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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 contaminated.

The parsha of the previous week was Korach. Korach was a prominent Levi, of immense wealth, knowledge and potential, who instigated a revolt against Moshe.

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 V'daas.)

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 this realization?

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 whatever.

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.)

Bilam's Vision

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.

Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
11 Kiryas Radin
Spring Valley, NY 10977
Phone: (914) 362-5156

Good Shabbos!

Text Copyright © 2000 Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Project Genesis, Inc.



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