Torah Weekly

For the week ending 20 June 2015 / 3 Tammuz 5775

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.


The Jewish Sin

“And Korach took… and they gathered together against Moshe and Aharon…” (15:1-2)

If you were to pick one chronic failing in the Jewish People, what would it be?

Some would say white-collar crime. There’s an old anti-Semitic joke that runs, “Shloime, I heard you had a fire at your factory last week.” “Be quiet Moishe! Next week!” However, the fact that Jews are less likely to indulge in violent crime and more in insurance rackets is probably due to the fact that in Czarist Russia the State was regarded, and rightly so, as an implacable enemy from whom one should “liberate” as much as one could. These traditions die hard and were not always left behind at Ellis Island.

A religious Jew once asked Rabbi Pam, zatzal, for a beracha for his business. Rabbi Pam asked him how he ran his business, and he replied that is was a “cash business,” meaning he didn’t report it to the IRS. Rabbi Pam said that he wasn’t running a business, he was a thief.

In the introduction to his classic eponymous work, “The Chafetz Chaim,” Rabbi Yisrael Meir HaKohen Kagan (1839–1933) lists after the Torah prohibitions related to speech, the prohibition of machloket – acrimonious divisiveness.

The fact that, to the best of my knowledge, there is no one-word English translation for machloket may show that it may possibly be native to the Jewish People. I’ve often thought that a trait of a People may be seen in a word they use that cannot be rendered into another tongue with just a single word. Take the quintessentially French word chic. Is there one single English word that sums that unique French quality meaning fashionable, pretty, understated, etc.?

The Yiddish word to fargin — the altruistic pleasure that one has from another’s success — required me to come up with a whole sentence to define that classic Jewish quality. (Interestingly, there is a single word in German that means the reverse — Schadenfreude — the exquisite pleasure of seeing your enemy falling. How typically Teutonic!)

Machloket is the Jewish failing.

Has there ever been an epoch in Jewish history devoid of divisiveness and disunity, in towns and communities, and the only thing that unites all these divisions is the singular awesome destruction that it has wrought?

In fact, whether machloket is a Torah prohibition or not is itself a machloket (albeit one for the sake of Heaven). The Rambam does not include machloket in his list of Torah prohibitions, whereas Rabbeinu Yonah and the Sma”g do. The Chafetz Chaim adjudicates according to this latter opinion.

The Mishna in Avot (5:17) comments, “What is a machloket for the sake of Heaven? The dispute of Hillel and Shammai.” Only the “Hillel and Shammai” in each generation may allow themselves to have a dispute for the sake of Heaven.

In Mincha, the afternoon prayer of Shabbat, we say, “You (G-d) are One, and Your Name is One, and who is like Your people Israel, one nation in the world?” You can understand this prayer in the reverse order too. If the Jewish People are one, if we are devoid of acrimonious division, then G-d’s Name becomes One; meaning that all the nations on earth will recognize that the G-d of Israel is the King and there is no other Power in creation.

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