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Parashat Korach 5777 — 06/24/2017

Parashat Korach 5777 — 06/24/2017

Bamidbar 16:1-18:32

Korach’s intent was to tamper with the spiritual order Hashem had set up for the world.  While both chesed and din are required for the world to be sustained, Hashem created a world in which din is subservient to chesed.  As we mentioned above, the Kohen represents the attribute of chesed while the Levi represents din.  The Levi, as a result, serves the Kohen in performing the Temple service.

Korach, the Levi, representing din, doesn’t want to play second fiddle to the Kohen’s chesed.  This is at the root of Korach’s rebellion.  As a result, … a fire went out from Hashem and consumed the 250 men who offered the incense.  Fire represents din, as has been pointed out in previous parshiyot.  Thus, Gd meted out punishment midah k’neged midah – measure for measure.  Similarly, Ramchal points out, Korach wanted to upset the natural order of the world, and he perished when the natural order of the world was upset and “… Hashem create[d] a [totally new] phenomenon…” of the earth opening up and swallowing Korach and his whole household (and those of Datan and Aviram as well).  I want to consider this idea of midah k’neged midah from two angles.

When we perform any action, that action comes from a thought.  A thought on the surface level comes from impulses of thought that originate deep within our personality.  These impulses of thought percolate upward through the mind until they are recognized on the surface, and translated into action.  If the mind is pure, the impulses, which start out in the purity of the neshama, are able to rise to the surface in their purity, and the actions that result from them, are pure and in accordance with Gd’s Will.  If, on the other hand, the mind is polluted with spiritual toxins, which may result from the body’s being polluted with physical toxins, or even if we are just tired and not thinking very clearly due to fatigue, then the impulses of thought get distorted and our action is, to whatever extent, improper.

If we drop a rock in a pond, ripples go out and reach the farthest shores of the pond.  If there are objects in the pond, they affect the way the ripples spread out, their speed and perhaps their direction.  The ripples also “echo” off objects they encounter, and the result is a complex pattern of interacting ripples all over the pond, containing the characteristics of the rock that created them in the first place, but also colored by the ripples’ encounters with all the other objects in the pond.

On a deeper physical level, we find the same principle.  Although there are many details that still remain to be worked out, in broad outline physicists believe that all phenomena are actually excitations of an underlying unified field.  On this level, everything is connected in a complex web of interactions, in which action in one area sends out ripples that affect everything else in creation.  The effects that are created then feed back to us, sometimes sooner, sometimes later, always colored by the other objects, people, animals or situations that it has encountered.  Nevertheless, the quality of the reflection is the quality of the action.  This is midah k’neged midah in the physical realm.

In the moral realm, our tradition tells us we find the same phenomenon.  This should not surprise us, as we are all connected to one another at the deepest levels.  We see on the surface that our actions affect those around us – when we smile at the bus driver in the morning it make his day better, and that makes other people’s days better, and, Gd forbid, the opposite.  On a deeper level, the thoughts we put out also affect others, even those with whom we may not be in direct contact.  Whatever influence we put out, returns to us, midah k’neged midah.

In the case of a great person, such as Korach, who can think and act from a very deep level, the influence, for good or for ill, that they can produce is correspondingly greater, and consequently the reverberation back on the actor is greater.  Thus, Korach’s actions threatened to uproot the Torah as a whole by undermining its Divine authority, as we discussed last year, or to upset the balance between din and chesed in Ramchal’s terms.  The result was correspondingly more severe – the entire balance of nature had to be upset to swallow him and his entire household alive.  In the vernacular, “The bigger they are, the harder they fall.”  Midah k’neged midah.

There is another aspect to the balance between din and chesed that I think is very important to bear in mind, especially during times of trouble.  We run into trouble when din threatens to overwhelm chesed.  In everyday life, this may mean that we get very judgmental (about others of course) and refuse to cut anybody any slack, forgetting of course that our own existence is only possible because Gd continually cuts us quite a lot of slack!  In public life it may take the form of war or natural disasters, greed or corruption, anything where boundaries [din] predominate so much that the natural tendency of life to grow and progress [chesed] is choked off.

What happens, however, when chesed is choked off is that din also gets choked off.  Din depends on chesed for its very survival.  Therefore, when it grows too strong, it paradoxically contains the seeds of its own weakening.  Perhaps this is what Marx meant when he talked about the internal contradictions of capitalism, but of course it applies as much or more to communism and fascism.  Anything that is evil is self-limiting.  Just as a fire burns itself out eventually, when it runs out of fuel, so evil can only destroy positive forces for so long before it runs out of energy itself.  Nonetheless, it can do a lot of damage along the way.  It is much smarter to create a closer and closer connection with Gd, to take shelter under His wings, and to create balance in our own life and in the life of the cosmos.


Reflections on This Week’s Torah Portion

by Steve Sufian

Parashat Korach

Sometimes our competence to perform a task is challenged; we have Psalm 23 to remind us “The Lrd is my Shepherd, I shall not want..”. We are protected so long as we are doing our best to live good lives in which we seek to be holy as Gd commands us: “Be thou holy, for I am Holy.”  We do this by doing our best to put the Wholeness that is Gd first, and close to it, “Love thy neighbor as thy self (Self)”.

In this parshah, Aaron’s competence to serve as priest and Moses’ competence to serve as leader were challenged – two rebellions and the Test of the Staffs serve as occasions in which Gd demonstrates that Moses and Aaron are leaders of Israel by their readiness to do Gd’s will and thus holy above the lesser leaders of the congregation and the congregation who are less holy because they are less ready to accept Gd’s Will.

One of the lesser leaders, Korach, challenges Moses and Aaron that they set himself above the rest of the congregation, something Moses and Aaron should not do because Korach claims all of the congregation is holy.

After unsuccessfully attempting to placate the mutineers, Moses prays to Gd that the earth open up and swallow them: immediately, Korach and the 250 men who stood with him perish by Gd’s actions: swallowing in the earth for Korach and two leaders of the rebellion – perishing by fire for the rest.

This is one proof Gd gives that Moses and Aaron are leaders by Gd’s Will, not by their own vain egos.The congregation should be holy and accept this proof but they are not sufficiently holy and they don’t accept the proof.

The congregation complains that “Gd’s people” were killed because of Moses and Aaron: Gd brings a plague to punish them. Many thousands are dying when Moses tells Aaron to go amidst them with his firepan (for offering incense during the religious service) and thus atone for the congregation’s sins. Aaron does so and the plague ceases.

This is a second proof of the holiness of Aaron, of his attunement to Gd’s will.

A third proof comes when Gd commands the congregation to bring staffs, one for each tribe: the one whose staff blossoms is proved to be chosen as priest by Gd’s command. It is Aaron’s staff that blossoms.

A lesson we can draw from these proofs is that Gd will protect us,too; so long as we are innocently doing our best to do Gd’s Will, as we know it from Torah, from our teachers and elders, Gd will bring us safely through the challenges we may face in life.

Baruch HaShem