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Parashat Korach 5779 — 07/06/2019

Parashat Korach 5779 — 07/06/2019

Bamidbar 16:1-18:32

What was Korach’s real agenda? Did he just want political power? Did he just want to be Kohen Gadol / High Priest? Or was there a deeper, more philosophical dispute at the heart of his controversy? It is clear that Korach had problems with Moshe and Aharon’s having assumed the leadership: Rav Lachem! You have gone too far (in arrogating to yourselves the leadership positions. But the verse goes on: “… since all the congregation is holy, every single one! and Hashem is among them. Why do you lift yourselves up?”

The Midrash expands on this theme that “the whole congregation is holy” and therefore Moshe and Aharon’s leadership is illegitimate. Korach asks about a four-cornered garment that is completely made of techeilet, the special turquoise-dyed wool that was used in the tzitzit/ ritual fringes that are worn to this day.  Does such a garment need ritual fringes with the thread of techeilet? Moshe answers that it does. “That’s ridiculous,” Korach sputters! “If a single thread of techeilet is sufficient for a garment that is all white, why would a garment that is made out of threads of techeilet need an additional thread to make it kosher?!”  After composing himself, Korach asks a similar question: “Does a room full of Torah scrolls require a mezuzah on the doorpost?” Again Moshe answers that it does. Again Korach asks, “If a small mezuzah with two paragraphs from the Torah makes the room fit for use, surely a room full of full Torah scrolls should be fit for use!” Such ridiculous laws could not have come from Gd – they make no sense, and Moshe must have made them up himself.

Korach was not just challenging Moshe and Aharon’s leadership – he was challenging the idea that the nation required leadership at all. After all, if all the people are holy, why do we need two specific holy people to have executive authority, like the single thread of techeilet or the single mezuzah scroll?! People should be able to make their own decisions based on their common sense, and things will order themselves properly. Interestingly, it appears that Moshe himself sees this state as an ideal. When Moshe is asked to stop Eldad and Medad from prophesying, he responds, “Would that all Gd’s people were prophets!” He apparently has no wish to remain the sole carrier of Gd’s Word. And in Deuteronomy, he famously states that Torah is “… not in heaven, that thou shouldest say: ‘Who shall go up for us to heaven, and bring it unto us, and make us to hear it, that we may do it?'”  Rather, “… the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth, and in thy heart, that thou mayest do it.” In other words, the whole nation will be on such an exalted spiritual level that they will be able to intuit Gd’s Will, and will be strong enough to do it, personal agendas notwithstanding.

Needless to say, the nation was nowhere near that ideal state. They were unable to intuit that Gd would probably not be thrilled by their golden calf, even though they had just been warned specifically against such things. And they had just been condemned to die in the desert for flouting Gd’s expressed Will to go into the Land and conquer it. Korach conveniently ignored these facts to mount his challenge.

R. Goldin has this to say about this issue:

Once raised by the Midrash, this theme resonates in rabbinic sources across the ages, finding eloquent voice in our day in a powerful exposition by Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik. The Rav maintains that Korach’s rebellion is best perceived as “a ‘common sense’ rebellion against Torah authority” an attack on Torah law based on man’s limited logic.

The Rav explains that Korach’s error lies in his failure to appreciate the two levels of intelligence involved in the application of Jewish law. While the path of halachah is partially guided by da’at, basic intelligence and practical judgment, its primary determinant is chochmah, specialized knowledge and scholarship. The primacy of chochmah in the determination of law, says the Rav, rises out of another basic truth. While inner religious experience is a critical component of Jewish religious practice, the concrete act of a mitzvah’s performance is primary. The divinely inspired mitzvot have intrinsic value, independent of their effect upon those who perform them. The development of these mitzvot, therefore, cannot be left to the subjective common sense of “everyman.” Only those possessing chochmah – trained in the intricacies of Jewish thought and scholarship – can determine the path of the law.

In a further quote, the Rav points out that we have no problem leaving mathematics, physics and our health to mathematicians, physicists and medical practitioners, all of whom have expertise in their fields. But when it comes to Jewish ritual practice and practical decision-making, suddenly we are all experts on Gd’s Will.

I would like to suggest that chochmah is actually a state of consciousness where the Torah has been truly internalized. We have seen that the Torah is the record of the finest impulses of creation that exist within the silence of pure Existence, and that those sounds can be expressed as human speech. These impulses can be cognized directly on the level of an individual’s consciousness, once it has become sufficiently refined. The Torah is then no longer a book of wisdom that is outside the person studying it, but rather it is “…very close, within [his] heart and within [his] mouth, to do it.”

If all the people were prophets, as Moshe so fervently hoped, then society would organize itself using the intelligence of Torah, and perhaps leaders would be unnecessary. Alas, in our current state we still require the guidance of those enlightened souls who live Torah, who embody the wisdom of Torah. Their challenge to us is to rise to their level and become legitimate leaders ourselves.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Korach

Parashat 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 ourselves.”  It is through this love that our love rises to Love, Universal Love, Gd’s Love and our individuality rises to restoration of Full Awareness, Awareness that Gd is One, Totality, and all individuality is an expression of Totality, within Totality.

This love was not present in Korach, along with 249 other leaders of the Children of Israel who challenged 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 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 it was not just Gd that placed Moses above them, more pure, more capable but they also placed Moses above them.

Moses pleads with them to be grateful for what they have been given but they 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, to paraphrase. “We will see who Gd wishes to lead. If these people die a natural death, then they are right. But if Gd creates a phenomenon and the ground opens up to swallow them, then Gd has appointed me to lead.”

The ground opens up and all of the 250 are swallowed alive.

Moses’s genuineness is confirmed.

In Torah we see a lot 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 ourselves, 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! Restoration of Full Awareness to everyone, including Korach!

Love and Love and Love,

Baruch HaShem