking] take a person out of this world." When a person's mind has been contaminated by his environment, or even if a person eats what the Torah prohibits, this will influence a person's mindset to the extent that he may reject what he would otherwise accept on a pure intellectual level. "Don't appease your friend in the time of anger, death, vows and degradation." The real cause for Korach's rebellion was his jealousy. Nothing could appease Cain in his time of anger. We must learn to train ourselves and our children how to develop good character traits, and how to be prepared, in advance, in case we are confronted with a situation that could trigger an emotional response.
Rambam & Yemenite Jewry
In 1172 the Rambam wrote a long letter in response to a letter he had received from the leaders of the Jewish community of Yemen. Yemenite Jewry had endured some very difficult times and Rambam went out of his way to strengthen them and boost their morale. In his letter, he reviews some of the basic tenants of Judaism and writes: "The Creator has promised us … and informed us that whoever was present at the Revelation at Mount Sinai will believe in the prophecy of our teacher, Moses … they and all their descendants."
Rabbi Moshe Mordechai Shulsinger from Bnei Brak once pointed out to the Steipler Gaon that the Rambam himself writes (Laws of the Basics of Torah 8:1) that Korach, and his cohorts, disputed Moses authenticity as a prophet. In the Jerusalem Talmud (Sanhedrin 10:1), it says that when Korach made his uprising against Moses, as related in this week's Parasha, he engaged Moses in a public debate and tried to ridicule him. Finally, he exclaimed: "The Torah is not Divine and Moses is not a true prophet." Rabbi Shulsinger asked the Steipler Gaon, since Korach no doubt was present at Mount Sinai, how could it be that he denied the truth of the Torah and of Moses' prophecy?
Cain and Abel
Just recently, I was asked a similar question in regards to Cain. The Torah describes (Bereishis 4:3-8) how Cain and Abel brought offerings to G'd. Cain's offering was of poor quality, whereas Abel brought his offering from the very best. When Cain saw that G'd only accepted Abel's offering, he became very angry. At that point G'd spoke to Cain and said to him, "Why are you angry? … For sure, if you improve yourself you will be accepted … " Immediately after this the Torah relates how Cain spoke to Abel and got up and killed him. The Targum Yonasan ben Uziel reveals to us the details of what took place between Cain and Abel. Cain said, "I see that G'd created the world with mercy, but He does not conduct the world according to people's good deeds. And G'd shows favouritism, for why did He accept your offering and not mine?" Abel tried to explain to him that this was not in any way an act of favouritism, but simply G'd accepted his offering because he had brought it from the very best. To this Cain responded and said, "There is no judgment and there is no Judge; there is no World to Come and there is neither reward for the righteous nor punishment for the wicked." Again Abel tried to appease his brother and refuted all his arguments. However, they got into a fight and Cain killed his brother.
Actions speak louder than words
Here also the obvious question arises: how could Cain, who was just approached and spoken to by G'd Himself, possibly say that there is no judgment and there is no Judge, obviously referring to G'd? I answered that when our sages relate that someone said something, it does not necessarily mean that these were spoken words. Rabbi E.E. Dessler explains that sometimes a person's actions speak louder than his verbalized expressions. As a matter of fact, whenever a person knowingly transgresses a Torah commandment, it is as if this person says "there is no judgment and there is no judge; there is neither reward nor punishment". Otherwise, how can one justify one's transgressions? So rather than asking how could Cain kill, and how could Korach rebel against Moses and the Torah, we should ask ourselves how can we transgress a Torah law?
Jealousy, lust and honour seeking
The Mishnah says in Pirkei Avos (4:28) says: "Jealousy, lust and honour [seeking] take a person out of this world." This Mishnah teaches us what happens when a person is jealous or has a craving to satisfy his lust, or when someone seeks honour and glory for everything he does. Such a person, says the Mishnah, becomes obsessed and does not act in a rational way. As a matter of fact, whenever a person sins, the transgression is rooted in one of these three character flaws. Jealousy may drive a person to steal, rob and even kill. Lust and cravings can bring a person to eat what the Torah prohibits or to engage in illicit relationships. And honour seeking makes a person arrogant and haughty in his dealings with his fellow human beings.
With this Mishnah in mind we can well understand what the Steipler Gaon answered Rabbi Shulsinger. When the Rambam writes that "whoever stood at Mount Sinai, he and his descendants will forever believe in the prophecy of Moses", the Rambam refers to a person functioning on an intellectual level. But when a person's mind has been contaminated by his environment, or even if a person eats what the Torah prohibits, this will influence a person's mindset to the extent that he may reject what he would otherwise accept on a pure intellectual level (see Yuma 39b). Even when a person is craving for something prohibited by the Torah, this in itself, said the Steipler, can distort the person's belief in order to justify what he wants to do.
Anger, death, vows and degradation
In Pirkei Avos (4:23), it further says: "Don't appease your friend in the time of his anger, and don't console him at the time when his dead is lying before him. Don't try to absolve a person at the time when he makes his vow, and don't attempt to see him at the time of his degradation." The Maharal explains that the common denominator of these four situations is that a person, who is in any of them, will not act rationally. If you try to appease a person who is angry, it will only add to his anger. Similarly, if you try to console someone who just lost someone dear, that he has not even had a chance to bury, the wound is too fresh for the person to be able to accept consolation. To the contrary, it will only add to his pain and aggravation. This is also the case by someone who made a vow. At that moment, the person is so obsessed with his undertaking, that he will not accept any excuse to be absolved. And finally, if you try to see a person who has just been degraded, it will only add insult to injury.
Despite Korach's rhetoric claiming that he was defending the honour of the whole Jewish nation (see Rashi Bamidbar 16:19), our sages reveal that the real cause for Korach's rebellion was his jealousy. Not only was he jealous of Moses and Aaron being the leaders of the Jewish people, but even more so because Moses had appointed his younger cousin, Elizaphon ben Uziel, as leader of the family of Kehoth. Korach felt that this was a great injustice. As the senior member of the family, he felt that he should have been honoured with this appointment. We now clearly see how Korach's jealousy and honour seeking got the better of him and brought about his totally irrational conduct.
Similarly, when Cain expressed his blasphemy, whether in words or in action, he was angry and jealous of his younger brother, Abel. Even when G'd spoke to him it did not help. Nothing could appease him in his time of anger. It does not make any difference who the person is, or how smart he is. All of a person's intellectual knowledge becomes totally useless at a time when he becomes consumed by his emotions and negative character traits.
Prepare in advance
The Torah relates these incidents of the conduct of Cain and Korach to teach us how cautious we must be in our personal life. We must learn to train ourselves and our children how to develop good character traits, and how to be prepared in advance, in case we are confronted with a situation that could trigger an emotional response. Only in this way can we hope to overcome our emotions and live up to the high standards set for us by the Torah.
These words were based on a talk given by Rabbi Avraham Kahn, the Rosh Yeshiva and Founder of Yeshivas Keser Torah in Toronto.
Shalom. Michael Deverett
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