A Delicate Balance

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By Rabbi Naftoly Bier

In פרקי אבות, Ethics of our Fathers 5:17, it states: “What is an example of an argument that is for the ‘sake of Heaven’, for selfless spiritual advancements, the halachic disputes between Bais Hillel and Bais Shammai.” The case of a dispute that represents self-interests is this week’s portion, the “rebellion” of Korach.

Superficially it seems that that Korach was a terrible person, a distinguished individual who envied Moshe Rabbeinu’s exalted status. How is it possible that someone who witnessed the miracles that Moshe Rabbeinu brought, experienced his selfless dedication, and above all knew that the Almighty had chosen him to be His agent to transmit the Torah to Klal Yisroel, doubted the authenticity of his actions? HaRav Yeruchim Levovitz זצ“ל explains that initially Korach’s intentions were completely legitimate, totally selfless and solely dedicated to Hashem. Korach had a relentless, passionate quest, to attain the highest level of spiritual attachment to Hashem. He couldn’t fathom why his cousin, the son of the youngest of four brothers, should be chosen to be the “administrator” of the Levites, why wouldn’t he be given the opportunity to develop his spirituality through responsibility to Klal Yisroel? He then convinced the first-born males who originally were to be those who would serve in the בית המקדש, the Holy Temple (or משכן, tabernacle) and the שבט ראובן, the tribe of Reuvein to demand to be returned to their original significant status. The Ramban explains that they argued that everyone should be able to serve in the Tabernacle just as beforehand, everyone could bring a sacrifice on a במת יחיד, a personal altar.

It began as an unequivocal pure desire to regain the ability to aspire, obligate, and challenge themselves for their greatest self-development.

But with all the sincere aspirations there is a hidden element that all humans have to contend with. Is it totally about Hashem’s world or is it even minimally about oneself? Am I upset that another has more stature than me? Is it due to my sense of “emptiness”, compared to another individual? On the surface, it seemed he was demanding equal opportunity for all, but משה רבינו revealed to כלל ישראל that his motivating factor was to be personally bestowed with “priesthood”, כהונה. The Talmud Yerushalmi states that Korach “completely lost himself” and exclaimed, “Torah is not G-dly, Moshe is not a prophet, and Aharon is not the High Priest!” Mind-boggling! This is Korach who the Arizal said will rise as a צדיק , a righteous tzaddik in the “end of days”, .באחרית הימים Korach’s intentions were pure! He sincerely and unequivocally believed that Moshe Rabeinu was Hashem’s chosen one. The “problem” was that one shouldn’t allow oneself to be overwhelmed with an emotional drive, even if it is to attain complete negation of oneself to Hashem. We need to ask!

Chazal teach us, in what manner did Korach substantiate that his arguments were genuine? He saw in the future he would have a descendant ,שמואל הנביא Shmuel the Prophet. In שמואל א, chapter 8, the Jewish people – the elders – approached שמואל הנביא and demanded he appoint a king to be his successor. Shmuel was terribly upset that they wouldn’t rely on Hashem to guide them in all their activities, including wars, commerce, and peaceful existence.

You, Klal Yisroel, have attained a true spiritual existence and dynamic. Eretz Yisroel, the land we inhabit is Hashem’s personal dwelling place. Our land is suffused with His presence; it’s His place and He will take care of his children!

Korach argued, if my descendants will argue that every person is living in the “palace of the King”, if every person is Hashem’s personal child, if all is secure when we are dedicated to Hashem; then why do we need leaders altogether? What was initially a personal longing turned into a confrontation with Moshe Rabeinu and Aharon HaKohen, if it truly is Hashem’s wish to have leaders. Though Korach originally desired to be a leader of Klal Yisroel, he now “blinded” himself by jealously attacking the idea of leadership.

HaRav Nosson Wachtfogel זצ“ל explained that what was relevant in Shmuel’s days, didn’t apply in the time of Moshe Rabeinu. As a people then, we needed a king, מלך, Moshe Rabeinu, and a ,כהן גדול Aharon HaKohen, to inculcate, teach and infuse Klal Yisroel with the true perspectives of life, the Jewish people being a “newly minted nation”.

The lesson we derive is that to be successful, especially in our times, everyone needs leadership, for otherwise we will make terrible mistakes. “עשה לך רב וקנה לך חבר”, “Make for oneself a teacher and acquire a friend.” ((אבות א:א

It is interesting to note that Chazal put more of an emphasis on a friend than a teacher; for a friend, one has to even ‘purchase’ him, while the word for make only implies to look for and ask someone to be one’s teacher. The משנה is teaching us that human nature is to seek the easiest path in life; therefore a person can always argue what my teacher is instructing only applies to my generation. We, who have a different makeup aren’t completely understood by the previous generation; henceforth buy a friend who can demand from one to energize oneself to actualize their personal potential without any excuses that ‘they don’t know their generation’s mentality’!


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