Torah Weekly

For the week ending 28 June 2008 / 25 Sivan 5768

Parshat Korach

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Author's note: It is nearly two years since my sister, Chaya Esther bas Rochma, was involved in a tragic accident that has left her in a coma until this day. My sister is breathing by herself but can only receive food intravenously. She seems to react only to the most basic stumlii of noise, light and pain.

I wanted to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has been praying for my sister's recovery. Not a word of prayer goes unheard. I trust and know that Hashem hears our prayers.

As time wears on, it becomes more difficult to sustain our prayers, but for those of you who are praying for my sister, please continue to pray for a refua sheleima (complete recovery) for Chaya Ester bas Rochma, and of course, anyone who is reading this for the first time, I would so much appreciate your prayers, even on an occasional basis.

We all exist on Heavenly mercy, and I pray that Hashem in His mercy will see fit to restore my sister to full health amongst all those of our people who are in need of healing.


Korach, Datan and Aviram, and 250 leaders of Israel rebel against the authority of Moshe and Aharon. The rebellion results in their being swallowed by the earth. Many resent their death and blame Moshe. G-d's "anger" is manifest by a plague that besets the nation, and many thousands perish. Moshe intercedes once again for the people. He instructs Aharon to atone for them and the plague stops. Then G-d commands that staffs, each inscribed with the name of one of the tribes, be placed in the Mishkan. In the morning the staff of Levi, bearing Aharon's name, sprouts, buds, blossoms and yields ripe almonds. This provides Divine confirmation that Levi's tribe is chosen for priesthood and verifies Aharon's position as Kohen Gadol, High Priest. The specific duties of the levi'im and kohanim are stated. The kohanim were not to be landowners, but were to receive their sustenance from the tithes and other mandated gifts brought by the people. Also taught in this week's Parsha are laws of the first fruits, redemption of the firstborn, and other offerings.


Kosher Style

“And Korach took...” (16:1)

"$750 for a pair of tefillin! You must be joking! $750 for a couple of leather boxes with some Hebrew writing in them! Why, for a fraction of the price I could get something almost identical! What do I need all this crazy quasi-scientific precision for? What does it matter if there's a hairline crack in one letter? It's so small you can hardly see it! This is a typical example of the sort of nit-picking legalism that I hate in organized religion!”

“Open up your computer. What would happen if I took a very sharp x-acto blade and cut one of the wires here in the ADSL modem?”

“Well of course it wouldn’t work. The modem won’t receive anything.”

“Tefillin are a spiritual ‘modem’. They connect us to Something beyond this world. If there's the tiniest break in a letter, then the modem that we call tefillin won't receive anything.”

Korach asked Moshe if a house full of Torah Scrolls still needed a mezuza on the doorframe. Said Moshe "Yes." Korach started to mock him saying, "If a single mezuza fixed to the doorframe of a house is enough to remind us of G-d, surely a house full of Sifrei Torah will do the job!" (Midrash)

Korach was saying that the mitzvot of the Torah are symbolic, devoid of absolute performance parameters. Moshe’s answer was that they function within strict operational criteria. One mezuza on the door is what connects us to G-d, no more and no less, even if a house full of Torah Scrolls may look more Jewish.

  • Source: Based on a story heard from Rabbi Mordechai Perlman about Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz, zatzal

What's In A Name?

“...Men of name.” (16:2)

According to the religions of the East, ‘When you define a thing you destroy it’. From the Jewish perspective, however, definition, far from being destructive, can put us in contact with the essence of a thing, with its interior reality.

The Torah tells that Adam gave names to all the animals. Adam didn’t just pick arbitrary titles. He was able to express the essence of each life-force in its name. This is because the holy language (Biblical Hebrew) is like no other language. In all other languages names are merely conventional. A table is called ‘a table’ purely as a means of communication. The word ‘table’ itself, however, has no intrinsic connection to ‘tableness’. It is only in the Hebrew of the Bible that names express essence.

This expression ‘Men of name’ is extremely rare in the Torah. There are only two places where the phrase appears. Once in the generation of the Flood, referring to the Nephilim: “They were the mighty, who, from old, were men of devastation (literally - ‘Men of name’). The other place is in this week’s Torah portion referring to Korach’s accomplices who opposed Moshe.

The Zohar explains that when the generation who built the Tower of Bavel said, “Let us make ourselves a name”, their motivation was to exaggerate their importance. They meant to distort their name, to assume a name that did not define their essence.

Possibly this is why the Torah uses this expression here as well in connection with the rebellion of Korach. They were ‘Men of name’; men who were trying to usurp the name of Moshe and Aaron — to usurp the name ‘Kohen’. They thought that by stealing the name, maybe they could steal the essence.

We can never be something we’re not. At best we can live up to our own name.

  • Source: Based on Korban HaOni

Down On The Farm

“...for the entire congregation, all of them, are holy.” (16:3)

“All animals are equal except for some animals who are more equal than others”. (George Orwell - Animal Farm)

Talmud (Sanhedrin 109): “Rav said: It was the wife of Ohn Ben Peles (one of Korach’s co-conspirators) that saved him. She said to him “What‘s the difference who’s in charge? Whether it’s Moshe or Korach, either way it won’t be you!”

The way of all autocratic tyranny is to start by preaching grass roots equality. Only when the new regime has replaced the old does it emerge that dictatorship has been replaced, not by democracy, but by just another dictatorship.

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