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Korach took/separated himself. (16:1)
Korach did not wake up one morning and decide that "today" he was going to dispute Moshe's leadership, thinking: "Today, I will mutiny against Hashem; today, I will demand that Aharon's position as Kohen Gadol be transferred to me". It certainly did not happen that way. Korach's dissent had been festering for some time. He was biding his time, waiting for the most propitious opportunity in which he would have the greatest success. What was there about "now" that provided Korach with the fortuity for fomenting a successful revolt against our nation's leadership?
Horav Bentzion Firer, zl, suggests that it was following the sin of the meraglim, spies, and the punishment which sealed the nation's fate, that created the fertile environment for Korach to add the seeds of discontent which would germinate into an all-out revolt against Moshe Rabbeinu. Moshe sent the meraglim to Eretz Yisrael on a mission to reconnoiter the land. Instead of returning with a positive report, they slandered the land, due to their jaundiced perspective concerning everything that they saw. The nation reacted as the meraglim expected them to-- with uncontrolled, unwarranted weeping and complaining. Hashem saw that these people were not prepared to enter the Holy Land, and He removed the opportunity from the table. They were all going to die in the wilderness.
Against this backdrop of a nation smitten by loss of a goal, Korach saw a nation ripe for revolt: no longer aspiring to enter Eretz Yisrael; no ambition; nothing to look forward to. They would be putty in his hands, to be manipulated at will. When one has no ambition, no goals and objectives, nothing to do, he gets into trouble. He argues with people, finds reason to dispute everything, anything and anyone. When one has no goals, he becomes discontented and miserable. With nothing to do, he joins with other miserable people to sow the seeds of discontent, to reap the fruits of their misery. This was one advantage of receiving the Torah in the desert, rather than waiting until Klal Yisrael entered the Holy Land. What would they do for forty years? Sit around all day fighting with one another? This way, they would learn all day and be occupied with spiritual endeavors. They did not have the excuse that they had to earn a living, since the manna was brought to their doorstep every day. Instead, now they had the Torah with its 613 mitzvos, a guide for life, a program for living every day - all day.
Korach understood this. A nation that was actively involved in Torah study would have little time and less desire to listen to his diatribe. Thus, he disputed the Divine Authorship of the Torah. He employed the medium of letzanos, skepticism, to poke fun at and undermine the Torah. Why would a house filled with seforim require the protection of a Mezuzah? Why would a Tallis made of techeiles require Tzitzis? The people began to listen. Perhaps it was true, they thought - maybe Moshe wrote the Torah; it was not infallible. There could be errors -- surely areas of concern. Once this type of deviation begins, there is no end to where it can lead. Korach knew this, so he waited; he plotted. He thought that he had succeeded; he was wrong.
Korach took/separated himself. (16:1)
The "Korachs" of every generation seem to be thriving. Sadly, there is no shortage of malcontents who rise up to usurp the authenticity and authority of our Torah leadership. What about their followers? How do these scoundrels always find individuals that follow their organized animus toward everything holy? Korach was able to lure 250 heads of the Sanhedrin. This was no simple feat. They were not the shleppers that hang around with nothing to do with their lives. They were distinguished leaders, men of stature and repute. Yet, they were ensnared by Korach's invective, lured by promises of even greater positions. Korach was: a personality; an individual who descended from an illustrious lineage; a wealthy man who had no peer; one of the carriers of the Ark. Nonetheless, these men were no spiritual pushovers. Yet, they fell for him. Why? How?
Furthermore, Horav Yaakov Galinsky, zl, adds that a simple test was available which would discern beyond any shadow of a doubt who was righteous and who was not. Korach claimed that Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon did not deserve the positions of leadership in which they functioned; rather, he maintained that he and his henchmen were just as proper and suited for these positions. We know that the manna descended daily in front of everyone's doorstep - if he were righteous. The individual whose spiritual affiliation was questionable was not so lucky. His manna was more difficult to obtain. He would have to walk all over looking for it. All he had to do was observe where Moshe and Aharon's manna fell. Did it descend by the door of their tents, or did they have to search for it?
The simple explanation is that we do not decide based upon Heavenly miracles. Heaven does not play a role in human endeavor. A host of reasons might explain why the manna would or would not appear at the door of a certain individual. Determining the veracity of Moshe and Aharon's spiritual appointment will not be determined by the manna. The fact that a person is worthy of miraculous intervention does not necessarily indicate that he is a tzaddik, righteous man.
Rav Galinsky quotes from the Shevet Mussar, who presents a lengthy discourse on the evils of controversy. He supports this with the fact that, when the Jewish People sinned with the Golden Calf, the manna was not halted. It still descended. The people had to eat. During the machlokes, dispute, of Korach and his congregation, the manna was halted for that day. The reason for this is (cited in the Talmud Taanis 9a,) that the manna descended in the merit of Moshe Rabbeinu. When Korach disputed Moshe's authority, Hashem refused to send the manna - in support of Moshe. Nonetheless, Korach turned this Heavenly support for Moshe against him, saying, "Look, even Heaven has halted the manna in protest against Moshe!" Suddenly, it had become Moshe's fault.
People get caught up in their beliefs - or at least in what they want to believe in-at the current time. As a result, they become shortsighted, often even blind, to what is readily apparent to the naked eye and cogent mind. Rav Galinsky related an incident that occurred concerning the tzaddik of Radoshitz, a saintly Rebbe who, despite living a life of abject poverty, devoting every waking moment to serving Hashem through Torah study and mitzvah performance, allowed himself one activity, which was time consuming, but, in his mind, absolutely vital to his spiritual ascendance. Whenever the circumstances warranted it, he would travel to his Rebbe, the holy Chozeh, Seer, of Lublin. Without funds, one would be hard-pressed to purchase a coach ticket. The other mode of travel available to people of no means was walking. It was not a terribly far distance - by coach. By foot, it would take a few days of trudging on long, unpaved roads, through inclement weather and dark of night. What does one not do, however, in search of spiritual inspiration? The Radoshitzer began his trip. A few hours into his trek, a wagon and driver pulled up alongside him. In it was a critically ill Jew who had little hope for a cure unless he would reach Lublin and be seen by a specialist. The local physician, an all-purpose medicine consultant who prepared potions made of various herbs, had thus far been unsuccessful in finding a cure. The man's two sons, who were accompanying their father, helped the Radoshitzer onto the wagon, and the little entourage continued the trip. The young, soon-to-be Rebbe was overcome with compassion for the sick man, and he began to pray fervently for his return to good health. With every chapter of Tehillim, accompanied by the tears that he recited, the dying man began regaining his strength. Suddenly, he opened his eyes and asked why he was in the wagon. Where were they taking him? Why? He was not sick! He demanded that they immediately return home. He had work to do!
The sons were neither erudite, nor were they deep thinkers. They felt that the specialist in Lublin was so great that the Malach Raphael, Angel through whose domain Heavenly cures are channeled, was assisting the good doctor. Apparently, such an eminent physician saw only the worst cases. Raphael took care of the others. They turned to the Radoshitzer and said, "Sorry, my dear friend, we are returning home. There is no longer any need to travel to Lublin".
Whenever the Radoshitzer would relate this story, he would shrug his shoulders and comment, "I am not certain that it was the Tehillim in whose merit the man was saved, but why did the sons not even conjecture that it was their mitzvah of chesed, kindness, reaching out to a poor, young man trudging alone on the road, offering him a ride, that spared their father? Had they been thinking, they might not have discarded the mitzvah - and its merit".
The explanation is simple - but sad. Their ability to define the circumstances and what was taking place was restricted to their limited perspective. In other words, they saw what they wanted to see. Korach and his followers were no different. They saw what they wanted to see. Hashem halted the manna, not in support of Moshe, but against Moshe. They took the greatest Heavenly support of our quintessential leader and blatantly closed their eyes to the truth. Why? It was convenient for them.
I would like to suggest another reason for Korach's blindness to the truth. When a person is on a mission - regardless of its veracity or lack thereof - he is focused on s specific goal, which does not permit him to see anything else but the goal. Korach had a goal, which was antithetical to what Hashem had designated as our goal. Korach wanted to take charge. Hashem, however, had not chosen him. Yet, Korach stayed his course to impugn Klal Yisrael's leadership. Was he so obsessed with honor that he was prepared to lose everything? What prompted him to act so foolishly?
Chazal say, Eino hitaso, "His eye caused him to err". Foreseeing that Shmuel HaNavi would descend from him, Korach felt that he must be doing something right. Otherwise, how could he be the progenitor of someone of such stature as Shmuel? He was unaware that his sons would, at the very last moment, repent. I suggest that we take this one stage further. Korach saw that Shmuel HaNavi would descend from him. This bothered him. To think that his descendant would be greater than he was something this egomaniac could not tolerate. Thus, he had to undermine Moshe, so that he could become Klal Yisrael's leader.
Chazal teach that a rebbe and a father are not jealous of their student/son. Love transcends envy, and how could one truly love someone, yet be envious of his success? Korach was into Korach, caring very little for anybody but himself. This envy brought about his own self-destruction. Eino hitaso - his jealous eye caused him to err.
Korach took/separated himself. (16:1)
Korach had it all, but it was not enough for him. If someone else had something that he did not have, it angered him to the point of obsession. He, too, had to have it. When Elitzaphan ben Uziel was placed in charge of the family of Kehas, Korach became irrational. Why should his cousin have a role that placed him in the position of Korach's superior? Korach was a rodef achar ha'kavod, one who pursued honor, craved recognition, was obsessed with being in the limelight. This is the most corrosive desire that one can have. Ramchal (Mesillas Yesharim, end of Perek II) writes: "More potent than (the desire of wealth) is the craving for honor. Indeed, it would be possible for a person to conquer his yetzer hora, evil inclination, concerning wealth and other forms of gratification, but the craving for honor is what persistently drives him, as it is impossible for him to tolerate seeing himself stationed lower than his fellows".
Ramchal goes on to cite the downfalls of Yaravam ben Nevat and Korach as examples of great people who stumbled and were destroyed due to their obsession with glory. Horav Chaim Shmuelevitz, zl, observes that redifas ha'kavod, the pursuit/craving of honor, remains with a person his entire life. While other taavos, cravings/desires, wane with age, his desire for honor becomes more acute. One would think that as a person ages and his mortality becomes more realistic, he would realize the futility of man. He would acknowledge that life is one long dream with no lasting reality to it. The only real kavod, honor, is the honor one receives for yedias haTorah, knowledge of Torah. One who really learns becomes acutely aware of how much more he must learn, thus the kavod he receives does not go to his head. Any other form of honor is simply worthless honor, meaningless glory, which quickly dissipates and is forgotten with time. Korach was driven by a craving for glory, an intense desire to preserve and glorify his ego. It did not matter how old he was, how wealthy he had become, how much success he had achieved; his ego fueled and propelled him for more - and even greater status and recognition. The need for kavod, acclaim, is insatiable; it is relentless in its demands of the person. Such a person is ultra-sensitive, taking everything as a slight to his self-imagined honor. Indeed, one cannot satisfy such a person's ego. Whatever place he is given at an affair, if he perceives someone of equal or lesser stature (than what he has conceived in his subjective mind) sitting elsewhere, in a place which he (once again in his deluded mind) considers upper class/station in comparison to where he was placed, he will throw a tantrum -- either overtly, or covertly harbor resentment which will be the beginning of discord.
Rabbi Dr. Twersky observes the disparity which exists between our logical perception of others and the direct opposite when it pertains to us. It is interesting that, upon seeing someone else exerting himself to be noticed, to receive honor, we realize how ridiculous he is, how he is making an utter fool of himself. Yet, when we are the ones doing the same idiocy, we do not seem to have the same perspective. The desire for glory bribes us, thereby blinding our ability to see the truth in its stark reality. By desensitizing ourselves to public acclaim, we become so unmoved by applause and public veneration that they have no effect on us.
I must add that, at first blush, this seems totally unrealistic. After all, it is a taavah, craving, just like any other taavah. Desires are quite difficult to overcome. When we consider the frightening ramifications that result from our delusion with honor, it pays to introspect and ask ourselves: "Is it really worth it?" Furthermore, if we would know how many people laugh behind our backs as we run to the mizrach vont, eastern wall, to sit among the distinguished, some of whom share the same disease, we would perhaps make an attempt at desensitizing ourselves from honor.
Horav Shmelke, zl, m'Nikolsburg once arrived in a town where he was greeted by a large throng of his followers and admirers. Prior to meeting the crowd, he asked for a few moments of solitude. He entered a small room and secluded himself there. As it would be, one of his chassidim was curious to know what was taking place in this room, so he put his ear to the door and listened. He heard the Rebbe declare, "Welcome our esteemed leader; welcome holy Rebbe. It is such an honor that his eminence has come to our community. His presence in our town is a blessing". There were other accolades which simply did not make sense. The Rebbe was talking to himself! Gathering up his courage, the chasid conceded to his eavesdropping and asked for an explanation for what seemed to be strange behavior.
Rav Shmelke said, "I knew what my chassidim were going to say. I have heard all the accolades. While they pain me to hear them, because I am undeserving of such praise, I know only too well how easy it is to fall into the trap of arrogance. I fear becoming a victim of the terrible trait of vanity. When one says such praises to himself, they sound utterly foolish, thereby reflecting no vanity whatsoever. I, therefore, said them to myself enough times for me to realize how nonsensical they are; how silly they sound. Thus, when my followers said the same thing to me, they had no impact".
Yes, it takes training -- and even a strong dose of seichel-- but I feel that the greatest deterrent to vanity is to imagine that the people who are rendering the accolades are insincere and really laughing at him. Who has not been privy to the fellow who lives under the pretense of false humility - until he does not receive (what in his mind should be) his due? He wears the garb; he talks the talk; he even walks the walk, but, is it real? If he pursues kavod it is not real. Korach and Yaravam proved that for us. The Chida was one of the greatest leaders of Sephardic Jewry. An unusual talmid chacham, Torah scholar, he authored over seventy volumes of Torah commentary. As a shlucha d'Rachamana, agent on behalf of the Jewish community in the Holy Land, he had the unique opportunity to come in contact with Jews throughout the Diaspora. The kavod, honor, accorded to this extraordinary scholar was without peer. Despite all of these "superlatives," the Chida remained a paragon of humility, whose lifelong goal was the spiritual and physical betterment of his people.
The Chida once visited France. Understandably, hosting such a distinguished scholar for the Shabbos meals was the envy of the community, and the wealthiest members vied for the honor. It was thus decided by the community's leaders that the honor would go to the individual who was willing to part with the largest contribution on behalf of aniyei Eretz Yisrael, the poor of the Holy Land. The Turkish/Ottoman government, under whose rule the Holy Land was subjected, was relentless in levying stiff taxes against its Jewish citizens. Hunger was a common occurrence. Indeed, the Jews of the Holy Land lived in a constant state of mesiras nefesh, self-sacrifice, relying on such individuals as the Chida, who traveled the world in search of funds on their behalf.
One of the town's wealthiest men paid for the opportunity to host the Chida. The meals proved to be an enormous spiritual experience, well worth the contribution the man had made for the merit of participating with the Chida in a Shabbos meal. At the end of the meal, the host walked the sage to the home, which he had arranged to be his office/sleeping quarters. It was a miserable night - freezing cold, with a howling wind, which was blowing snow all over. Yet, it was a z'chus, merit, to accompany such a holy man. The Chida bid the man good night and sat down to learn for most of the evening, as was his practice.
A few hours elapsed, and the Chida searched in his coat for his snuffbox. Apparently, tobacco cleared the senses, allowing the Chida to remain awake and astute longer. Unable to locate his snuffbox, the Chida figured that he must have left it at his host's home. He put on his coat and braved the elements, returning to his host's home to retrieve his snuffbox. Being that it was a few hours after the meal, everyone had already retired for the night. When he heard a knock at the door the host came running, to discover the snow-covered Chida standing there. "Honored Rav, is something wrong?" the host asked.
"No, no," replied the Chida. "I seem to have misplaced my snuff box. Perhaps I left it here?" A few moments later, the Chida was reunited with his snuffbox and on his way home, accompanied by the driving snow and cold. When the Chida returned home, he turned ashen as he realized that for a shmek tabak, a snuff of tobacco, he had woken up an entire household, a family already exhausted from a week's work. How devoid of sensitivity towards a fellow Jew; how low had he descended in order to satisfy a physical craving! The Chida was beside himself in shame. He refused to take that snuff, and he immediately went to bed. Unable to sleep, he tossed and turned the entire night (or what was left of it).
The following morning, the Chida asked the gabbai, sexton, of the shul to announce throughout the town that he would speak after the conclusion of the Torah reading. His reputation as a powerful and inspirational orator had preceded him, and by the time that he was to ascend to the lectern, nary a vacant seat was in the shul.
"My friends," the Chida began, "I was always aware of my low, shameful character. Only now, after something I did last night when I fell prey to my desire, do I realize how truly debased I am". The people became very silent, holding their collective breath for fear of what the illustrious Chida might have done. Imagine, the Chida publicly declaring his shame!
"Last night, to satisfy my craving for snuff, I woke up an entire family. O Hashem, forgive me! My friends, I am no longer deserving of your honor. Please do not punish the Holy Land's poor because of the wretched agent, which they have dispatched to you. They are noble, virtuous and holy Jews, who are in dire need of your support. I am a sinner. Please, do not allow them to suffer because of me!"
The people all broke down in bitter weeping together with this saintly man. He cried because of his "sin". They cried, because they had just witnessed greatness at its apex.
"I accept upon myself from herein never to snuff tobacco. May the Almighty forgive me for what I have done!"
We now have an idea of the meaning of "running from honor".
For it is a wage for you in exchange for your service in the Ohel Moed. (18:31)
The Torah describes the Maaser, tithe, which is given to the Levi as payment for the service Hashem requires them to perform. Nothing is innately holy about wages. This applies across the board to all matnos Kehunah, gifts given to the Kohanim, and matnos Leviyah, gifts given to the Leviim, which are all considered payment for their service. The Sefer Yagdil Torah quotes the Ohr Sameach who questions this halachah. The Kohanim receive a number of matanos, gifts: Terumah, Terumas Maaser, Pidyon HaBen, etc. A Kohen does not have to be actively involved in sacred service in the Sanctuary to receive his due. Indeed, if we were to think about it, the average Kohen must work only one or two days a year. There were twenty-four mishmaros, watches, during which one mishmor worked for a week. During the course of the year, there are at least fifty weeks. Each mishmor is divided according to its Bais Av, Father's House, with each Bais Av receiving one day's work. Thus, the most an individual Kohen worked was one or two days a year. If so, why does he receive all of those gifts? There is no reason that the Kohen cannot take a job just like any other Jew for the other 363 (excluding Shabbos or Yom Tov, of course) days of the year in order to support his family. Why should he not do this, and be like everybody else?
The Ohr Sameach teaches us a powerful lesson, one which explains the overriding significance of learning Torah, whenever and wherever. In order to serve in the Bais HaMikdash, even for one day, one must prepare an entire year! This indicates the lofty nature of serving Hashem. The Kohen must have clarity in all of the halachos; he must personally be on the spiritual level required of one who serves Hashem in the Sanctuary. He must have the proper mindset. All of this requires extreme preparation. One who blows the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah or serves as shaliach tzibbur, chazzan, on the Yamim Noraim does not just saunter up to the podium and "perform". He must prepare during the month of Elul, realizing the enormous responsibility, which rests on his shoulders.
Preparation for any endeavor, especially for a mitzvah, is in and of itself a lofty activity. In a sense, the preparation one does indicates how much he appreciates and values the mitzvah, the endeavor. Sports figures spend months practicing for the sum total of a few games. It often comes down to one move, one pitch, one basket, one run, one catch, but it takes years of practice to achieve the perfection required to complete that move. Why should Torah and mitzvos be different? Those who spend their lives studying Torah are acutely aware of this reality. It is a shame that the average Jew, who should be supportive of this endeavor, is unaware of this. I wonder if he would go under the knife of a surgeon who did not practice all of the time to perfect his procedure.
Atah gibor l'olam Hashem mechayeh meisim atah. You are eternally Mighty Hashem, the Resuscitator of the dead are You.
In his Sefer HaIkarim, Rav Yosef Albo, zl, explains this tefillah in the following manner. Hashem's power is unlike the power of mortals. The strength of man is measured by his ability to overcome, to destroy, to take life. Hashem's power is the direct opposite: He sustains and grants life. Later on, the tefillah adds: He supports the fallen, heals the sick and frees the incarcerated. This, too, is unlike man whose strength lies in his ability: to lower and degrade those who are erect; to cause harm and illness to those who are healthy; to imprison those who are free men. Hashem keeps His word, while man supports his own lies, finding a way to present them as the truth. Hashem not only keeps His word to the living, He also keeps His promise to those who are in eternal rest. He will one day resurrect the dead and bring them back to life. They can no longer pray for themselves. Hashem keeps His word: V'neeman Atah l'hachyos meisim. c
Jeffrey and Jane Belkin
in memory of their parents:
Leibel ben Chaim and Chana bas Yaakov
Shimon ben Gedalia and Chana Raizel bas Eliezer
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