Much of this parashah relates the story of Korach's mutiny.
Near the end of that story we read (17:4-5), "Elazar the Kohen
took the copper fire-pans that the consumed ones had offered and
hammered them out as a covering for the Altar. As a reminder to
Bnei Yisrael, so that no alien who is not of the offspring of
Aharon shall draw near to bring up the smoke of incense before
Hashem, that he not be like Korach and his assembly, as Hashem
spoke about him through Moshe." According to some authorities,
the phrase, "that he not be like Korach and his assembly"
contains one of the 613 Commandments. Usually, this is
understood as a mitzvah not to act divisively. However, R'
Avraham Moshe Rabinowitz shlita (the "Skolye Rebbe" in Brooklyn,
New York) finds another message in this commandment. He writes:
Korach argued against Moshe and Aharon (16:3), "For the entire
assembly -- all of them -- are holy and Hashem is among them; why
do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of Hashem?" What
was wrong with this argument?
The answer, writes R' Rabinowitz, is that attaching oneself to
tzaddikim and sages and placing one's trust in their authority is
essential to the service of Hashem. Do not be like Korach and
his assembly. Do not think that because all Jews are holy, you
do not need a rebbe / spiritual mentor. Rather, accept the
authority of a "Moshe" so that he may place some of his majesty
upon you (paraphrasing Bemidbar 27:20). (Chakima Be'remiza)
"And Korach took..." (16:1)
Rashi (to verse 7) writes: "Korach was an intelligent
[literally, `open-eyed'] man. What reason did he have to commit
this folly? The answer is that his eye misled him. He saw by
prophetic vision that a line of great men would descend from him,
amongst them the prophet Shmuel, who was equal in importance to
Moshe and Aharon together [see Tehilim 99:6 and Berachot 31b].
Therefore Korach said to himself, `On his [Shmuel's] account I
shall escape the punishment'."
Why, asks R' Boruch Sorotzkin z"l (1917-1979; Rosh Yeshiva of
Telshe), does Rashi write that Korach's "eye" (singular) misled
him? After all, a person has two eyes! Indeed, we read at the
end of last week's parashah (15:39), "You shall not explore after
your heart and after your eyes (plural), after which you stray."
He explains: One of the distinguishing characteristics of a
great person is that he looks at every issue or problem from
multiple perspectives and does not jump to conclusions based on
his first impression. Rashi is teaching that Korach did not do
this. He used only one eye, so-to-speak, and thus was misled.
(For example, he did not consider the possibility that he would
be punished, but his sons would repent and be saved, as in fact
R' Sorotzkin adds that the above lesson is closely related to
the teaching in Pirkei Avot: "You shall judge kol ha'adam
favorably." The expression "kol ha'adam" usually is translated,
"every person." Literally, however, it means, "the whole
person." The Mishnah is teaching that when we judge the whole
person - when we look at him from numerous angles so that we see
all of his strengths and weaknesses and all of the circumstances
that affect his life - we will be likely to judge him favorably.
"For the entire assembly -- all of them -- are holy, and
Hashem is among them." (16:3)
R' Yehuda Aryeh Leib Alter z"l (1847-1905; the "Gerrer Rebbe"
known as the "Sefat Emet") explains Korach's challenge as
follows: "Should not each person choose his own path in the
service of G-d, rather than having one Torah for all people?"
Korach claimed that Bnei Yisrael did not need a Kohen Gadol such
as Aharon, for every Jew is a "High Priest." [Note that Korach
contradicted himself by seeking the position of Kohen Gadol for
Moshe told Korach that he was wrong. As Rashi writes: "We have
only one G-d, one Holy Ark, one Torah, one Temple, and one Kohen
If Korach had understood the nature off the Kohen's position,
he would not have wanted it. One is not necessarily deserving of
honor merely for being Kohen, for it is an inherited position
which does not depend in any way on the qualifications of the
holder. (This is what Moshe meant when he said to Korach, "What
is Aharon that you should complain against him?") True honor is
found in working oneself up the ladder of improvement through
one's own righteousness and accomplishments.
"Do this! Take for yourselves fire-pans -- Korach and his
entire assembly - and put fire in them and place incense
upon them before Hashem tomorrow." (16:6-7)
R' Avraham Moshe Rabinowitz shlita (the "Skolye Rebbe" in
Brooklyn, New York) asks: Why did Moshe choose incense as the
means of testing Korach's claim? He answers: We read in Shmot
(30:35), "You shall make it into a spice-compound, rokach ma'aseh
rokeach / the handiwork of a perfumer, thoroughly mixed, pure and
holy." Rashi comments (on Shmot 30:25): "Any thing which is
mixed with another so thoroughly that one becomes impregnated
with the smell or the taste of the other is called a `mirkachat'
[from the root rokach]."
It was this mirkachat that Moshe was alluding to in his words
to Korach. "If you are correct, Hashem will accept your sweet-
smelling mixture of spices. But be warned! The very letters
that spell mirkachat can be rearranged to spell "Korach mait" /
"Korach shall die."
"Dabair / Speak to Bnei Yisrael and take from them mateh /
one staff for each father's house [i.e., each tribe], from
all their nesi'im / leaders according to their fathers'
house, twelve staffs; each man's name shall you inscribe on
his staff. . . Ve'hinachtam / You shall lay them B'ohel
Mo'ed / in the Tent of Meeting before the Testimony [i.e.,
the Aron], where I meet with you. It shall be that the man
whom I shall choose -- his staff will blossom; thus I shall
cause to subside from upon Me the complaints of Bnei
Yisrael, which they complain against you." (17:17-20)
R' Moshe David Lida z"l (early 19th century Galician rabbi)
interprets these verses homiletically. He writes:
The Talmud relates that, on a number of occasions, a bat kol (a
form of communication from G-d that is below the level of
prophecy) was heard to proclaim: "There is someone in this room
who is worthy of prophecy, but the generation is not deserving."
This teaches us that the spiritual statures of a tzaddik and his
generation are intertwined. On the one hand, the generation can
impede the tzaddik's own spiritual growth. On the other hand,
however, the tzaddik can raise the generation's level and he is
obligated to do whatever he can toward that end.
This is the lesson of our verse: "Dabair" - be the "dabar" /
spokesman and leader of the generation. Rebuke them for their
bad deeds "and take [yourself]" - set yourself apart as an
example (through your good deeds).
"Mateh" is related to the verb "le'hatot" / "to lean" or "to
turn." (A staff is an object on which one leans, especially
while changing direction.) Turn your generation in the right
direction when they start to go astray.
What causes people to turn down the wrong path? "Their
nesi'im" - from the root meaning "to elevate." In other words,
However, a person can repent. "Ve'hinachtam" - lead them (see
Shmot 32:34) to repentance. How?
"B'ohel" - by the light (based on Iyov 29:3 - "When His lamp
would shine / `be'hilo' over my head). Which light?
"Mo'ed" / of time. In other words, make sure that at a
minimum, your generation performs each time-bound mitzvah at its
proper time. This includes davening within the time limits
prescribed by halachah. [Ed. note: R' Lida apparently is alluding
to the habit of many of his contemporaries among the leaders of
Polish chassidut to daven outside of the times prescribed by
halachah. This was one of the issues that split the Polish
chassidic movement into two camps in its formative years.]
Rabbi Dr. Esriel Hildesheimer z"l
R' Hildesheimer was born on 27 Iyar 5580 / May 20, 1820 in
Halberstadt (in what later became Germany). At the age of
seventeen, young Esriel traveled to Altona (then in Denmark) to
study under R' Yaakov Ettlinger, author of the Talmud commentary
Aruch La'ner. R' Ettlinger was a strong opponent of the budding
Reform movement and was well-versed in both Torah and secular
knowledge, all qualities that he would pass on to his two leading
students, R' Hildesheimer and R' Samson Raphael Hirsch, the two
foremost leaders of Torah-true German Jewry in the 19th century.
After leaving Altona in 1842, R' Hildesheimer studied in the
"Beth Hamidrash" in Berlin (where his teachers included R'
Michoel Landsberger and R' Elchonon Rosenstein, a student of R'
Akiva Eiger) and attended the University of Berlin, where he
studied philosophy, oriental languages, mathematics and
astronomy. Later, he studied at the University of Halle, where
he earned a doctorate in Bible.
In 1851, R' Hildesheimer was elected rabbi of Eisenstadt,
Hungary (near Vienna, Austria), a position he accepted on the
condition that the community would support a yeshiva. Orthodox
Jewry in Eisenstadt was in a dismal condition at that time; for
example, relatively few children were seen in shul with their
fathers. To help bridge this generation gap, R' Hildesheimer
decided to introduce limited secular studies in the Jewish
elementary school. The older students received a secular
education as well, but with a focus on areas of mathematics and
other subjects that would enhance their understanding of gemara.
Also unusual in R' Hildesheimer's yeshiva was that time was set
aside for studying Tanach and the Hebrew language. (After
beginning in 1851 with six students, the yeshiva had 128 students
in 1868, including one from the United States.)
To be continued . . .
Sponsored by Rabbi and Mrs. Samuel Bramson
on the yahrzeit of mother Evelyn Lewko z"l
Dr. and Mrs. Irving Katz
on the yahrzeit of mother Sarah Katz a"h
(Sarah bat Yitzchak Hakohen)