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Friday, June 20, 2008

Parashat Korach

Parasha: Korach – Numbers 16:1 – 18:32
Haphtarah: 1Sam.11:14-12:22
Reading Date: 28st June 2008 – 25th Sivan 5768

This week I feel like changing format a bit, let’s see how it goes!

At the beginning of the parasha, Rashi quotes Chazal who explains that the target of Korach’s rebellion was the ‘Kehunah’ (Priesthood). Similarly, many occurrences and mitzvot later in the parasha indicate that Korach’s assault was directed against Aaron and his position.One may question how Korach’s argument applied to the Priesthood, as Korach seemingly was upset about the general leadership; in fact, his contention (16:3) was against the perceived monopoly on leadership as exercised by Moses and Aaron, and Moses in particular was responsible for appointments to all positions of prestige. (To be precise, it was Moses’ appointment of Elitzafan ben Uziel as Prince of ‘Bnei Kehat’ which stirred Korach’s rage [Rashi from Tanchuma on 16:1]. This incident was unrelated to Aaron and the ‘Kehunah’.) Why, then, was the Priesthood specially and primarily targeted by Korach?I think that the answer to this question is found in the haphtarah. It is related how Samuel the Prophet warned the nation about its desire for a king. Samuel feared that – unlike a prophet, who merely coveys YHVH’s direct commands to Man – a king would serve to remove the people from YHVH. This is exactly the reason why Aaron was the real foe of Korach. Aaron exemplified submissiveness to YHVH. His very “leadership” title was, rather, one of divine service. Korach, on the other hand, sought to usurp Torah and democratize its interpretation, stripping it of holiness and making it into a loose, non-binding text (16:3), and he felt that true leadership meant asserting autonomy on Torah law, thus disconnecting it from YHVH’s defining role. Korach felt that Jewish leaders, somewhat like secular ones, should enact and interpret law as they see fit, in accordance with popular interests, and that ‘avodah’ -work- was subject to common interpretation rather than ‘Mesorah’. Thus, Aaron, whose leadership position embodied pure self-effacement and submissiveness to God, was the true antithesis of Korach’s vision for government, and Korach viewed Aaron and the Priesthood in its current state as the greatest enemy of democratic religion.

Many interpreters struggle to explain the sin of the spies but when one looks at the text itself much is revealed. Prior to Moses’ description to the spies of what they may find in Eretz Yisrael, he says,“Ureitem et Haaretz Ma Hi”, “and you should see the land as it is”.The simple understanding is that this statement introduced the ensuing verses as Moses specified the possibilities, “hatova hi im raah – the good with the bad, hashmena hi im raza – the fat with the thin, etc.” However, “Ureitem Et Haaretz Ma Hi”, could be a directive unto itself. Before Moses offers specifics regarding the Land, he warned the spies to see beyond all of the failings they may encounter in the Land. Moses understood that there were physical challenges in Eretz Yisrael. He knew that the Spies could report negatively about Eretz Yisrael. Therefore he charged the Spies to look at Eretz Yisrael with the attitude of, “Ma Hi” “As it is”, and to appreciate its intrinsic value and character. Regardless of the severe challenges that accompanied conquering and settling Eretz Yisrael, Moses was confident that viewing Eretz Yisrael, Ma Hi, would help accentuate its spiritual meaning and transcend a vision for the future.The Spies obstructed this vision when they reported negatively about Eretz Yisrael.The same is true for Korach. One of the questions Korach posed to Moses was whether or not a tallit that is blue needs strings attached to it. At first glance this question seems absurd. Surely any four-cornered garment regardless of its color requires tzitzit. The sages explain that the color white represents clarity and lucidness. The white strings of the Tzitzit represent the direction offered to us by Sages and teachers, who help us understand and appreciate the depths and the complexities of the Torah. A dark color represents that which is challenging and difficult for us to comprehend. The blue strand of techelet amongst the seven white strings demonstrates that there are bound to be concepts we are incapable of understanding without seeking advice. Korach wanted to remove the white of the tzitzit and to persuade the Children of Israel to undermine the authority of Torah. The Ramban says that the episode of the Spies and the story of Korach are connected because both wanted to dissuade the Children of Israel from entering the Land. Both the Spies and Korach were self absorbed with wanting the nation to see things their way and not “ma hi” – the way it is.

On a national level it is sometimes necessary for our leaders to see their people as “Ma Hi”; to see beyond the failings and to show concern and foresight based on sensitivity rather then self-absorption. On a personal level as well, if we were to see things at times in our lives as “ma hi”, life would become more fulfilling and take on new spiritual meaning.May YHVH guard us, the Nation of Israel and the world over from harm and send Messiah speedily. May He protect the armed forces of Israel and that they be Chazak!Let us remember to pray for all the soldiers that are missing and especially for their families. May they know the comfort that only the spirit of YHVH can bring, that peace that passes all understanding. May they be returned to their families soon.

Shabbat Shalom.

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