ויקח קרח… (טז:א). “And Korach took…”(16:1).
We all know the tragic story of Korach. He perished along with his entire family and followers. What lesson can we learn from all of this? What caused Korach’s downfall? The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 58:3) tells us that Korach was a wise man and from the carriers of the aron. Why is this piece of information of relevance to us?
The Daas Sofer brings out the lesson here. The aron contained no whole numbers in all of its measurements. Only broken numbers were found, it was 2½ by 1½ by 1½ amos. Additionally, we are taught that the aron miraculously took up no physical space! The luchos, tablets, representing the Torah, were placed inside the aron. This is to hint to the Gemara in Eruvin (55a) that says that Torah is not found in those that are haughty. Only the aron which was “broken” and took up no area was able to carry the Torah. Chazal also teach us that Hashem graciously accepts the prayers of a person who is submissive and humbled before Him. The aron was in the kodesh hakadashim, the place through which our prayers ascend up to Heaven. The sron thus spoke the message of humbleness. Only when someone breaks their ego, can they be a true carrier of Torah.
Moshe was the epitome of humility. Rabbi Chaim Volozhin zt”l says that the fact that Moshe was the man who possessed the greatest Torah knowledge ever and was also the most humble person to ever live is not coincidental. Rather, it was conditional to his greatness. Proportionately to how humble one is, that is how much Torah he can acquire. It was only because Moshe worked so hard on mastering humility that he was able to maximize his Torah potential as well. Rabbi Volozin concludes by stating that indeed if one would theoretically achieve the humility equaled to Moshe, then he too could acquire the vast Torah knowledge of Moshe as well!
Korach’s ego was not interested in any of this. He let his haughtiness push him to challenge the faithful Moshe Rabbeinu. Chazal are teaching us that although Korach held the aron and had its message of submissiveness right in front of his face, nevertheless, he allowed his ego to cause his own destruction and ignored its very lesson.
Indeed, self-confidence is an important ingredient for success in life, however, haughtiness is destructive. One important and clarifying distinction between them is to understand how they are in truth opposites. Self-confidence focuses on the happy feelings one gains from their past accomplishments and capabilities. It then motivates, propels and inspires one to go further and accomplish more! Haughtiness is self-worship in leu of past accomplishments, leading one to a demand respect. It breeds the feeling of complacency. We must know who we are, be proud of what we have done, and work hard to use our talents for the purpose of serving Hashem and helping and caring for others!
Effort That Counts
…והנה פרח מטה אהרן לבית לוי ויצא פרח ויצץ ציץ ויגמל שקדים. (יז:כג).
“…Aharon’s stick, representing the tribe of Levi, opened with leaves, buds and almonds growing on it”(17:23).
Hashem commanded Moshe to take a stick from each tribe and place it before the Aron in order to show that only Aharon’s stick would blossom, because he was the chosen Kohen. The verse describes that Aharon’s stick grew leaves, buds and almonds and it indicates that the leaves and buds did not fall off but rather remained while the almond fruit grew out of them. Indeed, the Talmud (Yuma 52b) states that this was precisely the case. This is very strange (as Tosfos Yeshanim asks there), since usually the leaves and buds fall off and only the almonds remain?
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein explains a fundamental idea here. The leaves and buds represent effort, the toil necessary in order to make the fruit grow. Hashem specifically made the leaves and bud remain, in order to show that when it comes to spiritual pursuits, the toil is rewarded just like the final result. When a tailor makes a suit, he only gets his wages if the suit ultimately fits the customer. Even if it does fit, the tailor would have rather gotten the money without the extended effort required. However, in Torah and Mitzvos, the toil invested is rewarded as well and is a part of the learning and growth. Thus we say at a Siyum, “we toil and receive reward (for the toil itself, irrespective of the results)”.
My question on this has always been, sure, it’s a beautiful idea, but why is it specifically taught here? I would like to suggest that it is vital and most relevant here. Aharon was being accused of wrongly holding the post of Kohan Gadol. This showed that the people thought that they could judge him based on their personal perspectives. Hashem expressed to them, that He looks at effort and only He knows how much effort one is investing. It is precisely because of the fact that Hashem counts effort and toil, that only Hashem can judge who is truly worthy of a great position.
Indeed, it is even deeper than this. Aharon himself lived a life that expressed this principle. Avos D’Rebbe Nosson states that Aharon used to help the sinners repent. Despite their negative actions, he would speak to them respectfully. They would feel the love and concern emanating from Aharon and would in turn think to themselves, “Wow, Aharon thinks that I’m a good person, I had better repent!” I believe that Aharon was showing them: You are a good person, on the inside you are putting in effort to improve and you truly want to be a Tzaddik and I acknowledge that effort! This is the way that Aharon brought couples together as well, he acknowledged their internal yearning to improve.
The lesson of the leaves and buds is: Hashem counts our efforts and inner desire to do what is right!
Moshe Emes and Rosh Chodesh
Korach waged an all-out war with Moshe. Hashem had told Moshe to appoint Elitzafon as the Nasi of Kahas, however, Korach felt that he deserved that position. How could Korach argue on what Hashem said?
The Be’er Moshe explains that Korach’s complaint against Moshe was not that Moshe had made up anything, but that rather Moshe had influenced Hashem’s decision by requesting his relative to get the high position. Korach stated that just like Hashem allows the Rabbis to determine and thereby control the new moon, so too, Moshe had a say in Hashem’s decision of appointing. He thus waged war accusing Moshe that he was changing Hashem’s decisions in his own favor.
Moshe’s response was that he in no way had a say in this matter, and to prove this he devised a test which ultimately led to Korach’s death. Moshe stated, tomorrow you will know (16:28), “כי לא מלבי, I did not influence this”.
Indeed, Korach’s last confession as he went down into the ground was “Moshe Emes, VToraso Emes, Moshe and his teachings are exactly what Hashem desires and not Moshe’s own ideas…” (Bava Basra 74a)
It is noteworthy that the Rashbam (there) comments that Korach’s voice can still be heard from the ground every Rosh Chodesh! This signifies that Korach accused Moshe of using the same power which Hashem granted to the Rabbis to determine the new month. It is also interesting that this week Korach falls out on Rosh Chodesh…
The opening verse (16:1) states that “Korach the son of Yitzhar, the son of Kehus, the son of Levi took.” What did he take? Rashi gives numerous explanations. Additionally, Yaakov Aveinu’s name is omitted from this genealogical listing because he davened that he be absent. What is this all about, whether or not Yaakov is mentioned, he is still Korach’s great-grandfather?
The answer expresses a most profound idea. Each family has talents and specialties. Parents grant certain natural temperaments and skills based on their creating and investing a part of themselves in their children. It is the power of a family’s vigor and capabilities. Korach utilized his great ancestral power and charisma and used it for the negative to gather followers for his rebellion against Hashem.
What did Korach take? He took his family powers with him. The verse reads, “Korach took, (his power of) Yitzhar, Kehus and Levi. This is why Yaakov wished to be omitted, he did not want Korach to take his sacred investment and use it against Moshe and Hashem.
On the flip side, one has the ability to connect with his family strengths. So much stress is given to the fact that we are descendants of Avraham, Yitzchok and Yaakov and Sarah, Rivka, Rachel and Leah. Their genes are embedded into our psyche and empowers us to become sincere servants of Hashem. We can ask ourselves when will our actions be in line with the goal of our illustrious grandparents who dedicated themselves whole-heartedly to the honor and closeness with Hashem.
Importance of Peace
After the rebellion of Karach was crushed by Hashem in an open miracle, the Jewish morale was very low. The Jews accused Moshe by saying (Bamidbar 17:6), “you are killing the nation of Hashem!” How could they darem make such a statement to Moshe?! Moshe warned them and predicted the miracle that would occur to prove Korach’s wrongdoing and to remove all doubt about Aharon’s status as Kohen Gadol, what complaint did they have?
Power of Dispute
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein zt”l (1895 – 1986) explains that with all that the Jews saw they certainly did believe in Hashem and trusted Moshe and Aharon as well. However, they had one last question. They complained that Moshe and Aharon should have prayed in order to save all of those who perished. They felt that obviously no prayers were said and thus the Jews held Moshe and Aharon accountable for the losses. Moshe replied that he certainly did pray for them to be saved, however, it was an impossibility. When there is machlokes, dispute, this unleashes the greatest forces of destruction. The power and tragedy of disunity is a force that wreaks havoc upon the nation.
Moshe knew that the only way to stop the damage would be to get Korach and his group to apologize. When he tried to make himself available to them for this purpose they used it as a time to try to strengthen their argument and complaints. Rabbi Feinstein points out that the same destructive force present by Korach was present once again when sinas chinum, unjustified hate, destroyed the Second Beis Hamikdash.
The lesson of the parsha is that we must extend our greatest effort to stay away from arguments. There is an entire mitzvah in the Torah that states, “don’t be like Korach and his group (Bamidbar 17:5).” Instead, we must pursue peace and tranquility, be willing to bend and give in to others even when our ego is on the line. When we show Hashem that we can be flexible and able to overlook the faults of others, Hashem will shower us with only good things and success.
Feet on the Ground
After Korach rebelled against Hashem and Moshe, there was a decree from Heaven that Korach, his followers and anyone else in the nation that lent support should be killed. The verse (Bamidbar 16:22) tells us that Moshe and Aharon fell on their faces to annul the decree and prayed before Hashem to please have mercy on the nation. Rabbeinu Bechaya takes the opportunity to discuss prostration and other aspects of prayer.
Rabbeinu Bechaya states that bowing to Hashem expressed three distinct ideas. 1) Awe of the Divine Presence, 2) Pain and subservience, 3) Self-negation of feelings and body given over to God’s service. In this merit they were answered. It is interesting to think about this when we pray in front of Hashem and experience our deep spiritual side. Here is a further discussion on the matter.
How to Pray
The Gemara Berachos (10a) tells us that when one prays Shemoneh Esrei he should place his feet next to one another as the angels stand. Talmeidey Rabbeinu Yonah (there) discuss the various customs of either placing one’s feet parallel to one another or touching in the back and splitting them outward. The Yerushalmi (Berachos 4a) has a fascinating discussion about how to stand. “Rabbi Levi and Rabbi Seemon, one says that you stand like Kohanim, one foot in front of the other, and the other says like angels, with one’s feet next to one another.” When praying Shemoneh Esray our custom is to place our feet together like the angels (See Tur OC 95:1 with Beis Yosef and Taz). What is the deeper meaning here?
Kohanim and Angels
Perisha (OC 95:2) explains that we learn the rules of prayer from Kohanim because prayer takes the place of sacrificial offerings and thus we follow that paradigm as much as we can, just as we find that the three daily prayers follow the sacrificial schedule. Rashba (Agados) notes that we learn how to stand from the angels because they are totally connected to Hashem and they exist only to serve and sing His praise. This is our goal as well and we reinforce that during prayer.
Father and King
I think that both of these intentions are powerful to bear in mind when standing before Hashem. I suggest that they hint to two important perspectives that we have as Jews. Hashem is Avienu and Malkeinu, our Father and our King. We stand before him as Kohanim, “Beni bechori yisrael,” His chosen special nation and we daven to our Father in Heaven for mercy. Thus, the advent of Kohanim represents the Father and son relationship that we have with Hashem. Additionally, we stand before Him as an angel who is a dedicated servant of Hashem the King. Thus, we focus on the fact that Hashem is our Master and King.
Two Kavanos, Intentions
Another famous aspect about prayer is the fact that there are two distinct obligations. Firstly, one must understand the translation of the words he is saying and secondly, he should see himself standing before Hashem as a servant before his master (See Shulchan Aruch 98:1 and Chiddushei Reb Chaim, Tefillah 4:1) I believe that these two components are represented by angels and Kohanim. The angels represent the kavanah, concentration, of standing before Hashem as a servant before the King. This concentration is mandatory throughout the entire prayer (which can be the reason that our custom follows the opinion of standing as angels). The other intention is that of translating the words and understanding what one is saying like a Kohen who does the service of his father and strives to understand the words. When we pray we try to incorporate both these aspects.
Rabbeinu Bechaya concludes his discussion by contrasting the fact that Jews put their feet together whereas other religions pray by holding their hands together. He states that when one puts their hands together it is a small gesture of subservience to the Higher Power; but when one places his feet together it is a full and utter expression of devotion and commitment to not budge without a focus on God’s complete Will and Guidance. That is what we stand for.