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PARSHAS KORACHAnd Korach separated himself. (16:1)
In the beginning of Sefer Devarim, Moshe Rabbeinu details the places in which the Jewish nation acted inappropriately. Rather than underscore the sin and humiliate them, our leader alludes to various indiscretions by the names and places in which these events took place. Bein Paran u'bein Tofel, v'Lavan va'Chatzeiros v'Di Zahav. The commentators note that these places do not exist on any geographical map; rather, they are allegories to sins, with Paran being a reference to the spies who were sent out from the Wilderness of Paran. Tofel and Lavan allude to the people's complaints about the Manna. Chatzeiros is where Korach's rebellion took place, and Di Zahav, literally an abundance of gold, is a veiled reference to the sin of the Golden Calf.
While we can infer the various indiscretions from the geographical names stated by the Torah, we find it necessary to be creative in linking Chatzeiros to Korach. No such place exists, and, as a term, it has no connection to Korach. The Chidushei HaRim explain this with a brilliant synopsis of the meaning of Chatzeiros. A chatzeir is a courtyard. On Shabbos, one may not carry from one private courtyard to another unless the members of the collective courtyard all agree to make an eiruv. Chazal provide a dispensation whereby a parcel of food is placed in one of the houses of the members of the courtyard. Everyone contributes toward the purchase of this eiruv, thus making all of the members partners, essentially transforming the area into one large chatzeir in which all may carry.
Chazal laud Shlomo HaMelech who was mesakein, created, the eiruv reform. He saw a problem and addressed it. Hashem was quite pleased with this tikun. Why? The Gerrer Rebbe explains that eiruvei chatzeiros teaches the value and power of achdus, harmony/unity among Jews. The very method through which an eiruv becomes valid is by the partnership that encompasses all of the members of the neighborhood.
Eiruvei chatzeiros symbolizes Jewish unity. Korach fought against Jewish unity. He created a rift when he separated himself from the klal, community. Thus, the word chatzeiros is an excellent choice for emphasizing the machlokes Korach, dispute of Korach. He catalyzed the opposite of eiruv by creating divisiveness within the nation.
It is amazing that, so many years later, Korach stands alone as the individual who created machlokes in Klal Yisrael. Furthermore, he impugned the leadership of Moshe and Aharon, which is in itself an unforgiveable mutiny. Yet, the Torah focuses on the machlokes, the shattering of unity. Perhaps everything could have been "worked out," even overlooked, had Korach not destroyed the harmony that existed in Klal Yisrael. Some people are rabble-rousers, always on the lookout for an opportunity to dissent and discord. They cannot leave well enough alone. It is almost as if they are nothing in their own right. When sides are taken and discord reigns, they come to the fore with their perverted opinions. They thrive on machlokes, very much like bacteria flourishes on an infection. Every community is cursed with such Korachs, who appear out of the woodwork once they smell a dispute brewing among partners, husband and wife, parent body of a school, or members of a shul. They do not really care who triumphs, as long as machlokes is present. Such individuals represent the greatest danger to a united Klal Yisrael. I just cannot figure out why everyone is so frightened of them.
And Korach separated himself. (16:1)
Korach was no fool. Yet, he acted in a manner unbecoming a person who possesses even a modicum of common sense. He had it all. Why did he throw it all away for a chance at a moment of glory? Did he not realize that he had no prospects of succeeding in this ill-fated endeavor? Rashi explains that his "eye" threw him off. He saw a succession of distinguished offspring descending from him. The illustrious Shmuel HaNavi, who was to succeed Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon HaKohen as the nation's spiritual leader, stood at the helm of this revered lineage. How could he be wrong? His descendants would save him.
Korach was dead wrong. His sons repented at the very last moment, resulting in their being spared the gruesome death of the other mutineers. Rashi refers to Korach as a pikeach, a clever, shrewd person. Why is he referred to as clever - as opposed to chacham, wise? Horav Naphtali, zl, m'Ropshitz distinguishes between a pikeach and a chacham, in that a pikeach is not only astute, but he also knows how to "play the game." A pikeach never officially takes sides. In fact, when two people are in dispute with one another, the clever person knows exactly what to do and what to say, in such a manner that each side thinks he is supportive of his individual cause/opinion, etc. This is alluded to by the gimatriya, numerical equivalent, of pikeach, which is 188, double the gimatriya of tzad, side. The pikeach takes "both" sides.
This is what Rashi means when he says, Vayikach Korach, Lakach atzmo l'tzad echad, "He took /separated himself to one side." Then Rashi asks, "Korach was a pikeach; what did he see that provoked him to do this foolishness, to take himself to one side?" Rashi intimates that a clever person never takes sides. What made Korach lose perspective of what he was about to do? He explains that he saw his future descendants. He thought that he could not possibly go wrong. This time he would not hedge his bets. He would take sides.
This might explain why Korach acted foolishly, but what motivated his two-hundred and fifty henchmen? These were learned men, scholars who were heads of the Sanhedrin. Clearly, one does not achieve such distinction unless he is blessed with an astute mind and possesses amazing diligence. They had no chance of becoming leaders. It was going to be a toss-up between Moshe Rabbeinu and Korach. They were completely out of the picture. Furthermore, they did not have Korach's excuse, looking into the future and seeing an illustrious lineage originating from them. Why did they act so foolishly?
Horav Meir Chodosh, zl, cites the Talmud Sanhedrin 52b, where Chazal present an analogy concerning the way in which an am ha'aretz, unschooled, ignorant Jew, views a talmid chacham, Torah scholar. At first, the scholar is unapproachable, similar to a jug made of pure gold. He is regarded as precious and highly revered. Once the scholar converses idly with the am ha'aretz, his standing in the eyes of the ignorant man plummets to that of a silver jug. His value has decreased considerably, but he is still considered to be precious. Once the talmid chacham accepts gifts from the am ha'aretz, it is all over. The scholar now appears as nothing more than an earthenware jug which, once broken, can never be repaired. In his commentary, Rashi states that this analogy applies to Korach and the way he was able to ensnare the heads of the Sanhedrin in his web of deceit. Interestingly, these men were not ignorant. They were the primary scholars of the nation. Once they were the beneficiaries of Korach's wealth, however, he neither respected them, nor did they have any self-respect. A talmid chacham must maintain an aura of respectability. Taking money from an am ha'aretz - or even a scholar, but a despot such as Korach - diminishes one's standing.
The Mashgiach explains that once the two-hundred fifty heads of the Sanhedrin benefitted from Korach's wealth, they had been bribed. It was a done deal; they were in Korach's pocket. Korach, on the other hand, knew the score; he had not been bribed. Chazal wonder how such an astute person could act so foolishly.
And Korach separated himself. (16:1)
Throughout the millennia, the name Korach has personified one idea: machlokes, controversy, strife, dispute for the sake of destruction. As Korach succeeded in destroying himself and his followers, so, too, do the modern-day heirs to his ignominious title destroy themselves and all those who chose the ill-fated path of following him.
In a letter written in 5760, Horav Aharon Leib Shteinman, Shlita, bemoans the fact that disputes among individuals, and even among institutions, have risen to epic proportions. The Rosh Yeshivah expresses his extreme pain and anguish over this tragedy. Each party thinks that he is justified, not only in his claim, but he even conjures up a dispensation to speak lashon hora and slander the other party. The only ways to put an end to this pandemic are: to adopt the middah, character trait, of vittur, tolerance, forbearance; to look away; to ignore and often swallow one's pride, so that a full-scale flare-up of tempers does not take place.
Horav Hersh Palei, zl, was well-known as an individual who went out of his way to distance himself from any form of machlokes. He viewed controversy as a flaming fire which would singe anyone who came within its proximity. In a similar vein, Horav Feivel Epstein, zl, son of Horav Moshe Mordechai Epstein, zl, Rosh Yeshivas Slabodka was wont to say, "If I had before me two possibilities: on one side a burning fire and on the other side the fire of machlokes, I would choose to walk into the actual fire, because it is cooler!"
And On ben Peles. (16:1)
Chazal teach that On ben Peles, one of Korach's early supporters, was destined to suffer the same bitter end that befell Korach and his mutinous followers. It was his wife that saved him. First, she attempted to bring him to his senses, claiming that he was in a lose-lose situation. Whether Moshe Rabbeinu persevered or Korach succeeded, On ben Peles was not going to become the leader of the nation. He was going to be a lackey, regardless of who triumphed. So, why did he get involved? The problem was that On ben Peles had committed himself and was a man who took his commitments seriously. He had been part of the conspiracy from the get-go. How could he back out now?
His wife was a true eishes chayil, putting her husband before herself. She was willing to do whatever it would take to preserve her marriage and prevent her husband from destroying his life. She gave her husband a good dinner, with enough strong wine to leave him slightly inebriated. She then coaxed him to take a nap. As her husband slept off his stupor, his wife heard the men coming to fetch him for the "meeting" to rebel against Moshe. On's wife understood the hypocrisy of these men - individuals who exemplified Torah scholarship, but who had no problem impugning the leadership of G-d's chosen leader. She knew how transparent their frumkeit was. She went to the window and unbraided her hair. The men saw a woman with her hair exposed, and they ran! Destroy Moshe - yes. That was fine, because they behaved for the sake of the Jewish People, according to their perverted logic. They all deserved to be leaders. Men who did not fear Hashem's wrath concerning their dispute with Moshe should not be "afraid" of some exposed hair. Why did they run?
The Yalkut HaUrim offers a practical explanation. The Talmud Yoma 47 states that a righteous woman named Kimchis merited to have seven sons, all of whom served as Kohanim Gedolim, High Priests. Clearly, this is no simple merit. Chazal questioned her concerning what it was that she did - or did not do - that warranted for her such incredible nachas, Torah-oriented satisfaction. She replied, "The walls of my home never 'saw' my (uncovered) hair." This teaches us that tznius -- modesty and chastity - is a reason to merit sons who are great enough to serve as High Priests.
We now understand why Korach's henchmen made an about-face when they saw On's wife revealing her hair. Obviously, she was not a tzenuah, modest woman. Such a woman would not produce sons worthy of carrying on the legacy of Korach. They would never achieve spiritual distinction - so why bother with On altogether? We now have an insight into the perverted logic that guided these men.
Mayanah Shel Torah offers a similar explanation with a slightly different twist. The two hundred-fifty heads of the Sanhedrin held themselves in very high esteem. Indeed, every one of them thought himself worthy of becoming Kohen Gadol. Concerning the High Priest, the Torah writes, V'chiper baado ub'aad beiso, "He shall atone on behalf of himself and on behalf of his house" (Vayikra 16). Chazal define beiso, his house, as ishto, his wife. The mere fact that the wife of the Kohen Gadol is on an even keel with him in regard to atonement is an indication that a Kohen Gadol whose wife acts inappropriately has a serious problem concerning his own suitability for this lofty position. Thus, when the men saw On's wife acting in a manner unbecoming a Jewish woman, they became acutely aware that On was not their man.
And Korach ben Yitzhar ben Kehas ben Levi separated himself. (16:1)
The Midrash Tanchuma observes that Yaakov Avinu's name is glaringly omitted from Korach's lineage. The Midrash says that it was by design, so that Yaakov's name not be included together with that of Korach. The mere thought of dispute distances Yaakov Avinu from these people. This reverts back to bircas Yaakov, the blessings the Patriarch gave his sons shortly before his death. He said, B'sodam al teichad kevodi, "Into their conspiracy may my soul not enter!" (Bereishis 49:6). This refers to the Korach controversy.
Did it mean that much to Yaakov not to have his name included with these miscreants? Does everyone not know that Yaakov was their grandfather? Does hiding one's face in the sand protect his identity? Would anyone blame Yaakov for Korach's failure as a human being? Horav Meir Shapiro, zl, offers a practical explanation. Chazal teach (Meseches Kiddushin), "Fortunate is he who sees his parents engaging in an umnus meulah, an appropriate vocation. Woe is to he whose parents are engaged in a degrading vocation." Regarding this statement, the Alshich would quote the pasuk at the end of the Rebuke in Parashas Bechukosai, "And I will remember My Covenant with Yaakov" (Vayikra 26:42). The fact that this perpetuation of the Covenant is mentioned in the Rebuke would seem to imply that it is a curse to have the relationship Hashem had with Yaakov included in the curses. It is as if it is being held against the Jews.
The Alshich explains that one who is himself engaged in an appropriate vocation - yet has seen his parents in an unseemly vocation - shows that it did not rub off on him. While his parents may have had "issues," he, at least, pulled through and made a name for himself. If, however, he is engaged in an unseemly vocation, while his parents are upright, distinguished members of the community, he will, in turn, look even worse. Thus, when Klal Yisrael "blew it," their distinguished ancestors' relationship with Hashem makes them appear even worse.
Thus, explains Rav Meir Shapiro, Yaakov was doing his descendants a great service by praying for his name to be ignored. Knowing that these reshaim, wicked people, were descendants of the Patriarch indicated that their nefarious rebellion was that much more egregious.
This distressed Moshe greatly. (16:15)
Moshe Rabbeinu had just experienced the nadir of chutzpah: Korach and his rebels had openly defied his authority. When Klal Yisrael's leader, the individual who had led the nation out of bondage, asked them to appear before him with their grievances, they flatly refused. That was, however, not all. They read off a list of concocted complaints which were blatantly false. Talk about chutzpah. They referred to Egypt, the country that had enslaved them for over two centuries as, "the land of milk and honey." Egypt - not Eretz Yisrael! They laced into Moshe for the sin of the meraglim, spies, placing the onus of guilt on him. Moshe was demanding; he was a demagogue who lorded over the nation. Sounds ludicrous? If we had not read it in the Torah, it would be absolutely inexplicable.
Moshe's reaction was unusual. While he certainly was deeply upset and angry, one could never tell this from his reply to them. Rashi informs us that Moshe was greatly pained. He was saddened by their actions, but it does not seem that he was very angry. Why? Would it have been wrong for Moshe to become infuriated, incensed - at least angry - at the mutineers? True, Moshe exemplified humility, but does this character trait demand that one allow ruffians to walk all over him? What about kavod ha'Torah, the honor of Torah? Moshe represented the supreme spiritual leadership of the Jewish nation. He had achieved what no one before him - or after him - has achieved. These people had undermined the integrity of his leadership and impugned Hashem's Divine authority. Yet, Moshe's reaction is only pain. Why?
In "Forever His Students," by Rabbi Boruch Leff, an anthology of discourses based upon the lectures of Horav Yaakov Weinberg, zl, the Rosh Yeshivah distinguishes between doing what one enjoys versus acting out of necessity. There are those who not only hate, but actually take pleasure in acting out their venomous feelings towards others. They actually enjoy taking a life. Sometimes, however, punishment is necessary.
The question that we must clarify is: When we see evil perpetrated by individuals who are no doubt criminals, persecutors, terrorists, how do we react? Do we despise the perpetrator, or is it the evil which we seek to expunge? Do we hate the message or the messenger? Are we able to discern between the two? The difference will be in our initial response. If we revile the person, then our response will be filled with personal animus bent on revenge. We will not be happy until we have literally rubbed his face in the dirt. In such a situation, everyone suffers. The perpetrator hardly acknowledges his evil, since he cannot differentiate between himself and his evil. The avenger becomes a hateful person who is really not satisfied, because revenge never really satisfies. Indeed, it ultimately destroys both parties. There is an old proverb: "He who seeks revenge should prepare two graves." How true this is.
If, however, one only hates the action, but not the evildoer, he will act with a strong desire to eradicate the evil. He will not have a personal hatred for the perpetrator, since he is above that. Most perpetrators of evil have their own issues which were responsible for catalyzing them to lead a life of crime preying on others. Many of them are themselves victims.
We must bear in mind that there is not necessarily a great deal of difference in the manner that we fight our battles. Regardless of who really is the enemy, the evil must be expunged - even at the expense of human life. The battle is similar; the intent, however, is vastly different.
The Jewish People are by nature an ethical, humane and loving nation. Our tradition expounds a commitment to the promulgation of ethical values and standards. Religion is not merely a part of our lives - it is our life blood! We have survived centuries of hatred and persecution, maintaining our national character, because we are guided by our Torah. Indeed, as a noted secular author observes, "For two thousand millennia Jews turned their victimization by anti-Semites into a uniquely gentle and ethical self-imagery." The author bemoans the fact that, "in this century, the Nazi attempt to exterminate Europe's Jews and the creation of a new, secular Jewish state have created a new Jewish type." He refers to the "tough Jew," so foreign to our heritage of old, "who is distinctive, precisely because of the history of Jewish weakness and the Jewish claim to the moral high ground of gentleness."
Moshe Rabbeinu was pained and distressed at the need to punish the perpetrators. He was angry at what they were doing, but he would not permit the anger that he harbored toward the evil to consume him, redirecting it toward the evil-doers. Personal feelings and fury may not dominate our ability to think cogently. Our goal should be to punish evil - not to destroy the evil-doers. Otherwise, we risk losing control of ourselves and acting very much like the animals who throughout the millennia have been our persecutors.
Putting an end to evil often entails meting out severe punishment against the evil- doers, but it does not mean that we have to enjoy it. On the contrary, it should cause us grief that we must act without compassion. We should first and foremost pray that the sinners repent and that an end to sin will materialize.
Let us return to the Korach rebellion and the manner in which our quintessential leader dealt with it. Moshe had every reason to be infuriated with Korach, but he was not. He was pained. His feelings were not personal. He was saddened that such distinguished individuals allowed themselves to destroy their lives. Moshe was disturbed by the forces of evil that had invaded his camp.
We have to question our own motives when we are called upon to respond to evil. Is it the evil that disturbs us, or is it the evil-doer whom we despise? Often, it is the yetzer hora, evil inclination, burning within us, provoking us to descend to their nadir of depravity. We must learn to ignore the messenger, but to expunge the influence of the message. Indeed, by focusing our hatred on the people, we lose sight of the evil.
He (Aharon HaKohen) stood between the dead and the living, and the plague stopped. (17:13)
Literally, Aharon stood between the dead and the living. The Baba Sali suggests that this pasuk refers to Aharon's advocacy on behalf of the living, rather than his standing between them and preventing the Malach Ha'Maves, Angel of Death, from completing his mission. Aharon prayed to Hashem concerning the distinction between the living and those who have passed from this world. The living have the opportunity to serve Hashem, study His Torah and observe His mitzvos. The dead no longer have this opportunity: Lo ha'meisim yehallelu Kah, "Neither the dead can praise G-d" (Tehillim 116:7).
This is how Aharon was able to swing the balance of judgment in favor of those who were still alive. He asked Hashem what was to be gained by their deaths. They would neither be able to serve Hashem any longer, nor would they be able to repent their sins. By keeping them alive, the chance for teshuvah, repentance, increased exponentially.
While this is a powerful argument on behalf of the living, one would thus assume that it should be applied equally to everyone - regardless of his sin. We see that Moshe Rabbeinu obviously did not feel this way as he asked Hashem, Al teifan el minchasam, "Do not turn to their gift-offering" (ibid 16:15). Did the two leaders have divergent perspectives on outreach to sinners: Aharon prays for life, whereas Moshe asks Hashem to ignore their sacrifice?
The difference is in the identity of the sinner and the egregious nature of the sin. Moshe spoke concerning the leaders of the mutiny, the rabble-rousers who sought to undermine his leadership and impugn Hashem's authority. They had gone too far. Their rebelliousness was of such a nature that teshuvah was but a dream. Aharon, however, was addressing the hamon am, common folk, who were misguided and often followed those who made the most noise. They had a chance to return, because they were not sinners; they were just disillusioned people who had been misled by a demagogue seeking honor for himself.
The ayin, last letter of the word Shema, is written in a larger size than the other letters. We, thus, have two letters written in the larger font: daled of Echad; and ayin of Shema. Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, explains the reason for the large ayin is that it places emphasis on the meaning of the word shema, hear. If the ayin were to be mistaken for an aleph due to the similarity in sound, it would result in the word she'ma, perhaps indicating that one is not really certain of the statement he is making.
The combination of these two large letters, ayin and daled, spell out the word eid, which means witness. To paraphrase Rav Hirsch, "The contents of Shema Yisrael are a testimony by Klal Yisrael to Klal Yisrael, and everybody who utters it stands forth thereby as a testimony of G-d to himself and to the world."
Furthermore, he adds that the emphasis on the letter ayin, which means eye, is to underscore that the nation was an eyewitness to the Giving of the Torah.
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