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Parshas Korach

Korach- Heartstrings
Rabbi Yosef Levinson

Chazal say that Korach along with two hundred and fifty men approached Moshe Rabbeinu wearing taleisim make of pure techeiles and asked mockingly if such a garment required a string of techeiles tied to it. They argued that if one techeiles string suffices for an entire garment of a different material, surely a garment made entirely of techeiles should not require an additional string to permit one to wear it. The Sages understand this since the episode of Korach and his men was written immediately following the parsha of tzitzis. Korach misinterpreted the mitzva of tzitzis (see Malbim). There is also another lesson in the parsha of tzitzis, a lesson that would have averted tragedy if only Korach and his followers would have paid heed to it.

Let's explain further. At the end of last week's Parsha, the passuk states: "And do not explore after your heart and after your eyes after which you stray." (15:39). Rashi explains that the heart and eyes are spies for the body. The eye sees, the heart desires, and the body commits the sin. Chazal also interpret this verse as an admonition against thoughts of heresy (Brachos 12b).

HaRav Elchanan Wasserman zt"l notes that thinking is the product of the mind. Why then does the passuk warn against straying after the heart when it is really the mind that is apt to stray? Reb Elchanan continues, belief in Hashem is one the 613 mitzvos which must be observed by everyone from the age of bar or bas mitzva. Yet, we find that the greatest philosophers throughout the ages questioned the existence of a Creator and were unable to provide any convincing proof. How then, once they reach the age of maturity, can a person be obligated to believe something which the finest intellectuals had trouble with?

Reb Elchanan goes on to explain that it is easy to prove Hashem's existence. If someone would show us a book and claim that he threw a bottle of ink in the air, and it landed and formed the text of the book, we would think this person is out of his mind. We know this is an impossibility. Yet every inch of the planet and every part of one's body clearly testify to the existence of the Creator. There is so much wisdom and planning in man. How can one say the world came about by chance?

The Medrash relates: A non-believer asked R' Akiva, "Who created the world?" R' Akiva responded, "HaKadosh Boruch Hu, the Holy One Blessed be He." The man asked for a clear proof. R' Akiva asked the man, "Who wove your shirt?" "A weaver," answered the man. R' Akiva responded, "Show me a clear proof." R' Akiva then proclaimed to his students: "Just as a tallis is testimony on the weaver, and a house testifies on the builder, so too, the world testifies that Hashem is the Creator." Therefore even a twelve or thirteen-year-old has no difficulty in believing in Hashem.

Yet, despite this obvious proof, many still deny Hashem's existence, for man is biased. If G-d created the world, He must want something from man. One is not free to satisfy all his desires. Chazal demonstrate that one, who receives the smallest benefit, loses his objectivity and would favour his benefactor in a legal dispute. The greatest thinkers, despite all their efforts to reach the truth, are held back from finding it because of their wish to be free to pursue the pleasures of the world.

R' Elchanan concludes that we see that it is the heart that controls the intellect. Therefore the Torah warns - Do not stray after your heart - we are obligated to control and subdue our desires so that our intellect will be free to think clearly and rationally, and then, Hashem's existence will be obvious to us.

( I once related R' Akiva's point to a confessed agnostic. This person responded that this is too simplistic a proof. Well one plus one equals two is also simple but no one has any trouble accepting this concept as fact!)

Now, let's return to Korach. The parsha begins: "And Korach took". However the passuk does not tell us what he took. The Midrash explains that Korach's heart took him. The Alter of Kelm writes that Korach and his followers were convinced that they were right. They believed that they were acting for the sake of Heaven and that Hashem would pick them. They were all righteous people who wished to serve Hashem. Where did Korach go wrong? Chazal reveal that Korach was jealous because Elitzafan was chosen over him to be the Nasi, head of the family of Kehas. The Alter says that Korach's heart took him. His heart held sway over his mind. Although he truly believed he was right, he was blinded by jealousy. Korach forgot this passuk, he forgot that the mind is swayed by the heart. Let us realise our biases and free our minds so that we can dedicate ourselves to Hashem's service.

Daf Hashavua Kollel Beth HaTalmud Copyright (c) 2002 by Rabbi Yosef Levinson

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