Food For the Soul
Korath’s philosophy misses the boat
In the Parsha Korach (Numbers 16:1 – 18:32) we read how Korach, a member of the Levitic tribe, incites a mutiny challenging Moses’ leadership and the granting of the priesthood to Aaron. The Torah teaches that Korach and his followers were punished for their insubordination when the earth “opened up its mouth” and swallowed them up.
Make no mistake. Korach did not start out as a jealous, power-hungry rebel. In fact, the Kabbalists explain, Korach had a deep philosophical dispute with Aaron’s approach to spirituality. Aaron was all about inspiring people to ignite spiritual light in their lives through the study of Torah and the observance of mitzvahs, to spend time and energy on spiritual pursuits, and to illuminate their souls with a love for G-d. Korach viewed light with disdain. In his view, darkness was what encompassed the absolute truth of the Infinite Creator. According to Korach’s plan, the people would live a materialistic life, without the burden of seeking spiritual inspiration. Eventually, more and more people would come to appreciate what Korach understood. They would understand that they could be satisfied with materialism as a testament to the fact that G-d cannot be expressed in a limited measure of light.
Korach was right that darkness has a higher source than light. He was right that the material has a higher source than the spiritual. And yet, his philosophy was completely wrong. He was wrong because in order to understand the truth of darkness, a person needs light. The only way a person can crack the shell of the material and connect to its source is by subjugating the material to the spiritual. Only when we allow Torah to illuminate life with spiritual light, with a yearning for holiness, will we be able to appreciate that the material is an expression of the essence of G-d. Only a soul inspired by Aaron can reveal and connect to the superior essence of the body. Only light can reconnect the darkness to its lofty source.
A soul illuminated with spiritual light can find G-d wherever it looks. Not only in the light, but also in the darkness; not only in the holy, but also in the mundane; not only in heaven, but also on earth.
Adapted from an article by Rabbi Menachem Feldman
Ethics of Our Fathers: Chapter 4
This Shabbat afternoon we read from Chapter 4 of Ethics of Our Fathers. In it, there are two warnings not to use Torah to satisfy your own ego or personal gain. Rabbi Tzaddok would say: “Do not make the Torah a crown to magnify yourself with, or a spade with which to dig”. So would Hillel say: “one who make personal use of the crown of Torah shall perish. Hence, one who benefits himself from the words of Torah, removes his life from the world.”
Mind Over Matter
Do you live near Korach?
Korach’s co-conspirators lived near to this wealthy, rabble-rousing, ambitious man. So it is not surprising that they were influenced by him or that Rashi said: “Woe to the evil man; woe to his neighbor.”
We are all influenced by society. One who lives in a place with a low moral standard will eventually start believing that this is what morality is all about. Which is why it’s important to choose our neighborhoods wisely. Do they reflect our values; how we want our children to grow up? If, however, we must live in a place where the popular definition of right and wrong is not compatible with Jewish morals, we should take these words from the Rebbe to heart: “You will either affect your environment, or the environment will affect you. There is no middle ground.” We must try to raise our communities to a higher plane; to teach, inspire, be a role model, be proud of who we are and what we stand for.
Inspired by an article by Rabbi Levi Avtzon
Korach’s bad timing
In the prophecies of Ezekiel dealing with the Messianic era there is a puzzling expression: “Hakohanim-Haleviyim-the Priests-Levites” (Ezekiel 43:19 and 44:15), mixing, as it were, these two separate concepts into a single one. Rabbi Isaac Luria explains this expression by stating that in the Messianic era the Levites will be elevated to the higher status of kohanim (priests). Korach wanted to benefit from this already, in his own time, and he sought, prematurely, to achieve that status. This desire is essentially commendable. Korach erred, though, by assembling his followers to rise and rebel against Moses. He thought that by doing so he could force the realization of the redemption before its time. He did not realize that it could not happen until the refinement of the world would be completed.
From an article by Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
Be proud of Jewish distinctiveness
Despite all the drama of a world in turmoil, I sometimes get the feeling that we live in a boring world. Everyone is so politically correct. G-d forbid, we should say what we really think! Recently, I attended a dinner for a local organization and the entertainer was a comedian. He got up and told the audience that the rabbi had called him and made him promise he wouldn’t use any risqué material. Then, another committee member reminded him not to be racist or anti-religious or gender discriminatory. A third made him promise not to offend any minority groups. Having been duly stripped of every opportunity for satire, the comedian just said, “Ladies and gentlemen, good night,” and walked off the stage.
The argument of Korach, the mutineer in this week’s Torah reading, smacks of such inane political correctness. Korach accuses Moses and Aaron of nepotism, of grabbing positions of power for themselves. In doing so, he insists that “The entire community is holy. Why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of G-d?” In fact, the very same argument could be used against Jews in general. “Who do you think you are? Chosen People! Aren’t all men created equal?” The fact is that Jews are different. Ask any anti-Semite and he’ll confirm it. The blatant hypocrisy in constantly holding Israel to a higher standard of morality than its Arab neighbors only reaffirms that Jews generally do adhere to a value system that is distinctive and unique.
Indeed, we do. The Chosen People concept means greater responsibility, not privilege. Rather than making them pompous and condescending about it, it has molded Jews into the most sensitive, humane nation on earth. And that is precisely why if we do occasionally veer from those principles, it is such an aberration that it is considered front page news.
Our belief in and respect of the inherent worth of every human being does not contradict our conviction that Judaism is unique. Does not every single religion maintain that its path is the correct one? Almost all, besides Judaism, actively evangelize to graciously save the lost souls of other faiths. We Jews do not seek converts because we believe that “the righteous of all nations have a share in the world to come” and they don’t need to become Jews to get a slice of paradise.
Some years ago the University of Cape Town was considering building a student religious facility which would unite all three major faiths in one house of worship. It was to service Muslims, Christians and Jews in a combined Mosque-Church-Synagogue to be known as a “MosChuraGogue.” I was asked by a local newspaper what I thought of the idea. My answer was that the mistaken presumption in the founders’ thinking was that three separate faiths could not possibly get along. There was therefore a need to combine them into one composite. The fact is that we are each distinct with our own set of beliefs and practices but there is no good reason why each specific faith should not respect the other. Why must we suppress individuality to achieve harmony?
Distinctions are a necessary reality of life. While we don’t look to create divisions between people, not everybody is a doctor. Imagine if every fellow who felt like playing physician would hang up a sign outside his house and start dispensing medicine! We’d have a very sick society.
The Rebbe was a great humanitarian. He was concerned about every nation and every single individual — Jew or Gentile — and tried to make a difference to the broader society, as evidenced by his efforts for a sacred “moment of silence” in American public schools and his emphasis on education for all. Simultaneously, he was adamant that Israel needs to be uncompromising in its territorial strategy to safeguard the security of its citizens.
Humanitarianism need not mean blurring all the lines. Imagine, John Lennon’s peace song where there are no more religions, is not only impractical and anarchic, it is a denial of truth. We don’t all have to be the same to get along.
Within our own people, some are “Kohanim,” others “Levites” while most of us belong to the rest of the tribes of Israel. There are doctors and lawyers, priests and prophets. The challenge of those who hold legitimate, genuine high office is to keep the distinctions from disintegrating into divisiveness.
From an article by Rabbi Yossy Goldman