Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Parshas Korach 5770

In this weeks parsha the entire nation is atoned for. What did they do, and what does the method used for?
atonement illustrate?

This weeks parsha is Korach: Bamidbar (Numbers) Chapter 16:1-18:32

AnswerThe people were punished because they accussed Moshe of being responsible for the deaths of the 250 people with him. Ramban points out that there are 2 reasons for this accusation:
1) Previously, whem the people had sinned Moshe had prayed and they had been spared. This time he did not pray.
2) Nadav and Abihu had been killed for offering the incense sacrifice- they stated that Moshe had known offering this particular sacrifice would result in the deaths of everyone but Ahaaron, as for Aharon it would be the morning sacrifice he was meant to bring, and for everyone else it would be a “strange fire” resulting in their deaths!

How does Ramban resolve these accusations against Moshe? In the first instance, he states that previously, particularly at the incident of the golden calf, he had the excuse that the people could have claimed not to have heard, or not to have understood, the commandment to worship G-d alon and undertake to follow the Torah.

However, their complaint now was that the entire nation was just as holy as they had all heard G-d proclaim the first two commandments! With that statement, Moshe could not ask G-d to forgive them, as they admitted that they knew they were guilty of idol worship previously, and that in denying Moshe and stating that he was taking power for himself and his family contrary to the wishes of G-d, they were denying the Torah he had brought down from har Sinai. As such, Moshe could not pray for them as they had removed themselves from his authority and ability to atone for them!

On accusation two, Ramban points out that the incense offering was considered especially dear to G-d. It is an offering whos esole purpose is to draw us closer to G-d, to declare our loving relationship with G-d. It was why Nadav and Abihu had chosen to offer it when they erred! Here, Moshe was hoping that the people involved would repent, would investigate their relationship with G-d, would remember the fate of Nadav and Abihu and repent.

Because of their inappropriate attack on Moshe, the people were punished with the plague breaking out amongst them. The atonement was appropriate to the cause- Aharon used an incense offering to re-establish the relationship between the nation and G-d. The choice of atonement was appropriate to the method of repenting the sin- it was because people pulled away from g-d and Moshe that they were punished- thus they were atoned for by re-establishing that relationship.

This teaches a general lesson when we need to repent for an action: Apologising and repairing the relationship, be it between us and G-d or us and our fellow man, is mor eimportant than the physical symbolism attached. Atonement is not through sacrifices, blood or outward symbolism- it is in the internal process and realisations, the correction of the basic problem, that we are forgiven and atoned for. G-d does not need blood or sacrifices- G-d needs us to improve ourselves!

June 13, 2010 Posted by | Torah | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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).


June 26, 2009 Posted by | Parshah, Torah | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Daily updates? How very unlike me!

Dunno what it is, the new platform, my current circumstances, or maybe I’m just really bored at work lately, but I seem to be putting out a lot of posts lately!

What happened today that has me walking on cloud nine at the moment? A couple of things:

1) My little ones birthday today (Happy Birthday Yoav!) What can I say, the nursery school (kindergarten for those who use that other version of English…) teacher put on a great Birthday ring for him and it was a fun, happy occasion.

2) A week ago my ex decided to block access to the kids. Today her lawyer responded to our court application by agreeing not to oppose, agreed that all access would be reinstated, and would not oppose us getting a court order to enforce my rights to access.

But these two things got me thinking (and with me that is always dangerous- when I think I come up with bizarre and weird linkages. Not my fault, I have played Dungeon’s and Dragons for way too many years!) I gave one interpretation of the parsha in my previous post- but there is another viewpoint which sees Korach as good, but ultimately misguided. he and his followers all wanted to be Kohanim and Kohanim Gedolim (Priests and High Priests)- and indeed, in the time of Mashiach the Levi’im will serve with the Kohanim in the Temple. In some way, Korach was trying to force the ultimate redemption, trying to force the start of the Messianic age. Some things are not ours to force, but occur because Hashem has determined that it is time for it, that we merit to have such a time start. Thus Korach was ultimately wrong and paid the price for his actions. But, in the end an important result came out of it as well- there was no longer any doubt from the Nation about Moses right to pasken (explain and expound) the Torah or of the right of Aharon and his descendants to be the Kohanim.

So, how does this relate to my personal situation? Only by REALLY stretching things. In some way, ny ex must have expected to achieve some positive outcome (don’t ask me what- the kids have virtually been in tears everytime I have spoken to them this week and asking when they can see me. Their suffering is what has been really bugging me this week) but in the end she was ultimately wrong, and the overall result is that in the long run her position has weakened. It is now clear that there can no longer be a discussion about my rights to access or reduction in access- in the end, what was the situation before is now clear, and no longer subject to debate, question or discussion.

(Yeah, I know- hubris and all that in comparing myself and my ex to Moses and Korach. Lets just be clear- I don’t for a minute think that either of us are in any way analogous to those two, just that the one situation is reflective of the other!)

June 27, 2008 Posted by | Other Torah, Parshah, Uncategorized | , | 1 Comment