Korach – June 29, 2006
When the Israelites ran out of water in the desert, they were dealing with the question, “Is there a G*d of Compassion or is there nothing?” This was in the second year, and discouragement (Amalak) was rife.
The razor’s edge of ethics is compassionate reality v. projective reality. Projective reality has two sides: the oppressor and the victim.
Actions don’t tell the whole story! Actions might be motivated by pragmatic ends, or they might be motivated by spiritual creed, and it makes all the difference when someone is attempting non-violence and keeping Shabbos. If the heat and drought continue, we’ll all be keeping Shabbos to correct the problem, but will we be motivated by trying to save the environment or by following Torah?
Korach wanted to do away with the mitzvote of tsitsits and mezuzah. To rouse the mob and challenge Moshe, he said that a
The mezuzah has yud kay vov kay on the inside and shaddai (enough!) on the outside.
Surrounding Light: The Israelites had not internalized their faith yet. It is good that they failed. Whatever fix we find ourselves in is as good as it gets because G*d has put everything there before us that we need to change levels or to give us another chance to repeat the situation until we “get it” (or don’t).
Korach: A human being that the snake represents – senses vulnerability, and goes for it, bites the heel. Korach is the voice of Amalak because he preys on the weakness of those who are down and out. Those who lust after more than just shaddai are vulnerable to the con man. How much is enough? Just a little bit more?
It is important to every day feel G*d’s great compassion the first thing in the morning in order to avoid being overwhelmed by Amalak. Do we wake up and give thanks (Modeh Ani) or do we think about the too many things we need to accomplish?
16.14 Everyone is going to die in the desert – this leaves a vacuum. Stone Chumash page 807: as soon as it is mentioned that everyone (“everyone” being all the men age 20 or older) is going to die in the desert, Amalak is mentioned, because this causes discouragement. But, conversely, the time in the desert is our honeymoon with HaShem, the closest we ever to G*d because we got instant feedback, seeing results of leadership crisis. Also, everyone knew that they would lose Moshe when they arrived in the Promised Land, and many people felt unready or unwilling to shoulder the responsibilities of creating a society. In the desert, HaShem took care of everything.
Korach challenged Moshe because he was like a grasshopper in his wife’s eyes. She goaded him because of the shake offering, where all the Levites were shaved and then shook by Moshe. She attacked his male ego, saying that Moshe made him look ridiculous. She is in direct contrast to Own’s wife, who knew that joining Korach would result only in disaster. She fed her husband a meal that was guaranteed to put him to sleep and then sat in the doorway of their tent, combing her hair. Korach’s followers came for her husband and, horrified at the sight of a married woman without a head covering, left without him. They exemplified the attitude of worshipping rules rather than G*d. She, however, knew when to do the wrong thing at the right time. Thus was her husband saved.
Korach was The Ice Man. We want to cool our desires for the material things and be passionate about spiritual things. Korach was a Populist – his platform was that we are all the same, we are all holy – he wanted to do away with mitzvote which created separations, such as the mezuzah and tsitsits.
Korach roused the mob by speaking of a poor widow who had a farm, even though they had not yet reached the Land. She was subject to the following taxes:
In this story, the widow, unable to handle the taxes on the farm, sells the farm and buys sheep. She is now subject to offering the first born and tithing. She kills the sheep and gives parts to the Kohanes. Eventually she kills herself, despairing of taking care of herself after taxation.
Moses falls on his face – this is not just a physical act, but indicates prayer, the same prayer that we beat ourselves on the breast, chesvon nefesh, self accounting. He doesn’t react to Korach or argue with him; he has learned the bold silence from Nitzevet, David’s mother, Tamar, Miriam and the other righteous women we have been studying. Instead of denying the accusations, he wonders if perhaps he did any of the things which Korach accused him of.
Why do we give in? Are we giving in to be the victim? This breeds anger and violence. Or am I giving in out of compassion? There are two ways to stay silent: (1) Shabbos inside, not cooperating with the Nazis, or (2) we’re grasshoppers.
Moses didn’t argue, didn’t get defensive; he learned this from Caleb, who said only, “We have to move ahead.” Caleb didn’t engage with the spies, just stated his truth.
What is the difference between these arguments: Moses and Korach, and Shamai and Hillel? In the argument between Shamai and Hillel, Shamai focused on G*d and Hillel focused on partnership with G*d.
Shamai and Hillel argued l’shem shamayim, in the name of Heaven. If the argument is not l’shem shbamayim, don’t argue.
How can you tell which is which?
Shamai and Hillel were not arguing for their own benefit. There was no parry and thrust.
Shamai and Hillel argued dialectally towards a synthesis. They went in different directions to reach the same goal.
Korach convinced himself that Moses was committing nepotism and over-taxation. Korach didn’t want Moses’s job; he wanted Aaron’s job, which was to teach the Jews how to be a kallah, a bride to G*d. He was not equipped to do this.
When Korach was swallowed up by the ground, his sons landed on a ledge and they composed a psalm there. We recite this psalm on Yom Kippur to teach us that we can do teshuva even when we’re falling off a cliff.
In a bad argument, which is not l’shem shamayim, yo don’t feel good even when you win.
It is important that we don’t look at Korach, or any of the figures in the Torah, as the Good Guys or evil incarnate. If we demonize these people, then we will deny those parts of ourselves which resonate to them. Torah is about process.
Korach was a Populist. He said everything, everyone is the same. Korach’s wife made him a blue tallis so the strings would not be necessary. The blue tallis was a master symbol, representative of the sky, taking an overview so high that differences between people became as nothing. He also attacked the mezuzah, which marked the separation from one space to another; he said that if you have a room full of books, a mezuzah is unnecessary. Every mitzvah comes from a mistake made in the desert. Tsitsis were given at the end of the previous parsha because of the spies. Tistsis means to gaze. In the Song of Songs the lovers gaze at each other through the lattice. Look at them—the eyes see, the heart desires—remember the bedecken—the chassan veils the kallah in order to see her. He has to look past the superficial.
Some people argue with their faces covered to avoid reacting to the expression on the other person’s face.
Mitzvot are calming, they connect us to G*d. They teach us inner discipline. The strands of the tsitsit represent reality, the wild energy of the world, the knots are the motzvote which order and tame them and make sense out of them so we can see the inner unity of G*d. The white garment is the infinite light. The mitzvote are given after each crisis.
The philosophy of Korach and Hitler was that every man is an island. Everyone is the same and not connected. The con man sows distrust by convincing people that every man is an island. People who believe they are surrounded by distrust are vulnerable to the con man.
By implication, we need a separateness in order to come together to form a sweet unity.
Is Korach a manifestation of Korach or of his time and place?
Korach attacked mitzvot that made distinctions, separations, havdalote.
Miriam also said we are all holy, we were at Mt. Sinai. She also said that Moses was making too much of himself – she also criticized Moses. So in what way was she different from Korach?
Miriam was looking for a connection, and Korach was looking to divide.
[And perhaps there was a grain of truth—perhaps Moses was making too much of himself—his personal work was to correct the spiritual haughtiness which led him, as Abel, to arouse jealousy in his brother, and prevented him, as Noach, from saving his neighbors from destruction, and which indirectly caused the Golden Calf to be created.]
The purpose of the mezuzah is to keep us inside ourselves when we’re going out and going in, to remind us that what we need is not necessarily what we want. We need to expand ourselves in spiritual matters and contract ourselves in material matters. We should not give our best out in the world. Does the home support the career or does the job support the home?
The first line of the parsha says that Korach took himself out of the congregation.
AISH KODESH page 193
Korach was Pharaoh’s treasurer.
We start prayer with love your neighbor like yourself because you need to feel connection. Josiah called on Chuldah to read Deuteronomy after it was found in a wall because she was compassionate—he was afraid that if a man read the curses, the people would despair. Similarly, it is important to have the right person leading the davening. Ahavas Yisroel: the person who leads the davening should be compassionate and must love the Jewish people. Shlomo Carlbach gave a Russian the tallis off his back because of the love he had for the Jewish people. This is not strategic or pragmatic. The Aish Kodesh sees everything as an act of service to the Jewish people. Rachamin means womb.
When King Solomon made the decision about cutting the baby in half to satisfy both women who claimed to be the mother, his mother, Batsheva, was sitting on one side of him and Ruth was sitting on the other. He was guided by righteous women.
Malchut is the conduit of governance. Bread v. salt = expansion v. contraction.
Right now gevurah (strength, discipline) is coming through malchut (nobility) in many ways in the world.
The death of the pious is an atonement. When you feel that abandonment, you have to do teshuva. When Miriam died, everyone had to figure out how to get along. Atonement is about losing a good thing. You have to create something new.
Homework: think about the top of page 195 – define what kind of mess the Golden Calf made and how the red heifer cleaned it up.
If you don’t have compassion for yourself, you can’t pray for yourself.
Jews have a talent for arguing, and it’s a good thing, from HaShem.
If you achieve the compassionate heart, it doesn’t stop when you die. It’s very powerful.
What connects the red heifer and Rachav? The thin red thread.
There is a big difference between being kind so someone will like you and tough love.