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PARSHAS KORACHKorach separated himself. (16:1)
Machlokes, dispute, has to originate somewhere. People do not just wake up one morning and begin to argue. They are motivated by power, greed, honor, with the list continuing based upon the individual. The only one who is not affected is he who lives purely for the sake of Hashem, whose goals are determined by Hashem's code of law. The matriarch of a powerful banking family, torn apart by dissension and conflict, once lamented: "When we were poor, we were actually rich, because love and harmony reigned in our home. Now that we are rich, we are actually poor, because our home is being torn apart by hate. "Our" house is no longer our house."
All too often we attempt to purchase comfort at the expense of conscience. We claw our way to the pinnacle of success, often on the broken shoulders of others. Morality and ethics are frequently the price we pay for financial success. Our way of life is sacrificed for our standard of living. In other words, our priorities selfishly change, and with it go our standards and principles. This is what takes place in a machlokes. Individuals who had previously been decent, upright members of a community, friends, relatives - both close and distant - suddenly become archenemies because there is a prize to be gotten, and each one wants to be the victor, irrespective of the collateral damage that results thereby.
What makes the dispute even more ignoble is when each disputant claims that he has no ulterior motive, he is only acting l'shem Shomayim, for the sake of Heaven. Regrettably, they make this claim with such frequency that they even begin to believe in its veracity. Did Korach need the machlokes? He had more money than he could handle. He had kavod, honor. He had yichus, pedigree. What more did he need? Perhaps, he did not require anything more, but it bothered him that Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon HaKohen had something which he did not have. He could live with not having a certain position as long as no one else had it either. As soon as he learned that Aharon was chosen to be Kohen Gadol, however, the scenario in which he played second-fiddle was no longer acceptable. This is how machlokes begins. It is fueled by insecurity and greed until self-righteous arrogance comes to the fore. Then the parameters of human decency are breached, and there is no turning back.
Korach had it all-but it was not enough. He wanted more. Regrettably, this individual, who was destined for fame and dignity, became the paradigm of infamy and disgrace - all because he was troubled that someone else had more.
It is enough for you, O offspring of Levi. (16:7)
Moshe Rabbeinu was basically informing Korach and his followers that enough is enough. In fact, the positions they already had were too much for them. Korach wanted more. Jealous of Aharon HaKohen, Korach wanted to be the High Priest. Why should everything go to Moshe and Aharon? Let them share the "pie." Moshe explained that Kehunah is not for everyone. Korach was already honored with the Leviah, with all the privileges accorded to Shevet Levi.
In the Talmud Sotah 13b, Chazal state that Moshe was held in contempt and punished for using the expression, Rav lachem, Bnei Levi, "It is enough for you." It was considered callous. Thus, when he entreated Hashem to enter Eretz Yisrael 515 times, he was told, "Rav lach, It is enough for you! Do not continue to speak to Me further" (Devarim 3:26). Hashem used the words, Rav lach, by design. He was indicating to Moshe his error in the way that he expressed himself to Korach. Moshe's Rav lachem earned him a Rav lach.
The relationship between these two phrases is explained by Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zl, in the following manner. We cannot write off Korach's rebellion as being totally mutinous, without even one iota of good intentions. After all, Korach was not a hoodlum off the street. His followers were distinguished members of the Sanhedrin. True, they all erred in a bad and tragic manner, but we cannot ignore them totally, as if every aspect of their claims was unworthy. One aspect had merit: They sought to become closer to Hashem via the medium of the Divine service, avodah, performed in the Mishkan. Being a Levi was a wonderful and laudatory role to possess, but Kehunah had its advantages - something which they sought. Their error was in their manner of pursuit. One either is a Kohen, or he is not. It is not an arbitrary position. For whatever reason, unknown to them, Aharon was selected as the Kohen Gadol and eventual progenitor of Kehunah. Case closed. Perhaps they meant well, but their methods were abominable.
After all is said and done, their one good intention should not be disregarded. Moshe was too quick and brusque in his response to them. He was punished middah k'neged middah, measure for measure. He wanted to enter Eretz Yisrael for one reason: to perform those mitzvos that can only be carried out in the Holy Land. To this request Hashem replied, "Your desire to enter Eretz Yisrael is to attain even loftier levels of spirituality. Rav lach. It is enough for you! Be satisfied with what you have achieved. Just as you told Korach and his followers, Rav lachem, it is enough for you."
How careful we must be with every word that exits our mouth. One word expressed without the proper feeling can destroy. We will be held accountable for this. In his latest volume of divrei Torah from the venerable Rosh Yeshiva, Horav Avraham Pam, zl, Rabbi Sholom Smith quotes an additional insight. We derive from here the importance of never discouraging someone who is striving for spiritual growth. How often do we find young people who have developed an impassioned desire for upward spiritual growth - only to be put down and dissuaded for a number of reasons? Some of these reasons may be valid, such as the possibility of "overdoing it" - going extreme, to the point that one endangers his physical or emotional well-being. On the other hand, with proper guidance and direction, one can achieve otherwise unattainable heights. Through striving, diligence, commitment and encouragement, one can realize his dreams.
What about those who are discouraged for any reason? Do we ever consider the harm in putting an individual down, in throwing cold water on his dreams, in dampening his spirits? When we see the success they have achieved, despite our earlier taunts, we come to acknowledge the tremendous damage that we could have catalyzed had the individual not had the tenacity to ignore our remarks. The following story, related by Rabbi Yisrael Besser in his "Warmed by Their Fire," is a perfect example of this idea.
Horav Meir Shapiro, zl, was a unique specimen of gadlus ba'Torah, distinction in Torah. A brilliant Talmudist, he was a respected Rosh Yeshivah and Rav, an influential Torah leader and spokesman on behalf of Polish Jewry in the halls of the Polish Parliament. He was all these and more. It was his ingenious, groundbreaking idea to establish Daf HaYomi, the daily page of Talmud studied by many Jews throughout the world simultaneously, that earned him his greatest recognition and guaranteed his eternal merit.
During one of his travels, his train pulled into a Jewish community. When the Rav alighted from the train, he was greeted by throngs of Jews, all eagerly waiting to introduce themselves and meet the new star of European Rabbinic hierarchy. One of the people at the train station was a distinguished young Rav who made a point to introduce himself to the Lubliner Rav. He introduced himself as the son-in-law of the Shotzer Rebbe, a name that was close to Rav Meir's heart, since he had grown up in the town of Shotz. When Rav Meir heard this, he asked what seemed to be a strange question: "Is your Rebbetzin, by any chance, here?"
The young Rav replied that she was. "Could I speak with her?" Rav Meir asked. "Surely," answered the young rav, as he ran off to fetch his wife.
When the woman came over, Rav Meir looked toward her and asked, "Do you remember how as a young child I studied with your father?"
"Yes, I remember those days well," she replied.
"Do you remember how I often played with your siblings?" Once again, the woman replied affirmatively.
Suddenly, Rav Meir changed the tenor of his voice. It was neither loud, nor was it soft. It was sort of shaky, as if he were holding back much pent-up emotion. "Do you recall how I would share my grandiose dream of how one day all of the Yidden in the world would study Daf HaYomi and, thus, be connected with one another through the inextricable bond of Torah? And do you also remember (at this point Rav Meir's voice dropped and began to tremble) how all of the children made fun of my idea, mockingly calling it 'dach ha'yona' and laughing hysterically at my expense?"
This time the woman did not reply, but a reply was not necessary. The answer was obvious.
"Do you know," continued Rav Meir, "that I came close to losing my confidence in the plan and dropping it altogether as a result of the taunts? This is why I wanted to meet you. I just wanted to tell you one thing: Never laugh at a child's dream."
What a powerful lesson to digest. It happens all the time. We mach aveck, ignore with indifference, push away so many bright ideas, simply because of the way in which, or by whom, they are presented. If a child or even an adult has a reputation as a dreamer, perhaps, if we would give that "dreamer" a chance, he might create an impressive reality. Just think about the Daf HaYomi!
But if Hashem will create a phenomenon, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them…then you shall know that these men have provoked Hashem. (16:30)
Clearly, the entire dispute between Korach and Moshe Rabbeinu is one of the more difficult episodes recorded in the Torah. The fact that a man of Korach's stature would degrade himself to that extent for a position that was clearly not his, is in itself confounding. What seems to also trouble the commentators is the request of Moshe Rabbeinu that Korach's punishment be unusual. He asked that something unprecedented occur, something so extraordinary that it would convince everyone of his truthfulness. Indeed, Moshe did not request your "everyday earthquake." He sought something totally unnatural - the earth opening up, swallowing the rebels and closing up as if nothing had happened. While Korach deserved something "different" in way of punishment, was the earth opening up a punishment by design?
In his commentary to Chumash, Panim Yafos, the Baal Haflaah writes that Moshe's request had a serious rationale supporting it. There was, indeed, a connection between the ground opening up, swallowing the mutineers, and Korach's dispute. He bases this on the words of Chazal in the Talmud Shabbos 88A, in which the dialogue between Hashem and Klal Yisrael preceding the giving of the Torah is related. "And they stood at the foot of the mountain (Shemos 19:17)." This teaches that Hashem covered them with the mountain as though it were an upturned vat. He said to them, "If you accept the Torah, fine. If not, there will be your burial."
Tosfos question why Hashem found it necessary to compel the people to accept the Torah. They had already expressed their acquiescence to do so when they declared, "Kol asher diber Hashem, Naaseh V'Nishmah, All that Hashem has said, we will do and we will hear (Shemos 24:7)." Tosfos explains that, after seeing the tremendous fire that accompanied the Revelation, Klal Yisrael might have changed their minds. Midrash Tanchuma gives a different answer. The declaration, Naaseh V'Nishma, signaled Klal Yisrael's acceptance of Torah She B'Ksav, the Written Law. The people were reluctant to accept the Oral Law because its mastery requires extreme diligence, effort and discipline. Coercion was, therefore, necessary to yield their acceptance of the Oral Law.
Hashem raised the mountain over their heads and threatened them with burial unless they agreed to accept Torah She'Baal Peh, the Oral Law. Thus, we derive from here that one who rejects the Oral Law is punished with being buried alive. Applying this insight, the Baal Haflaah explains a cryptic statement made by Chazal in the Talmud Shabbos 105b: Kol ha'misatzeil b'hespeido shel chacham, raui l'kovro b'chayav, "Anyone who acts indolently over the eulogy of a sage is fit to be buried alive." A sage is an individual who has devoted himself to the study and dissemination of the Oral Law. He has expended considerable effort in mastering the Talmud and its commandments. One who is lazy in eulogizing a sage indicates by his lack of respect that he has no concept of the value of the Oral Law. He does not appreciate the Oral Law that is lost with the death of a Torah scholar. He simply does not care.
The punishment for such indolence is that he is fit to be buried alive. Just as the Jews needed coercion to accept the Oral Law, otherwise they would be buried alive, likewise, this punishment is equally fitting for one who does not fully appreciate the contribution of the Torah scholar to the furtherance of the study of the Oral Law.
We may now understand the connection between Korach's dispute and his ensuing punishment. Korach and his henchmen were not merely contending against Moshe as the leader of the Jewish People, they were impugning him as Klal Yisrael's first and foremost rebbe, the transmitter of Hashem's word, the oracle from Whom the Oral Law was expounded. Moshe was the Oral Law. He was giving over to the people what he had heard from Hashem. This is the first Mishnah in Pirkei Avos: Moshe kebeil Torah m'Sinai, "Moshe accepted the Torah from Sinai" and gave it to Yehoshua, who in turn transmitted it to the Zekeinim, elders, a process that has continued until this very day. This is what Korach sought to undermine, to destroy, to erase from the minds of the Jewish People. The Oral Law was undisputed until a few hundred years ago in Germany, when a group of secularists decided to continue where Korach left off.
Therefore, just as during the Revelation Hashem threatened to bury the people if they would reject the Oral Law, He followed through when Korach rebelled against the very foundation of the Oral Law. In his Shevilei Pinchas, Horav Pinchas Friedman, Shlita, makes a homiletic connection between Korach's sin, his punishment and a statement made by Rabbi Akiva, quoted in the Talmud Pesachim 22b. At the conclusion of Moshe's declaration concerning the sinners he says, V'yedatem ki niatzu ha'anashim ho'eilah es Hashem, "And you shall know that these men angered Hashem." The punishment that they will receive will be so definitive that it will reflect Hashem's displeasure with them.
In the Talmud Pesachim, there is a discussion concerning the essim, the various places in the Torah where the word es is written. The question that is addressed is: Are these essim necessary? Is anything to be derived from a word that is seemingly superfluous? Shimon Ho'amasoni was a sage who was able to derive a halachah from every es in the Torah. When he came to the pasuk, Es Hashem Elokecha tira, "You shall fear Hashem your G-d" (Devarim 6:13), he desisted. After all, what could be added to G-d? Whom else should one fear? Rabbi Akiva expounded, L'rabos talmidei chachamim, "To include Torah scholars" The fear one should demonstrate towards a Torah scholar, the awe one should manifest for a talmid chacham, is derived from the Es Hashem Elokecha tira.
This is what Moshe meant when he said, "But if Hashem will create a phenomenon, and the earth opens up its mouth and swallows them and all that is theirs, and they will descend alive to the pit - then you will know that these men provoked Hashem!" Es Hashem. They degraded the honor of chachmei haTorah, the scholars of Torah She'Baal Peh, whose fear has been compared to that which we are to give to Hashem. Therefore, they will receive a punishment which is consistent with their sin.
The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households, as well as all the people who belonged to Korach. (16:32)
Our Parshah is evidence of the dire ramifications of conflict. It remains to be elucidated why such consequences as the seemingly unfair judgment imposed on wives and children - innocent victims - is prescribed for what seems to be a minor crime. Apparently, machlokes, conflict, is much more serious than one is willing to concede. The mere fact that children who, for the most part, were innocent bystanders, were swallowed up with Korach and his followers is a clear indication of the tragic effects of machlokes. Why should it carry over to the next generation? One observation does seem to be true: When the fathers initiate a dispute, their children invariably follow in their footsteps. Our generation is especially plagued with the scourge of machlokes, which has infected the most distinguished homes and organizations of our people. How are we to understand this disease? How can we respect those who are embroiled in these territorial, ideological, familial, material disputes?
Chazal teach us that On ben Peles, who was one of Korach's original henchmen, did not suffer his mentor's consequences. Apparently, his wife was a wise woman who gave him a bit too much to drink. While he was sleeping off his drunken stupor, Korach's minions came calling. They would have had no qualms about disturbing his sleep had they been able to enter the tent. They could not enter On's home because his wife sat at the front of the tent with her hair uncovered. Since it is forbidden to gaze upon the uncovered hair of a married woman, these "righteous" Jews continued along their way. On was spared their fate. He was no saint, but he had a smart wife who understood that a baal machlokes, one who is involved in dispute, is not necessarily an irreligious person. He could be a fine, upstanding member of the community, one who adheres to all of the other mitzvos - except for machlokes. Why is this? How do the high and mighty fall so low?
Chazal distinguish between two types of dispute: l'shem Shomayim, for the sake of Heaven; and she'lo l'shem Shomayim, not for the sake of Heaven. The machlokes of Bais Hillel and Bais Shammai, in which two schools of Torah thought disputed the depth of the Halachah, both delving for the truth, is the symbol of permissible machlokes. Korach and his henchmen present the paradigm of forbidden dispute. I think that herein lies the critical root of disaster concerning all machlokes: the definition of l'shem Shomayim. If all disputes would be prohibited, then we would have no problem with contention, since no G-d-fearing Jew would do something that was sacrilegious. Since we know that there exists an option of a "kosher" dispute, a machlokes l'shem Shomayim, controversy is no longer taboo. It is only evil when it is for the wrong reasons or to achieve the wrong goals. This implies that a machlokes l'shem Shomayim is good - so why not have a machlokes! Who would think that a righteous, G-d-fearing Jew would ever involve himself in a dispute that was not for a noble purpose? Once the "dispensation" of l'shem Shomayim is an available option, everyone feels that he has a "permit" to contend. His goals are laudatory! It is not merely for kavod, personal glory, or power, it is for the betterment of Klal Yisrael. These are a few of the sick excuses given by those who are embroiled in machlokes. This is why it traverses generations: because the father left off, and the machlokes goes on. When something is always evil, we stay away; when something is usually evil, we provide dispensations for getting around the issues. What we seem to forget is that a machlokes l'shem Shomayim is still a machlokes!
Ha'melech ha'gadol v'ha'kadosh
The terms gadol v'kadosh, great and holy, are used very often concerning people, perhaps too lightly. In reference to Hashem what is the difference between gadol and kadosh? Horav Yechezkel Abramsky, zl, explains that the difference between these two terms is conceptually vast. Gadol refers to something real which is in existence. Kadosh, on the other hand, is an expression which implies negativity, separation, abstinence. Hashem gives life to all creatures. He is the Source of all existence. This is a function of gadlus, greatness. Nonetheless, despite His being the All-powerful Source of all that exists, He remains kadosh, secluded, separated from His creations. The Ministering Angels praise both aspects of Hashem. Makdishim u'mamlichim, they declare His greatness and expound His holiness. Although He is holy and, thus, separated from us, He watches over and guards us at all times.
Horav Avigdor Miller, zl, feels that these appellations describe Hashem as the only great One, and the only Holy One, with holiness indicating perfection. After all, one who is not perfect can hardly be holy.
Rochel bas Avraham a"h
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