Parshas Chukas - Balak 5760
Outline Vol. 4, # 3
by Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
The Parah, Korach and Bilam
The first of the two parshiyos this week begins with the laws of the
Parah Adumah -- the red heifer, an elaborate purification process. One
of the many mysteries of the Parah Adumah is that the ashes, which are
meant to purify, simultaneously convey impurity. The contaminated person
is purified, but purified people involved with the process become
The parsha of the previous week was Korach. Korach was a prominent Levi,
of immense wealth, knowledge and potential, who instigated a revolt
The Medrash states: What did Korach see that made him rebel? The Parah
Adumah -- red heifer.
What could possibly be the connection between the two subjects?
The Baal Shem Tov explained the lesson of the Parah Adumah symbolically.
The characteristic that contaminates and purifies at the same time -- is
pride. Someone far removed from purity needs some sense of pride in
order to spur himself onward. Once he is well on the path, however, he
must turn away from conceit. If not, the same force which enabled his
purification will bring about his contamination. (See Baal Shem Tov al
Hatorah at length.)
The Torah states that Ceder wood, hyssop and red wool thread are added to
the burning Parah. Rashi explains the wood and hyssop: Ceder is one of
the tallest trees, hyssop is one of the smallest herbs. This is a
reminder that the haughty person needs to lower himself. (See Taam
The Sefas Emes explained the expression, "He lowers the haughty; He
raises the lowly" -- the proud need to be humbled, so that they can be
raised again and yet remain humble in spirit.
Apparently, Korach understood the concept of the Parah Adumah, that pride
can be an instrumental tool in self-advancement. He failed to see the
lesson, though -- the same force which enables purification brings about
contamination. Once in a position of authority, Korach should not have
acted in such a brazen, audacious manner.
The Great Following
The Mei Daas explained the Mishnah: "Which is an argument for the sake
of Heaven? The argument of Hillel and Shammai. Which is an argument
that was not for the sake of Heaven? The argument of Korach and his
congregation." It was actually the Schools of Hillel and Shammai that
had the famous arguments, not Hillel and Shammai themselves. Yet the
Mishnah mentions only Hillel and Shammai. When it comes to Korach,
though, Korach's congregation is mentioned. Why the distinction? The
arguments of the Schools of Hillel and Shammai were based on logical
thought. However, the members of each school completely united with
their leaders. Korach's audacious debates were quite the opposite. He
could never have been so brazen to take on Moshe himself, if it weren't
for his following. Inspired by his admirers, he emboldened himself to do
the unthinkable -- and the utterly foolish.
The Tzadik, continued the Mei Daas, does not get excited by a large
following. Realizing his great responsibilities, he seeks Yiras Shamayim
(Awe of Heaven), and humility. If, however, he does not find himself
gaining in these characteristics -- this causes the Tzadik great worry.
How could Korach have led a large number of people and not have come to
Mitzvos should always be performed, even if one's intention is not purely
for the sake of Heaven. When it comes to transgressions, however, one
must not do them -- even with the best of intentions. Although the
Talmud allows a Talmid Chachom (Torah Scholar) to show anger, this is
only if his intentions are completely pure, without any personal motives
Korach was a great man, surely his intentions were originally for the
sake of Heaven. His mistake, however, was allowing his own extraneous
personal motives to become involved. (Mei Daas.)
In the second of this week's parshiyos, the Baal Shem Tov al Hatorah
discusses how the debates of Torah must be for the sake of the truth, but
not in order to defend one's honor, gain prominence or belittle another.
Bilam, the sorcerer, could not find fault with the Jewish People, and was
unable to curse them. He praised them by saying, "The doors of their
houses do not face one another." The "door," explained the Baal Shem
Tov, alludes to the mouth. Their mouths do not offend one another, even
when arguing the debates of the Torah.
In the writings of Rav Yisrael Salanter, it is a given that after
refuting another's arguments, the speaker will take notice of the other
person's valid points, and realize the strength of the opposing view.
In Mekor Boruch, an eyewitness account is given of a discussion which
occurred between Disraeli, the British Prime Minister, and Bismarck, head
of Germany. Bismarck complained about the lengthy meetings he had to
contend with, before he could attend to his projects. Disraeli answered
that meetings with people could be seen in an entirely different light.
By hearing opposing views, one could acquire new insight. By working
together with people, far more can be accomplished than by single
individuals. Bismarck was amazed, and inquired as to the source of this
idea. When it became clear that Disraeli had done some research into his
Jewish Heritage, and that the idea had come from Talmud, Bismarck -- a
notorious antisemite -- grew silent.
A person will grow if he can bury his grudges and personal agenda, and
work for the good of the whole.