Torah Weekly

For the week ending 12 June 2010 / 29 Sivan 5770

Parshat Korach

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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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.


War On Peace

“And Korach took…”

Everyone wants peace.

Everyone wants to sit under his fig tree, secure that no one will come and take away his family and his money. Yet almost since the beginning of time, peace has been elusive and often illusory.

If there's one Hebrew word that everyone knows, it's “Shalom”, "Peace."

The Zohar tells us in this week's Torah Portion that Korach's rebellion was a rebellion against Shalom — a war on peace.

What does this mean?

If you meet someone in a bathhouse, you may not greet him with "Shalom!" because Shalom is the name of G-d, and it's not fitting to utter G-d's name in a bathhouse.

Shalom means perfection, completion. G-d is the only true perfection.

This world is a creation which lacks perfection. That's the way it is meant to be. The world is a place which strives to arrive somewhere beyond this world. The word for "earth" in Hebrew is “aretz, which comes from the same root as ratzon, which means "want" or "will". What someone wants, by definition, is something he doesn't have now. It's not here — it's there. You can also read the word aretz as aratz, "I will run". This is a world that is running, moving towards its completion.

But its completion can only come from Above.

The word for "Heaven" in Hebrew is Shamayim, from the root “sham” which means "there." This world is always "running" to "there" — outside and beyond itself. In fact Shamayim can also be read as sham-im, the plural of 'there' — the Heavens are the sum total of all the “theres” that can be.

This is why G-d's name is Shalom. G-d is the perfection of all the lacking of this world. Every single thing in this world finds its fulfillment, its completion, in Him. It's not here. It's above. It's "there."

“And Korach took…”

This sentence doesn't say what he took. It just says that Korach took. Onkelos translates the sentence as "And Korach separated…"

Korach wanted to separate this world from the world above.

He wanted a world in which everyone is holy, meaning we don't need anything from the outside. We don't need a Shalom that comes from above, from beyond ourselves. We have the technology! We have everything we need. This world runs to nowhere but to itself.

Korach challenged Moshe using two mitzvot: tzitzit and mezuzah. Why these two?

Tzitzit are connected – literally - to clothing. The word beged, garment, comes from a root that means rebellion— boged. Similarly, the word me'il, an over-garment, is connected to the word for misappropriation of Temple property — me'ila — another kind of rebellion.

Clothing hides, clothing disguises. All rebellion is born of disguising the true self, covering the disconnection between how we really are and how we appear to others. Clothing makes rebellion possible; it enables us to appear one way and be another. A garment has the potential to hide who we are; it encourages our natural tendency to feel free of obligations, to rebel. Tzitzit, fringes have no function in covering. Rather they are threads that connect us outwards to the world, reminding us that even when we are hidden under a garment we are still connected to a system that obligates us.

The home is another means through which we can hide and act duplicitously. At home, we feel we can do as we please. In public we have to behave ourselves.

When we enter and leave our homes, the mezuzah on our door reminds us that our behavior in our homes must mirror the way we act outside to the world.

Clothing and the home, therefore, need the special commandments of tzitzit and mezuzah.

Korach challenged Moshe with tzitzit. He claimed that the garment of techelet blue sufficiently reminds us of our obligations. Korach was saying that a person requires no completion from Above to be whole. Nothing external is required. There is no need to connect.

Similarly, he claimed, a house full of Torah Scrolls needs no mezuzah. The house is all we need to remind us of obligations. We can create our own perfection from ourselves. We need nothing from the outside.

This glorification of self-sufficiency is what lay behind Korach's challenge.

Korach separated himself from external reminders and external leadership. Korach fought against a creation where the aretz — this world — is inextricably linked to its fulfillment in Shamayim – in that which is outside and beyond.

He fought against the Shalom that makes everything whole.

Korach was the true enemy of the Peace Process.

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