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Parashat Korach 5780 — 06/27/2020

Parashat Korach 5780 — 06/27/2020

Bamidbar 16:1-18:32

They [Moshe and Aharon] fell on their faces and said, “Almighty Gd of the spirits of all flesh, shall one man sin and You be angry with the entire congregation?” (16:22)

Judging from the fact that almost 15,000 (2½% of the population) died in the plague that followed the suppression of Korach’s rebellion, Korach had significant popular support, or at least acquiescence, in his bid to dethrone Moshe and Aharon. Moshe, as he had after the incident of the golden calf, and after the debacle of the spies in last week’s parashah, knew he had to save the Jewish people from Gd’s anger, and he must have understood that the same excuses would not work. Fortunately, Moshe was intimate enough with Gd and knew what approach to take.

Or haChaim explains Moshe’s language and logic:

Additionally, Moshe intended to speak words of appeasement before Hashem that would be acceptable to Him, based on what [Moshe] already knew regarding the degree of yearning that the Creator has (for the praises of His creations)… One is the praises offered to Him by the Heavenly host. Above that is the praises offered to Him by the souls of the righteous from the two treasure houses of life where these souls are held: the treasure house containing the souls that have not yet come into this world, … and a second treasure house containing the souls that already came into this world, and that have returned and been placed into the treasure house of (eternal) life. … Above all these is the song and praise that rises from the souls that are on this world, which are inside flesh that holds them back from recognizing Hashem, yet they struggle to love Hashem, praise Him, and give thanks to His Word. This is loftier and more beloved to the Creator than any other… Thus he [Moshe] said “Gd of the spirits of all flesh,” for You desire that Your Divine Authority be accepted by the spirits while they are in the flesh…

What does it mean to say that Gd “yearns” for the praises of human beings? The word “yearn” indicates an intense feeling of lack, a feeling that something is missing. But Gd is obviously missing nothing! And if Gd wants praises, He has the whole heavenly host to offer praises 24 x 7. Even the souls of the righteous apparently are nothing special, so to speak, at least not when compared to flesh-and-blood human beings. But why should that be? We are so riddled with imperfections that Gd is constantly getting angry and threatening to destroy us (and that’s just the Jewish people!). In fact, Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel debated for 2½ years whether it were better had humans been created or not. They voted and decided that it were better that humans not have been created, but now that they have been created, let them examine their actions [and improve them] (Eruvin 13b). Not a ringing endorsement.

What then, does it mean for Gd to “yearn” for the “praises” of human beings? I’d like to approach the question partly from the point of view of modern physics. We have often discussed that physical creation is structured in layers. The deeper the layer, the more accurate and precise is the description of the laws of nature. The deepest level uncovered by physics is the Unified Field, a single field that can vibrate in many different modes. These modes of vibration appear to us as the different elementary particles of nature and their interactions. It follows that atomic nuclei, atoms themselves, molecules and macroscopic objects – indeed the entire universe – are simply patterns of vibration of the Unified Field. The Unified Field is all that exists in reality; everything that we see is nothing other than expressions of the Unified Field.

Thus, the layers that we are familiar with in physical creation are simpler or more complex patterns of activity of the Unified Field. The more complex the pattern (which corresponds to a grosser, more material level of reality), the more the nature of the Unified Field is obscured. There are so many trees we can’t see the forest.

We find a similar situation on the spiritual level. Gd is the one, unified reality of existence, as it says (Deut 4:35) ayn od milvado / There is nothing but Him. Gd is the only reality, and everything that we perceive to be separate from Gd is actually nothing other than Gd expressing Himself to Himself. It is our perception that fools us into thinking that there is Gd “out there” among all the objects of creation (including our bodies and minds). Our mission is to rise to a level of consciousness that sees through the “clouds and thick darkness” that occlude Gd’s light, so that we become conduits through which Gd’s light is made evident even on the surface of creation.

Apparently, in order to get Gd’s Light to be truly pervasive, evident on all levels of creation, it is necessary for the conduit (that’d be us humans, and the Jewish people most directly tasked with the mission) to reach to the furthest distance from the source of that light in Gd. This requires us to have a human, physical body and nervous system. And therefore our job is to refine that nervous system to the point where it can support the experience of our self as transcendent, and the perception of the transcendent as the all-pervading reality of life. In Jewish terms, this means refining the soul so that it can join in blissful union with Gd. Body and soul are joined together to provide the complete experience of unity with Gd, of virtually complete surrender of the individuality into Gd’s overwhelming universality. This unity of the full range of created expression is what Gd yearns for, for it is the fulfillment of the very purpose of creation.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Korach
Parshat Korach reminds us that what is important in life is to live in harmony with Gd, not to worry much about our status relative to other humans – “to love Gd with all our heart, all our soul, all our might” and to “love our neighbor as our self.”

Korach, along with 249 other leaders of the Children of Israel challenges Moses right to lead, claiming that all of Israel is holy and Moses should not place himself above everyone. They did not love Gd with all their heart, soul and might; otherwise they would have felt Gd’s leadership flowing through Moses. They did not love their neighbor as their selves; otherwise they would have been happy for Moses to be such an open person that Gd could flow through him.

Korach and the others forgot that Moses was selected by Gd, not by himself, to lead the Children of Israel out of slavery and into the Promised Land: They forgot that when the 10 Commandments were given out, all of the Children of Israel were frightened that they would die if they heard any more of Gd’s voice: they requested Him to give the rest of Torah to Moses – so they also placed Moses above them, more pure, more capable.

Moses pleads with them to be grateful for what they have been given but they do do not listen.

Moses tells them to bring their fire pans (the pans through which they make offerings) and we will see whose offerings Gd accepts.

Gd tells Moses He will destroy the rebellious.

At the appointed time, Moses tells the people of Israel, paraphrase. “We will see who Gd wishes to lead. If these people die a natural death, then they are right. If not, then Gd has appointed me to lead.”

The ground opens up and the leaders of the rebellion and their families are swallowed alive.

Moses’s genuineness is confirmed.

We see a lot in Torah of complaining, sinning, Moses pleading for forgiveness for his neighbors, the Children of Israel. A lesson we can learn from Moses is to be open to Gd, to love our neighbor as our self, to plead with others to be open also, and to plead with Gd that he forgive those who lack openness.

In such ways, little by little, person by person, we help to create a world in which harmony, respect, friendliness, love, contentment, fulfillment exist.

In this world, Torah is experienced not just as words in a book but as the living eternal reality of the liveliness of Gd, of One. We function not just as our individual selves but as Totality functioning through all.

And this world is the Real World – achievable soon. Let’s continue creating it and request that Gd bring it NOW!

Love and Love and Love,

Baruch HaShem