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Room for ErrorAdapted from "Ha'aros" by Moreinu v'Rabbeinu HaGaon HaTzaddik Rav Zeidel Epstein, zt"l.
"Korach the son of Yitzhar, the son of Kohas, the son of Levi took [himself to one side] along with Dasan and Aviram, the sons of Eliav, and On the son of Peles, descendants of Reuven." (Bemidbar 16:1)
Rashi: Now what made Korach decide to quarrel with Moshe? He envied the high office given to Elitzafan the son of Uzziel whom Moshe appointed as head over the sons of Kohas by the [Divine] word. Korach claimed, "My father and his brothers were four [in number]" …. Amram was the first, and his two sons received greatness - one a king and one a kohen gadol. Who is entitled to receive the second [position]? Is it not I, who am the son of Yitzhar, who is the second brother to Amram? And yet, he [Moshe] appointed the son of his youngest brother to be head! I hereby oppose him and will invalidate his word (Midrash Tanchuma Korach 1, Bemidbar Rabba 18:2). What did he do? He went and assembled two hundred and fifty men, heads of Sanhedrin, most of them from the tribe of Reuven, his neighbors. … He dressed them with cloaks made entirely of blue wool. They came and stood before Moshe and asked him, "Does a cloak made entirely of blue wool require tzitzis, or is it exempt?" He replied, "It does require [tzitzis]." They began laughing at him [saying], "Is it possible that a cloak of another [colored] material, one string of blue wool exempts it [from the obligation of techeles], and this one, which is made entirely of blue wool, should not exempt itself? - [Midrash Tanchuma Korach 2, Bemidbar Rabba 18:3]
The Ribono Shel Olam created this world full of tests (nisyonos) for a person. The purpose of nisyonos is, as the Ramban explained, to uplift the person, to give him a challenge and an opportunity to grow in his spiritual stature. Often, these nisyonos are in the form of "room to make a mistake." A person has to struggle for clarity and not be misled by the camouflage and disguises the yetzer hara puts in front of him. He is given room to err. Two weeks ago, in parshas Beha'aloscha we discussed that even simple things, like garlic and onions, can be nisyonos. A person can err regarding the most straightforward and obvious things.
Last week, when Moshe Rabbeinu sent out the Meraglim he said: åÀäÄúÀçÇæÌÇ÷ÀúÌÆí åÌìÀ÷ÇçÀúÌÆí îÄôÌÀøÄé äÈàÈøÆõ. Normally we translate: "You shall be courageous and take from the fruit of the land." But the word v'hischazaktem can also mean "strengthen yourself." It takes tremendous strength and effort to see properly and not make mistakes. Remember, and remember, and remember again that right in front of you there lurks room to make a mistake. And you have the ability to avoid it. This week, in Korach we see that even the highest levels, Ruach Hakodesh and prophecy, can be nisyonos. Korach teaches us that even the greatest people are apt to err also.
But what did Korach, who was so exceptionally astute, see [to commit] this folly? His vision deceived him. He saw [prophetically] a chain of great people descended from him: Shmuel, who is equal [in importance] to Moshe and Aaron. He [Korach] said, "For his sake I will be spared. [He also saw] twenty-four watches [of Levites] emanating from his grandsons, all prophesying through the holy spirit… He said, "Is it possible that all this greatness is destined to emanate from me, and I should remain silent?" Therefore, he participated [in the rebellion] to reach that prerogative, for he had heard from Moshe that they would all perish and one would escape [death]: "the one whom the Lord chooses - he is the holy one." He erred in thinking that it referred to him. He, however, did not "see" properly, for his sons repented [and thus did not die at that time]. Moshe, however, saw this. - [Midrash Tanchuma, Korach 5, and Bemidbar Rabba 18:8]
Korach had a prophecy. He clearly saw a great future for his descendants. He was invincible. He wasn't going to perish in his battle against Moshe Rabbeinu. So he must be right! Why didn't he think that maybe things would turn out differently? That never occurred to him. He had a brilliant mind and figured out all the angles. With his genius he had it all worked out. Why didn't he think of the possibility that his children would do teshuvah and move over to Moshe Rabbeinu's side? Or Moshe Rabbeinu with all his merits would somehow succeed even against the prophecy?
Rashi hints at this. Rashi adds the words: Moshe, however, saw." What does Rashi mean by this? Of course Moshe Rabbeinu saw. He was the greatest of neve'im and could see everything. We however, can't see. Isn't that simple? Why did Rashi have to add this in? The answer is that you might think that the truth was so hidden from Korach he really couldn't see. It wasn't his fault. He was misled by his prophecy. No! Moshe, however, saw. This is a sign that he too could see, if only he had tried. So why didn't he see? It didn't occur to him that there was room to make a mistake. And because he didn't take the mistake factor into account he was lost forever.
Everything in the world can be this "room to err." It can be a prophecy, it can be Ruach Hakodesh.
Elisha ben Avuya was a great tanna. The gemara (Chagiga 15a and Yerushalmi Chap. 2 p. 76): relates that he, together with R. Akiva and 2 other t'naim were of such an elevated stature that they were able to enter a spiritual realm call "The Garden." There they were given visions of the mystical secrets of Creation. Rabbi Akiva came out unscathed, but Elisha ben Avuya saw things which shook his faith to the core. He heard a heavenly voice proclaimed: "Repent, you backsliding children [Yirmiah 3:14] - except for 'the Other One.'" Elisha ben Avuya reasoned: "Now that I am barred from the next world, I might as well enjoy the here and now." He gave himself over to evil ways. He no longer considered himself the great tanna but looked at himself as a different person and from then on he was referred to as "the Other One."
Our rabbis taught: It once happened that "the Other One" (Elisha ben Avuya) was riding his horse on Shabbos, while Rabbi Meir walked after him to learn Torah from him.
"That's enough, Meir," he said. "We have now reached the Shabbos limit."
"How do you know?"
"I calculated from the paces of my horse that we have gone 2000 amos [cubits]."
"You have all this wisdom," said Meir, "and yet you do not repent?"
"Once I was riding my horse in front of the Holy of Holies, on Yom Kippur, which happened to fall on a Shabbos. I heard the divine voice issue from the Holy of Holies: 'Repent, you backsliding children' - except for Elisha ben Abuyah, who knew my power and rebelled against me.'"
Anyone in Elisha's place, who heard Heaven declare, "There's no hope. You can't do teshuvah," would most likely also have his faith shattered. He would just give up. Even Heaven has given up on him.
But, if we look in the perush of Rabbeinu Chananel we find that this was a tragic error! There's hope for everyone. Even the worst wicked, evil, rosha can do teshuvah. If Elisha would have davened, and davened again and pounded on the gates of Shomayim, they have to open up for him. If that's the case, why was he privileged to hear this Divine voice? Why should Heaven itself mislead him and tell him there's no hope? Because even a Divine Voice can be the "room to err." A Divine Voice called out and said, "Everyone can do teshuva except for Elisha!" That should have been the shock that woke him up. He should have sat down and cried. "Ribono Shel Olam! Oy! I'm so low I can't even do teshuva? Have mercy! Turn the world upside down, inside out, but let me do teshuva!" And that would have worked. That was the real message of the Divine Voice. He shouldn't have been taken in by it.
This scenario repeats itself over and over again. A bochur finds himself in the yeshiva and he's not learning anything. He's there 2 years, 3 years…. He's all broken. What's the result? It's not for me. I give up. But it doesn't enter his mind that maybe all this merely a "room to err." Shomayim is demanding him to exert himself more and trust that he will succeed in the end.
This is what he has to realize. Difficulties are nothing more that "room to make a mistake." That's the secret of the entire universe. Our only problem is to figure out what are we supposed to do. But that's the hard part. We're in a quandary to do or not do. If everything is "room for error" we're stuck. The single thing we can do is to daven. Last week in parshas Shelach, what did Calev do? He ran off to Chevron to daven. What did Moshe Rabbeinu do? He davened. It can be the greatest "room for error," but there is nothing greater than tefilla. "Ribono Shel Olam. I see You're giving me tremendous nisyonos. I know what You are doing, but I can't anymore. It's too much for me. Help!"
Even when it looks impossible, and you are lost, realize it's merely a nisayon. And the Ribono Shel Olam won't reject anyone in the world. He doesn't give up on anyone. Even if we see Him pushing us away, don't believe it. He wants to give you an opportunity for greatness, to develop yourself and grow. He wants you realize that it's merely a nisayon, and to believe in the Ribono Shel Olam in spite of the difficulties, and thus you can make a breakthrough. This is the true Hatzlocha of a person.
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