Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Parashas Korach 5769

שבת טעם החיים פרשת קרח תשס"ט
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Parashas Korach 5769

Korach was not for the sake of Heaven
In this week’s parashah the Torah records the incident where Korach challenged the authority of Moshe. The Mishna in Avos (5:17) refers to this dispute as a machlokes shelo lisheim shamayim, a dispute not for the sake of Heaven. There are various explanations for this statement. One opinion is that the Mishna refers to the machlokes as a dispute between Korach and his entourage. Thus, the problem with this dispute was that Korach and his following had internal disputes. I have always found this interpretation difficult to understand, as it appears from the Torah that Korach was always on the same page as his followers. Another interpretation that is offered is that the sof, the end of the dispute, was not sustainable, whereas the machlokes between Hillel and Shammai was sustainable. This interpretation is also difficult to understand, as it would appear odd to equate the rebellion of Korach to the intellectual disputes of the Sages. What, then, is the Mishna teaching us by contrasting the two seemingly unrelated disputes? Reb Yeruchem Levovitz provides the answer to the question of why the Mishna equates the machlokes of Korach to the machlokes of Hillel And Shammai. Reb Yeruchem writes that the Mishna is teaching us that all that was lacking in the dispute that Korach had with Moshe was that Korach was not lisheim shamayim. Let us understand what it means to be lisheim shamayim. Hillel and Shammai were certainly lisheim shamayim. They were engaged in Talmudic disputes. What sort of dispute was Korach was engaged in? It would seem that Korach was essentially engaged in a dispute with himself. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 109b) states that Korach took for himself a mekach ra, a bad acquisition. What does mekach ra mean? Every person is looking for a good name for himself. Korach was also looking out for his name. The Medrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 18:8) states that Korach saw that Shmuel the prophet would be his descendant and Korach wished to be a part of this legacy. One must wonder, however, why Korach felt it necessary to act on this vision. Would it not have been sufficient for Korach to know that he would have illustrious descendants?

Korach challenged morality and Shmuel rectified it

The answer to this question is that after Korach challenged Moshe, it is said (Bamidbar 16:4) vayishma Moshe vayipol al panav, Moshe heard and fell on his face. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 110a) states that the reason Moshe fell on his face is because Korach and his followers accused Moshe of committing adultery. This statement of the Gemara requires a deep explanation. Is it possible that Moshe, who had ascended to Heaven and (according to the Meshech Chochmah in his introduction to Shemos) had lost his free choice, could have possibly succumbed to such a grievous sin? Perhaps the explanation of this Gemara is that the Pinei Menachem writes that the Medrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 18:3) states that Korach challenged the mitzvah of tzitzis, whereas Korach’s descendant, Shmuel, perfected the ideal of tzitzis. The Pinei Menachem proves this point from the fact that prior to killing Agag, the Amalekite king, Shmuel told Agag (Shmuel I 15:33) kaasher shiklah nashim charbecha kein tishkal minashim imecho, “just as your sword made women childless, so shall your mother be childless among women.” This proclamation, writes the Pinei Menachem, alludes to the idea that Amalek sought to permeate the Jewish People with immoral thoughts, and Shmuel was able to rectify this sin. We can now understand why Korach accused Moshe of committing adultery, as the Gemara (Kiddushin 70b) states kol haposeil bimumo poseil, that one who finds a fault in someone else, it is certain that the accuser himself has that fault. In a certain sense, Korach himself was guilty of adultery, as the mitzvah of tzitzis serves as a protection from immortality (see Gemara Menachos 44a). One who debates the holiness of tzitzis must certainly be suspect regarding issues of morality. Although it is difficult to suggest that this was the deficiency in Korach’s character, it is even more difficult to suggest that Moshe was guilty in any form of this sin. Let us understand, then, how this deficiency relates to the dispute that Korach had with Moshe.

Desire for wealth and immorality are related

Korach was a very wealthy person, and he attempted to use his wealth to challenge Moshe’s authority. The sin of immorality is very similar to the desire for wealth, as it is said (Mishlei 6:26) ki viad isha zonah ad kikar lachem, because, for the sake of a licentious woman, [one may beg] for a loaf of bread. Once one is caught in the web of immoral desire, it is very difficult to extricate himself. Korach was a smart person, but his desire for wealth and honor led him to sin. While Korach did not actually commit the sin of adultery, he is likened to one who committed the sin, because he allowed his desires to overtake him.

Korach could not accept parameters

When we refer to the dispute of Korach, we are not just referring to the dispute that Korach had with Moshe. Rather, the Mishna is also alluding to the dispute that Korach had with shamayim, i.e. all Heavenly matters. By challenging the authority of Moshe, Korach ultimately sought to bring a spiritual downfall to the Jewish People. Korach was lo lisheim shamayim, not for the sake of Heaven, as his actions demonstrated that he was not within the parameters that HaShem set in the world. It is said (Koheles 5:1) al tivaheil al picho vilibicho al yimaheir lihotzi davar lifnei HaElokim ki HaElokim bashamayim viatah al haaretz al kein yihyu divarecho miatim, be not rash with your mouth, and let not your heart be hasty to utter a word before G-d; for G-d is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few. Korach, in his challenge to Moshe, demonstrated that he was not willing to accept the parameters of heaven and earth. The idea that Moshe had ascended to heaven at Sinai and was now on a higher level than everyone else was something that Korach could not tolerate. For Korach, it was either we are all on heaven or we all are on earth. Indeed, the punishment that Korach and his followers received is that they were all swallowed up by the earth and were lost from the Jewish People.

Immorality is deemed to be a shtus

Furthermore, the Medrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 18:8) states that Korach’s eye deceived him. The eye alludes to the sin of immorality (see Rashi to Bamidbar 15:39) and although Korach may have not been contemplating such a grave sin at the time, his actions were going to lead him to the most immoral sins. This is also why the Medrash refers to Korach’s sin as a shtus, foolishness, as the Gemara (Sota 3a) states that one does not commit the sin of adultery unless a ruach shtus, a spirit of foolishness, enters him. We can now understand why Korach chose to act on his vision where he saw Shmuel as his descendant. While Korach understood that Shmuel would be great person, he felt that the best way to serve HaShem was without limitations Korach’s mistake was that it is specifically regarding immorality that it is said (Vayikra 19:2) kedoshim tihyu, and Rashi explains that wherever there is a fence from immorality, that is where there is holiness. When Korach attempted to breach these fences, he was declared guilty of the same sin of which he had accused Moshe.


In conclusion, Korach disputed Moshe’s authority and accused him of adultery, a flaw that Korach apparently had within himself. This dispute was deemed a dispute that was not for the sake of heaven, because Korach did not wish to accept the parameter of holiness, despite his claim that the whole nation was holy and HaShem was amongst them. Korach did not accept the idea that HaShem had instituted various levels of holiness in the world and amongst people, and this intolerance led to Korach’s downfall.
The Shabbos connection
The Zohar states that Korach challenged the concepts of Shabbos and shalom, peace. One who is at peace with himself and is satisfied with his lot in life can appreciate Shabbos, which is when the entire world returns to its source. We must prepare ourselves for Shabbos and realize that what we have is what HaShem has bestowed upon us as a gift, and then we can appreciate the ultimate gift in this world, which is HaShem’s Holy Shabbos.
Shabbos Stories
Job placement
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky writes: In the mid 1800’s, Rabbi Avraham Shmuel of Aishishok served as the Rav of the town of Rassein, a small village near Kownus, Lithuania. A brilliant scholar and the author of the Amudei Aish, the community revered him and afforded him the utmost respect. Unfortunately, the Czar government of that era had different visions for a rabbi and appointed their own lackey, a puppet of the state known as a Rav Mitaam. The Rav Mitaam served as the official liaison to the Russian Government and any official dictate or transaction, having to do with Judaism, went only through the Rav Mitaam. Unfortunately for that Rabbi, the townsfolk knew of his very limited capabilities, and relegated him to a seat in the middle of the congregation near the Bimah as opposed to the traditional place up front near the Holy Ark.
But one week the young designate decided that he had enough. He wanted to be afforded the same dignity as Rabbi Avraham Shmuel. He woke up early that Shabbos and came to shul before anyone arrived. He sat himself down in the seat designated for Rabbi Avraham Shmuel next to the Aron Kodesh (Holy Ark). No one had the nerve to say anything to him for fear of government reprisal.
During that era, immediately before Musaf, all congregations throughout Russia said a special prayer on behalf of the Government and Czar Nikolai. That week the chazan, it is not known whether it was an orchestrated ploy or a lapse in memory, forgot to say the prayer. He was about to continue with the Musaf service when suddenly an elderly Jew, a former cantonist soldier who was captured as a youngster and forced to serve in the Czar's army for many years, jumped up from his seat and charged toward the front of the synagogue. He began raining blows on the official designated rabbi, the Rav Mitaam.
“What kind of Rabbi are you!” he shouted. “How dare you allow the chazan to forget the prayer on behalf of our benevolent leader? I served the Czar faithfully for twenty years and you forget to bless him?!” The congregants joined the fray, some trying to separate the older soldier from the bedazzled rabbi, others getting in the blows they always longed to afford the government appointed rabbi.
It was not long before the police arrived, and arrested the soldier, who was dragged out of the synagogue, yelling and hollering about the lack of honor afforded his Majesty. “After all the years I worked for the czar, I will not allow this poor excuse for a rabbi, to belittle the dignity of His Majesty!” The local policeman could not decide the fate of the soldier who struck a government official, to defend the honor of the Czar.
Finally the case was brought to the Governor General of the region who asked the “rabbi” to defend his inaction. “You see,” stammered the Rabbi, I was sitting very far from the bimah and I truly did not hear the chazan skip, the prayer. After all, I was sitting next to the Holy Ark all the way up front!
The decision came down from the governor’s office. No more would the official Rabbi be allowed to sit up front. From now on, he must sit amongst the people to make sure that all the prayers are said correctly.
Appreciating Torah scholars
Rabbi Kamenetzky writes further: Rabbi Meshulam Igra of Pressburg was one of Europe's leading scholars in the latter part of the 18th century. As a young man, he was engaged to the daughter of a prominent community leader in the city of Butzatz. A few months before the wedding the young chassan ate a meal at the home of his future father-in-law. Dessert was served together with a hot treat a delicacy that the impoverished Reb Meshulam had never heard of -- coffee.
The servant brought out a cup of brewed coffee together with sugar and milk. The prospective father-in-law directed his son in law to partake. The young scholar looked quizzically at each of the entities and began to ponder. There were two liquids and sugar. The Talmud teaches that eating precedes drinking. He took a spoon of sugar and ate it. Then he was unsure what to drink first the milk or the black brew. Noting that darkness in the Torah comes before day, he drank the black coffee. Noticing the grinds at the bottom of the cup, he took his spoon and began to eat them. Not wanting to embarrass his soon-to-be father-in-law who had served such a difficult-to-eat dessert, he slowly chewed and swallowed the grinds. His prospective bride stood in shock.
“Father,” she cried. “I cannot marry a man who does not know how to drink a cup of coffee. He is a total klutz!” The engagement was broken.
Years later this same community leader visited the home of Rav Yeshaya Pick the prominent Rav of Breslow. Upon entering the study he noticed the rav engrossed in a letter. He looked totally concerned and distraught. When the man asked what problem was, Rabbi Pick told him that he just received a letter that is filled with the deepest insights. “I have to be totally immersed in Torah thought to begin to comprehend the level of this man's brilliance. In fact,” he continued, “I do not think a man of this caliber has emerged in the last fifty years! And,” he added, “besides the brilliance, one can note his amazing humility and fine character throughout every word he writes.”
Then he looked up at the man. “You come from Butzatz. Have you ever heard of a man called Meshulam Igra?”
The man didn’t emit a verbal response. He fainted.
When he came to, he recounted the entire story of the engagement and its dissolution, how Rabbi Igra was meant to be his son-in-law but the match was broken over coffee grounds. Rabbi Pick looked up at him and shook his head sadly. “Is that so?” he exclaimed. “You gave up the opportunity for this great man because he did not know how to drink a cup of coffee?”
Then he looked at the man and simply declared, “Faint again!” (reprinted with permission from

Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim
Parashas Korach 5769
I will not be giving a class in Navi on Shabbos afternoon until after Tisha Baav.
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler.
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