Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Parshat Korach 5769- Rebellion and the Torah

This weeks central theme is the rebellion of Korach against Moshe and Aharon; and the people that he draws into it alongside him.  The essence of the story is that Korach comes to Moshe and challenges him- claiming that Moshe has usurped power for hmself and his family: he as the leader of the nation and Aharon and his family as the religious leadership.  Korach disputes the appointment of Aharon, pointing out that all the nation is holy, and that prior to the receiving of the Torah all of the first born were able to act as Kohanim.  Moshe challenges Korach and his followers to bring offerings the next day- specifically: the incense offering, and to let Hashem show the nation whom he had chosen.  In the morning, Hashem kills Korach and his followers by having the earth open and swallow them, and then immediately close again.  Wanting to make sure that the appointment of the Aharon and his descendants as Kohanim would be undisputed, Hashem tells Moshe to have the tribes each put a staff, engraved with the name of the leader of the tribe, into the Mishkan- the tribe of Levi’s staff to have the name of Aharon engraved upon it.  In the morning the staff of Aharon had sprouted blossoms and thus everyone was satisfied that Hashem had chosen Aharon and his descendants.

On the surface, it seems like a pretty standard political battle.  Somebody comes, disputes the leadership and claims it for himself.  the meforshim state that the 250 people with Korach were from all the tribes, were all well known leaders and were all first born, thus why they supported Korach- to have themselves reinstated to the Temple service.  On the surface, it seems that their punishment was harsh.  Surely Hashem could have put the rebellion down, just used the test of the staves to show his choice and leave it at that?

Ramban discusses the timing of this rebellion- prior to the incident with the spies, Korach was silent- the popularity of Moshe and Aharon was high and nobody would listen to somebody speaking out against them.  After the spies, Korach used the popular discontent at the fact that the nation would not be entering into Israel to gain support to confront Moshe and Aharon.  His aim was not the noble one he tried to portray to the people, claiming he was out to restore the rights of the firstborn to minister in the Temple,, he was out for personal power, but like all politicians sought a popular issue to gain support for himself in his quest for power.  But does even this qualify him and his followers for the subsequent deaths?

a midrash quoted by Rashi sheds further light on this incident.  He states that Korach did not just dispute the postion of Aharon, but also the legitimacy of what Moshe was teaching the nation, claiming he was making things up in order to cling to power through nonsensical suggestions.  The midrash states that korach and his followers came to Moshe wearing four cornered garments made completely from techeiles.  “Tell us, Moshe, do these garments require a thread of techeiles?”  “Yes.” Moshe  replied.  Korach and his followers laughed at this “An entire garment made of techeiles is not kosher because one thread is missing from the corners?  where is the sense in that?”  It was this ridicule and showing disrespect for the laws of Hashem that earned them the death sentence.  The Torah is clear- we are not allowed to remove or invalidate even a single letter- let alone an entire law!

HaRav Moshe Feinstein zs”l in Darash Moshe gives an explanation as to why even a whole garment of techeiles would require tzitzit.  He brings another Midrash in the name of Rabbi Meir (quoted by Ramban, Kli Yakar, various other meforshim and in Midrash Tanchuma and Midrash Rabba from what I can see) that the techeiles reminds us of the sea (both because of its colour and due to the fact that it comes from the chilazon, a sea creature), the sea reminds us of the sky, the sky of the heavens, the heavens of the Kisei haKavod.  it is a progression, a growth from the mundane to the spiritual.  In general, that is how people progress- people are not born tzaddikim at great spiritual heights, but have to study and progress through life to achieve that distinction.  Korach, his followers, the entire generation of the desert did not progress in this manner- they went from the depths of degradation in Eypt to the most fanatastic spiritual heights at Har Sinai; but because this spirituality was literally just given to them- they continuously questioned it.  They kept asking for further proofs, further miracles, to show that they indeed were still at that height- as they had not earned it through a lifetime of growth and studying-  and this is the difference between a thread of techeiles on the corner, and an entire garment of techeiles- the thread reminds us of the progression, the need to study Torah, to follow it, to bring ourselves up through that progression.  The entire garment of techeiles, on the other hand, is the instantaneous spirituality of the generation in the desert.

Korach represents the rebellion against Hashem- the removal of the Torah for human logic.  The falacious reasoning that man driven logic can replace the truths inherent in the Torah.  More must be better than less- a whole garment of techeiles must be more meaningful than a single thread.  But the logic of man cannot replace the truth of the Torah.  A whole garment of techeiles is meaningless- it is not commanded by the Torah, and thus it has no purpose in the Torah.  The single thread is commanded- and if one studies and delves deeper- one can see why that purpose overrides the idea that more is better.  Korach represents the cults out there- the promises of instantaneous spirituality- no need for study and understanding what Hashem’s intent was- that can all be replaced with human understanding and logic:  Instant spirituality (often at a price).

 

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June 26, 2009 - Posted by | Parshah, Torah | , , , , , , , , ,

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