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Peninim on the Torah

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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland


And Korach (took). (separated himself). (16:1)

Korach's rebellion, first against Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon, and afterwards against Hashem, serves as the paradigm of a machlokes shelo l'shem Shomayim, controversy not for the sake of Heaven. In Pirkei Avos, Chazal teach us that a machlokes shehee l'shem Shomayim sofah l'hiskayem, a controversy which is for the sake of Heaven will endure.

Regrettably, many people often confuse themselves into thinking that they are entering a dispute for a noble purpose, but are actually being misled by their own yetzer hora, evil-inclination. How is one to determine if his dispute is for the sake of Heaven? How is he to discern between what is noble and holy and what is for purposes of self-esteem in order to carry out a personal agenda? Actually, Chazal teach us the answer when they say, "What is a machlokes l'shem Shomayim? This is the machlokes between Hillel and Shamai."

Horav Yonasan Eibeshitz, zl, in his Yaaros Devash explains that if the two antagonists see eye to eye in everything else other than the subject of their dispute; if they are close friends b'lev v'nefesh, in heart and soul, and their only discord is in regard to this one area, then they are like Hillel and Shamai, who loved each other and whose family members married one another. If the dispute, however, extends beyond the subject matter and the two parties do not talk to - but rather - attack each other, disparaging, slandering, demeaning one another, then it is not a machlokes l'shem Shomayim. It is a simple - but practical - criterion, one that is often ignored in the fiery passion of a machlokes. Another practical test is to question one's motives. Does he seek to win, or does he seek the truth? What if the other side is proven correct? Can he handle losing - or will he be content to see that the truth wins out? Will he be happy for his friend if he wins? Furthermore, will he be happy if his friend loses the dispute? If his friend's loss brings him joy, or if he just fights to win and cannot tolerate losing, his motives are not for the sake of Heaven. They are for himself. Heaven is his excuse - not his purpose.

And Korach…(took)(separated) himself and Dasan and Aviram and On ben Peles sons of Reuven. (16:1)

The Rebbe of a group of chassidim, who were also followers of Horav Chaim Soloveitchik, zl, passed away. His son, who was the designated heir, was not able to assume the mantel of leadership. It was just too much for him, both physically and emotionally. There were two grandsons who were prepared to take the position, but their personalities were different from one another. One of the grandsons was particularly extreme in one area. Although the majority of the Rebbe's followers were inclined to accept him, some chassidim were not prepared to accept his extreme nature. They were in a quandary as to whom to accept as the new Rebbe. Being close to Rav Chaim, they turned to him for advice. The question was: Do they accept the grandson, who - for the most part - seemed agreeable to everyone, except for his one area of extremism, or do they follow the other grandson?

Rav Chaim listened to their query, went over to his bookcase and removed a Chumash. He turned to Parashas Korach and asked, "The parshah begins by mentioning On ben Peles at the onset of the rebellion and then, suddenly, his name disappears. What happened to him?" Chazal tell us that On's wife saved him with some practical advice. She said, "What difference does it make if Moshe is the leader or Korach is the leader? You are still nothing more than the student, a nondescript insignificant aide."

Now, let us analyze this assertion. Korach and Moshe Rabbeinu were not in a dispute over who would be Klal Yisrael's leader. There was a much deeper question. Korach claimed that Hashem listened to Moshe because of his righteousness: Tzaddik gozer v'Hakadosh Baruch Hu mekayem; "The righteous decree and Hashem fulfills their demand." Moshe was running the show according to his vested interests. Moshe countered that this claim was ludicrous and could not be further from the truth. Everything that he did was consistent with the dvar, word, of Hashem. He was merely Hashem's agent. A controversy of such a critical nature cannot and should not be discredited with a mere statement, however practical, from On's wife. This was no simple dispute.

Rav Chaim explained that On's wife had a very compelling declaration. She countered, "How do you know that if Moshe was deposed and Korach became the Kohen Gadol, so that there was a new leader, that this new leader would not have his own agenda? You forget that when one sits in the seat of power, he sees things differently. His perspective is not the same as that of the fellow on the street. You might be surprised to discover that Moshe actually knew what he was doing!" When people do not see the entire picture, they cannot develop a clear plan of action. It is always easy to decide world events from the vantage point of the kitchen table. On's wife understood that it is easy to question a leader's decision as long as one does not see the larger picture, the perspective as viewed from behind his desk.

Rav Chaim turned to the chassidim and said, "You are not in favor of one grandson because you do not agree with the way he acts in a certain area, while the other grandson does not seem to have this view. How do you know, however, that once the second grandson becomes Rebbe, he will not change his position. I suggest that you desist from the controversy and allow the majority to rule."

Korach ben Yitzhar ben Kehas ben Levi (took) (separated) himself. (16:1)

Rashi explains that Korach's genealogy stops with Levi and does not list Yaakov Avinu as the Patriarch of the family, because Yaakov prayed on his deathbed that his name be omitted, so as not to be associated with Korach's assembly. Actually, what difference does it make if Yaakov's name is mentioned or not? Is it really a taint on his honor to be listed together with a descendant who became corrupt? Are we to believe that Yaakov was so concerned with his honor? Horav Elazar M. Shach, zl, derives from here that the Heavenly Tribunal has a much different way of reckoning than we do in the earthly domain. We will have to answer for areas of neglect that under normal circumstances we would otherwise overlook.

The Rambam in Hilchos Teshuvah 3:2 asserts that we do not necessarily understand the balance of sins and merits. In Heaven, the total is adjudicated and deciphered in a manner that does not coincide with the earthly domain. Thus, we should be meticulous to apply ourselves to every detail in our life's endeavor. What we might view as miniscule might be viewed in the Heavenly domain as significant, having great bearing on our ultimate judgment. Hashem might judge one individual for his grandson's negative activity because, had he been more circumspect with his son's education, his grandson might have demonstrated a more positive attitude towards them. If the grandfather neglects his son's Torah education, what can we already expect from the third generation?

Yaakov Avinu was concerned that history might hold him responsible for his grandson's rebellion. He, therefore, requested that his name be omitted from Korach's genealogy as a way of declaring that he had nothing whatsoever to do with Korach's dastardly act. His chinuch was pure and untainted. Whatever character flaws contributed to Korach's malevolence originated in the subsequent generation.

They stood before Moshe. (16:2)

One would think that they arose with derech eretz, respect. The Targum Yonasan says kamu b'chuzpah, they arose with audacity, calling attention to the fact that they were getting up for Moshe. Horav Elazar M. Shach, zl, relates that once the two geonei hador, preeminent Torah leaders of their generation, Horav Akiva Eiger, zl, and Horav Yaakov, zl, m'Lisa, the Nesivos Hamishpat, were taking a stroll. They walked by a group of uncouth ruffians who were sitting on a bench. The young delinquents demonstrated their lack of respect by not rising up when the two gedolim walked by. Rav Yaakov turned to Rav Akiva Eiger and said, "It seems that we have reached the Ikvesa D'Moshicha, the period preceding the advent of Moshiach, about which Chazal say, chutzpah yasgi, "the people will be filled with audacity." Rav Akiva Eiger countered, "They are still far removed from the type of chutzpah which will plague the generations preceding Moshiach. Now we walk by, and those derelicts do not get up. During the period prior to Moshiach, we will be sitting on stools, they will go by and if we do not rise for them, they will say about us that we have chutzpah!"

We must take into consideration that Rav Akiva Eiger said this quite some time ago - and his perspective was apparently very realistic, seeing into the future what seems to have become true. Regrettably, there are those who think that chutzpah yasgi is a mitzvah that has to be fulfilled with all the hidurim. They forget it is only a condition which mirrors the society in which we live.

I have not taken even a single donkey of theirs, nor have I wronged even one of them. (16:15)

Maase avos siman l'banim, "the actions of the fathers are a portent for the children." This axiom applies to machlokes, controversy, as well. Korach may well have been the first to undermine and rebel against a Jewish leader. He certainly was not the last. The Bostoner Rebbe, Shlita, notes that Shmuel HaNavi, as he turned over the kingdom to Shaul HaMelech, used the same words that Moshe used: "Bear witness against me…whose ox have I taken? Whose donkey have I taken? Who have I defrauded and oppressed? (Shmuel I 13:3)" The people replied that Shmuel had not deprived or oppressed them.

Imagine after a lifetime of service to Klal Yisrael, the best Shmuel Hanavi could ask for was not gratitude, not praise, but, "Yes - you were not a thief Yes - you did not oppress us." With this in mind, communal leaders go to the fore, perform their function, whether it is teaching, leading, advising or guiding, knowing fully well that gratitude is something they can only hope for from a unique minority. They do not expect much in the way of praise. Instead, they become quite used to the complaints, high expectations and subtle abuse. It is worse when the aggressor is someone to whom they have been especially beneficial. That is life and this attitude goes with the territory. Why should we expect to be different than Moshe Rabbeinu?

What really is the cause of dissent? Why do we find that the same people who benefit the most by their leadership are the individuals who go out of their way to sabotage everything that leader does? The answer lies in the fact that they cannot tolerate the fact that they had been helped by someone, that they were weak and they had to come on to someone else's assistance. For some people, gratitude is an overwhelming debt. One who is weak is not hated. One who is poor is not vilified. It is the powerful and mighty that are disparaged. Those who are in a position of supremacy - who are popular because of the wonderful things they do for others - they are slandered. Why? What did they do to deserve such a malignant reaction? Why did Moshe Rabbeinu, the Adon HaNeviim, master of prophets, Klal Yisrael's quintessential leader, a person whose every moment was devoted to his flock, deserve to have a Korach impugn his leadership?

The answer is that he did not deserve it, but, regrettably, it was a natural reaction of simple people. Their disagreement with Moshe was perhaps a small percentage genuine, but mostly envy and insecurity. No one can forgive his protector. There is no loathing that any man harbors more intensely than that toward his benefactor. It may sound cynical, but one only has to peruse history to note a constant languid hatred towards one's sponsor. No one likes to be on the receiving end, but then, they are not waiting in line to dispense aid to others, either.

Va'ani Tefillah

Malbish arumim, Who clothes the naked. The Jew blesses Hashem for even the most basic and natural gifts. Putting on our clothes in the morning is an occasion for expressing our gratitude. In the simple sense, we refer to Hashem's clothing of Adam and Chavah and the lesson we have to derive from them. As Hashem clothes the needy and poor, so, too, should we see to it that our fellow Jews are clothed and their needs addressed. In a deeper vein, man is the only living creature that has to dress himself. All other creatures are either born with their garments a part of their bodies, or they grow their own clothes, furs, feathers, etc. They are thus protected from the elements. Even in those climates where protective clothing is unnecessary, humans cover themselves because of a sense of shame. The sin committed by Adam and Chavah catalyzed an innate sense of decency and modesty to cover one's body at all times. The standard for defining decency and modesty among people differs among various people. Our nation has a standard that is guided by halachah - one that transcends the perspective of modern society and overrides the various environments in which one lives or visits. The brachah of Malbish arumim brings to mind the significance of observing the laws of modesty in our daily conduct. When we ignore the laws of modesty and give preeminence to the demands of our body, we are actually giving in to our animalistic and base tendencies. Clothing and modesty remind us of our superiority over the animal world.

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