By Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff
Sfas Emes, Zechuso Tagein Aleinu, Parshas Korach, 5631
The Parsha begins: "Vayikach Korach ..."; "Korach took ...". The
Torah does not tell us WHAT Korach took. This open space in the text
creates a problem for ba'alei Pshat (and an opportunity for ba'alei
Many commentators handle the problem by reading the text as telling us
that Korach took HIMSELF . But an important ambiguity remains. From
what -- and to what -- did Korach "take himself "? The Targum
translates the phrase as: "Ve'ispalag Korach ...". That is, Korach
took himself "away from the klal"; i,e., he separated himself; he made
a machlokes. The Sfas Emes appends to this (enigmatic) pshat an (even
more enigmatic) comment of the Zohar. The Zohar: "Korach separated
himself from Shalom and from Shabbos". That is: Korach made a
machlokes with Shalom and with Shabbos.
You may be wondering: what is going on here? I too wondered; here is
what I came up with. The Zohar and the Sfas Emes view a name as
connoting the essence of what it is naming. In that perspective, the
Sfas Emes quotes another passage in the Zohar which tells us that
"Shabbos" is a name of HaShem. Similarly, HaShem is also called
"Shalom" (peace, harmony, completeness). So, when the Zohar tells us
that Korach separated himself from "Shalom" and from "Shabbos", we
realize how far Korach's rebellion went. The written Torah tells us
only that Korach contested Moshe Rabbeinu's leadership. The Oral
tradition -- including the Zohar -- lets us read between the
lines. There we learn that Korach was also wrecking the unity and
harmony of the cosmos.
The Sfas Emes explains. All things created draw their chiyus (i.e.,
their existence; their vibrancy) from HaShem. Thus, all Creation is
given life from its constant contact with HaShem. In addition, since
the whole world draws its vibrancy from the same source, this
structure builds harmony into the cosmos. To grasp what the Sfas Emes
is saying, I suggest the following simile. Picture a central
electricity generator to which are connected numerous machines that
need electricity to function. Thus, they all draw their life from the
connection with the central generator. And the fact that they are all
linked, in a given manner, to the same generator gives unity and
harmony to the whole system.
The Sfas Emes recognizes that the information presented in the
preceding paragraphs may not be intuitively obvious. To help us
understand the connections that link HaShem, Shabbos, and Shalom, he
provides a metaphor. The Zohar presents this metaphor in a passage
that Nusach Sefarad says before Arvis of Leil Shabbos, the text that
begins: "Kegavna ...". The metaphor tells us that (kavyachol; i.e.,
"so to speak"), HaShem is not seated on His throne -- bringing the
repose and tranquility that come with Shabbos -- until the world is
transformed with the "secret of unity" ("raza de'echad").
What is this transformation? The recognition that the entire cosmos
draws its existence from the same, single source: from HaShem. And if
all Creation derives its life from the same (one) source, all Creation
shares an underlying unity. (This fact is called a "secret"
("raza"). Why a secret? Note how few people are aware of this basic
feature of reality.)
The Sfas Emes goes -- and takes us -- even further. He tells us that
this transformation can include extending our awareness of Creation's
single source from Shabbos to the weekdays. Apropos of the
"weekdays", note the following. The standard term in Hebrew for the
weekdays is: "yemos ha'chol." Translated literally. this term means:
"the days of non-sanctity". Or, working with the closely related
word, "chalul" (empty space), we can understand "yemos hachol" as: the
days when the world seems empty of HaShem's Presence. In light of
this background information, it comes as no surprise that Torah
authorities usually refer to the weekdays as "yemos hachol".
The Sfas Emes does not follow this convention. More commonly, he
refers to the weekdays(as he does in this passage) as: "yemei ha'avoda
ve'hamelacha." I suggest that with his choice of words, the Sfas Emes
is telling us something. Clearly, the word "avoda" connotes serving
HaShem. Likewise, "melacha" evokes the word "mal'ach". A mal'ach is
an "angel" -- i.e., an emissary, an agent whose every action is to
fulfill the will of his Master. The Sfas Emes is saying that if we
get things right, our weekday activities, too, can be a form of Avoda.
Similarly, on weekdays, we can also try to live our lives as
'mal'achim' -- agents attempting to implement the will of HaShem!
(Obviously, easier said than done. But the first step in doing
something new and audacious is awareness that it may in fact be
The Sfas Emes sums up on this point with a meta-pshat reading of a
phrase in the Torah (Shemos, 31:16). This phrase is repeated in
kiddush on Shabbos morning: "la'asos es HaShabbos le'dorosom".
(ArtScroll: "... to make the Sabbath for their generations ...").
The Sfas Emes gives us a meta-pshat reading of this phrase. We can
easily see "le'dorosom" as related to the word "dor"
(generation). That make le'dorosom a time word. But the Sfas Emes also
sees 'ledorosom' as related to the word "dira" (a dwelling). That
connection makes 'le'dorosom' a space word as well; i.e., "in all the
places where they will dwell". Thus, the Sfas Emes understands this
pasuk as telling us that both wherever and whenever we live, on
Shabbos we can more easily perceive the unity and harmony of Creation.
To conclude: The Sfas Emes is saying that, notwithstanding perceptions
to the contrary, the world is governed by an inherent unity and
harmony. We can see these properties more easily on Shabbos. But the
Sfas Emes also reads the Torah's phrase as urgng us to extend that
insight to the days and the activities of the week. Further, part of
the order of Creation is Klal Yisroel -- the Jewish people functioning
as a unit, led by one leader (to whom the Sfas Emes refers as "yachid
hador" -- the unique one of the generation). Thus, when Korach
separated himself from Moshe Rabbeinu's leadership, he was breaking
the unity of Klal Yisroel. Even worse, he was disturbing the unity
and the harmony of the entire cosmos. Seen in this perspective, it
comes as no surprise that the earth opened up and swallowed Korach.
He had it coming!
Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Dr. Nosson Chayim Leff and Torah.org.