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 Korach - Part II: "…live with this the greatest of blessings.”

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daniel eliezer


Posts : 82
Join date : 2011-12-01
Location : Beit El, Israel

PostSubject: Korach - Part II: "…live with this the greatest of blessings.”   Sun Jun 09, 2013 8:43 am

For those who have difficulty with the transliterated Hebrew and who don't have access
to Jewish libraries, most transliterated Hebrew can probably be found through Google.
If the word is critical to what I'm saying, then it is explained.

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Korach - Part II: "…live with this the greatest of blessings.”

Intro: From the Tribe of Levy come the Leviim, the Levites, and for the Levites come the Kohanim, the Priests, who are all descended from Aharon the High Priest. Korach challenges that two brothers, Moshe and Aharon, are the leaders of Am Yisrael. Korach ostensibly supports his claim with logic, but while his desire is genuine, i.e. to serve Am Yisrael as the High Priest, his motivation is corrupt. Since Moshe Rabbainu is the supreme leader, it’s he whom Korach addresses. The substance of what’s being said will be understood, even if particular segments are not.

Toward the end of the Ba’al Shem Tov’s days his Chasidim wanted to know who would be the next Rebbe after he left this world. Many thought that it would be Ya’akov Yosef of Polonoy, who was the greatest learner of all the Chasidim, but the Ba’al Shem Tov said no. Much speculation and many rumors followed, but the Ba’al Shem Tov made no decision. As time became critical, the Chasidim pressured the Ba’al Shem Tov for an answer, and this is what he said. “To know who will be your Rebbe, you have to ask this one question: How do you conquer pride? For anyone who says he knows the answer, you’ll know that he’s not the one. Only the one who when he hears the question will collapse to the ground in bitter tears crying, ‘all my life I’ve tried to do that, and I’ve never succeeded,’ he will be the one.”

This story is such an insight into Korach: what motivated him, and what defeated him. As Shlomo [whom I’ve yet to teach about] taught, “Korach never sinned in his whole life. He had no part in the sin of the Golden Calf. If you remember, Aharon was involved …”

The Levi’im didn’t participate in the sin of the Golden Calf, and the result was that the Levi’im didn’t fall with the rest of B’nei Yisrael. They remained on a higher level of sanctity. In fact, they were living proof that it could be done and that we could do it: one could actually live his or her entire life ascending from one level of sanctity to the next without ever falling.

It’s this reality of what had been and what can be achieved which was part of Korach’s challenge to Moshe Rabbainu, when he argued (see Rashi 16:1 at end) about the mitzvah of ‘tzitzit’ [on the corners of a four-cornered garment, such as a ‘tallit’ - a prayer shawl, are required ‘tzitzit’ – fringes, one of which is ‘t’chelet’ - turquoise]. “If you want to tell us that an entirely white garment can be sanctified with a single strand of ‘t’chelet’, then I say that a garment that itself is entirely ‘t’chelet’ how much more so is it sanctified.” Meaning that if a poor Yid who has the merit of only one single mitzvah is considered Holy, how much more Holy is a Jew whose whole being is saturated with mitzvot?

Moreover, it wasn’t only this stature of exceptional Holiness that Korach claimed. With prophetic vision Korach saw that generations of genuinely Holy and prestigious Jews were going to descend from him. Shmuel HaNavi - Samuel the Prophet, B’nei Korach - lit: his sons, but meaning that his descendents whose prestige is their being related to him, of whom David King David writes numerous Tehilim (Psalms) in their name, i.e. Shir Mizmor l’B’nei Korach (e.g. Psalm 48 for Monday) , and more.

Korach even compares his extensive and impressive future lineage against Moshe Rabbainu’s lack of future lineage. “What’s going to become of you and your children? I don’t see any great lights descending from you!”

He’s right. Find one person anywhere who claims descendency from Moshe Rabbainu? But Korach…ahhhh! (There are Jews, Levites, who are verifiably directly related to Korach, such as the Bostoner Rebbes of Brooklyn, N.Y. and Brookline, Mass. for example.)

So Korach, in his own eyes is ‘there’. He’s achieved it all, and only one thing eludes him - the stature of Moshe Rabbainu.

The whole episode of Korach is absolutely fascinating, and the commentaries on it are even more so. But if we really, really want to know what’s going on, there’s really only one way to do it. We’ve got to put ourselves in Moshe Rabbainu’s shoes. We’ve got to hear and see and understand everything as if we were Moshe Rabbainu.

Korach didn’t come out of the blue, fall off the moon, or by some other miraculous invention suddenly appear. He was part of the very upper echelons of leadership, and Moshe Rabbainu was clearly on intimate terms with him. They might not have been deep friends, but the nature of who they were and of what they and we were doing provided an intimacy that is created when people are struggling together to achieve a common goal. Add to this our uniqueness in what we were and are, had done and are doing, and that intimacy achieves an even more sacred level.

Thus, when Korach confronted Moshe Rabbainu, Moshe Rabbainu knew intimately with whom he was dealing and why, and it is for this reason that Moshe Rabbainu fell on his face [in prayer] when Korach challenged him.

Clearly, it wasn’t only Korach - even though it was specifically Korach - who stood before Moshe Rabbainu. It was also ‘a Korach’, someone with his magnificent qualifications who stood there in opposition to ‘a Moshe Rabbainu’. It was the ultimate challenge of the ultimate student against the ultimate teacher. “I’m ready to move up”, “I’m ready to do what you are doing”, and especially, “I’m even more capable than you are.”

Moshe Rabbainu, the unequalled teacher, answers each of these challenges of Korach’s. He answers the last one first, “ boker v’yoda HaShem et-asher-lo….ha’ish asher-bachar HaShem hu Kadosh…” In the morning God will make known who is His…the man whom HaShem chooses he is Holy…”. Then he responds to the first, “Rav l’chem, b’nei Levi….” You Levi’im [Levites] have [been given] greatness…. Finally he relates to the second, Ha’m’at m’chem ki-hivdil Elokei Yisrael etchemv’la’amod l’fnei ha’eidah l’shartam.” Is it too little [for you] that the God of Israel has distinguished you…to stand before the congregation and serve them?

Like every excellent mentor, Moshe Rabbainu succinctly describes what is bothering his student, Korach, while simultaneously he lays before him the solutions to his problems. It isn’t, however, that Moshe Rabbainu is being combatant with Korach, instead with his genuine acumen and acute insight he’s saying to Korach that, “You’re overlooking something. You really, really don’t understand what it’s all about.”

It’s the ultimate dilemma for a teacher and student: the teacher is living and doing that which the student hasn’t experienced and can’t comprehend.

With Korach the problem is compounded because Korach confronts Moshe Rabbainu not privately but openly and publicly and with accomplices before the entire hierarchy of Am Yisrael. Instead of a being a strictly pedagogical dilemma of a student versus a teacher, it becomes an assault of extremely talented, qualified, and accomplished individuals (Korach’s associates) against a system and those who stand at its head. Of so it would seem.

There are times in every teacher’s life when he knows that he can only bring a student to the threshold. What and if the student will decide is and must solely reside with the student. One excellent example is a story told about the Chofetz Chaim, zt”l, which I’ll relate in extreme brevity. One Purim, one of the Chofetz Chaim’s best students got Purimdik (tipsy) very early on Purim, and because of his ‘elevated state’ he began to badger the Chofetz Chaim demanding that the Chofetz Chaim guarantee him a place in Olam HaBa, the coming world.

The Chofetz Chaim, realizing that he was Purimdik, politely ignored him. Still, for whatever reason, this student continued all of Purim to pursue the Chofetz Chaim with his request, “guarantee me a place in the coming world.” So relentless and determined was he, that in the afternoon, when the Chofetz Chaim started to go to the Purim seudah (feast), the student physically barred his way declaring, “I’m not moving until you promise me!”

Ignoring the pleas of others, “throw him out,” the Chofetz Chaim looked deeply at the young man and said, “I don’t know if I have a place in Olam HaBa, but if I do it is because I have scrupulously adhered to the halachot of Lashon HaRa [the laws against speaking slander]. I promise you that if you, too, will scrupulously guard the halachos of Lashon HaRa then you will be given a place in Olam HaBa.”

Despite his inebriated condition, the words of the Chofetz Chaim and their import struck home, and the student sobered noticeably. For long moments he stood there in deliberation and in silence as everyone waited for his decision. Finally the Chofetz Chaim cried out, “What?! You stand at the portals of eternity and you hesitate?! Get him out of here!”

The other side of this coin, however, is that of not seeing what it and what you are all about, which is where Korach stood. Korach not only wouldn’t have hesitated in response to the Chofetz Chaim, he wouldn’t have even known that there was anything to hesitate about. OF COURSE you go forward; that’s what it’s all about! What he didn’t know is that there are times when to walk through is the WRONG decision. That is what Moshe Rabbainu was trying to teach him; it depends - it depends on when and how and with whom.

As Shlomo teaches: “Korach saw that the High Priest [Aharon] was the person who made the Golden Calf…[which is merely] Facts of life!……and now, mamash, he saw that with the spies coming back everything falls apart. Korach says what the world needs - ‘we need a new High Priest - we need a new High Priest to change the whole picture.’ But you know what Korach didn’t see, he didn’t see how holy Aharon is. You know friends how much it takes to see somebody else doing wrong and realize that they only wanted to save somebody else’s life? That is already the deepest depths; for that you need a lot of depth.”

Korach’s blindness was that he could only look up. He could only focus on where to go, how to improve. He genuinely wanted it different, improved, and better, but he couldn’t see that in pushing himself forward that he was also pushing himself away from everyone else. He would have unhesitatingly walked into Olam HaBa, totally oblivious that he was on one side and everyone else on the other. If asked about it, he would have responded, “if I could do it, so can they.”

Moshe, however, knew that his unparalleled student was missing something fundamental - the essence - what it’s all about. It’s what David Hertzberg, zt”l taught us about the Ishbitzer and his two star pupils, Rebbe Tzadok HaCohen from Lublin and Rebbe Leibeleh Eiger.

Both Reb Tzadok and Reb Leibeleh learned directly from the Ishbitzer, yet each one’s Torah is so completely different from the other; one is the deepest of the deep and the other pure sweetness and honey. In answering the question that begs to be asked, “how can that be?…how can it be that two extraordinary students of an even more extraordinary teacher gave over completely differently what their teacher gave them?!” [I.e. two students studying with the same professor sound the same, while two students studying with different professors sound differently.]

In answer David relates, “Reb Tzadok gave over ‘what he heard’ and Reb Leibeleh gave over ‘how he heard it’, and these were two different Torahs altogether. It’s much different what we’re hearing and what we’re doing……cause this is really the secret of life. There’s a lot of things that we have to do….. You see, the whole question is not ‘what’re we doing?’ but ‘how’re we doing it?’”

Moshe Rabbainu understood thoroughly that Korach wasn’t comprehending the depth of what were his responsibilities. It isn’t sufficient to have plans to fix the world, you also have to have contingency plans when your plans go awry. The demands of leadership are the ultimate demands of being a teacher: you have to be able on the instant to decide what it is that those who are your responsibility need. It may be clarification, it may be encouragement, it may be chastisement, and above everything it may even be the necessity to intercede and draw the punishment…as Aharon the High Priest did with the Golden Calf…that otherwise would fall upon them - but it has to be for them.

Olam HaBa is an enviable goal, but it’s not an individual one; it’s communal. If you as a leader and teacher are sitting there alone, what have you accomplished?

Moshe Rabbainu, in answering Korach, said, “the Holy One, Blessed be He, has given you greatness. By not falling in the sin of the Golden Calf, you’ve shown that it was not an inevitable, unavoidable mistake. We could have and we can do otherwise. In distinguishing you within Am Yisrael, God is telling you, ‘You [the Leviim - Levites] are between them and Me, because you are there for them. Your back is towards me and your face towards them. Unlike they, who will walk forward when walking into Olam HaBa, you will walk backward, in assurance that each and everyone is following.’“

Korach still didn’t get it. Instead of accepting Moshe Rabbainu’s attempt to refocus him, he persisted in challenging the one missing ingredient that eluded him. His ultimate challenge to Moshe Rabbainu was, “We’re all equal and identical. Every single one of us stood at Mt. Sinai, and every single one of us heard the Holy One, Blessed be He, speak. How is it ever possible that you are distinct from all of us?!”

And this, ultimately, is the crux and core of Korach’s challenge and dilemma: How? Why? From where?

Let’s, for a minute, be Moshe Rabbainu looking at Korach. There is no doubt that not only do we really have a lot of compassion and love for him, but we also know how much Korach is genuinely needed. We have absolutely no difficulty in understanding ‘what he doesn’t understand and why’, and yet equally we know that it absolutely exceeds our ability to explain to him. We cannot make him see it, yet it is expected that he will see it. The uniqueness of Moshe Rabbainu, who is the genuinely humblest of human beings, is for one reason and one reason alone.

Moshe Rabbainu knows that whatever he is and knows is only so because it is all coming from God. It’s a gift, pure and simple, an outright gift, not something that he achieved or acquired. That extra level of sanctity, wisdom, and understanding which separates him uniquely and forever from the rest of mankind is a gift - a Heavenly gift. And because it is, there is absolutely no way that he can explain it to the insatiable appetite of Korach…or to anyone else.

So Moshe Rabbainu tells Korach and all those who side with him, “There’s nothing I can do or say that will convince you. Bring your censers and we’ll let the Holy One, Blessed be He, decide once and for all ‘who is who’. I dearly wish that it was within my ability to convince you, but you’re all beyond reason, and therefore it is up to He, who is beyond all reason to understand, to reveal only that which He can know.

I know that you don’t believe me, Korach, but it’s really not coming from me, none of it. It’s all a gift. If you would only listen to your OWN prophecy that says, ‘you, Korach, are going to have such illustrious descendents, while mine are going to disappear into oblivion.’ That’s the price that I have to pay. Whatever the uniqueness is that has been imparted to me it’s not transferable. My descendents cannot inherit it.

You, however, are blessed, extremely blessed. Not only are you the beginning of an illustrious and magnificent family, but your family will be among the genuine teachers and leaders of Am Yisrael. Wherever we are going and whatever we will be doing, it will be you and them who are and will be teaching and leading us. Please, please accept this. More than this cannot possibly be given to you. I beg of you to back off from this and to live with this the greatest of blessings.

Korach, however, insisted on playing with fire, Holy fire, and instead of provoking God to compassion, he provoked Him to judgement. Even Moshe Rabbainu was incapable of protecting those who stepped out from under his and His protection. But it wasn’t for Moshe Rabbainu’s lack of trying or compassion; for some things even the ‘gift’ doesn’t work.

Chodesh Tov, [Good New Month]
Daniel Eliezer

* * *
What I write doesn't invite comments within the topic, but I do want you to know
that all are welcome to write me should you have any questions or comments.
I can be reached at: d.e.ben.eitan@gmail.com.
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