In this week's parashah, we read of Korach's uprising against
Moshe and Aharon. In Pirkei Avot (chapter 5) we learn: "Any machloket
/ dispute that is for the sake of Heaven will stand. Any machloket
that is not for the sake of Heaven will not stand. What is a
machloket that is for the sake of Heaven? The halachic disagreements
in the Talmud between Hillel and Shammai. What is a machloket that is
not for the sake of Heaven? The dispute of Korach and his cohorts."
R' Shlomo Zalman Auerbach z"l observes: This Mishnah seems to
imply that the disputes between Hillel and Shammai are fundamentally
comparable to the machloket of Korach and his cohorts, except that the
former were for the sake of Heaven and the latter was not. Is that
R' Auerbach explains: All machloket is inherently bad (hence the
similarity between the disputes of Hillel and Shammai and the dispute
of Korach and his band). Thus, our Sages have taught (in the very
last teaching in all of Mishnah): "Hashem found no better vessel for
holding blessing than peace." Indeed, Bnei Yisrael merited to receive
the Torah only because they were: "As one man, with one heart." (See
Shemot 19:2 and Rashi.)
However, if a machloket is for the sake of Heaven, then it has
the potential to ultimately increase unity. Specifically through this
machloket, each participant's attachment to the Torah is revealed and
is strengthened. And, that attachment forges a common bond between
the disputants, thus leaving them as closer friends. (Quoted in Avot
"He spoke to Korach and to his entire assembly, saying, `In the
morning G-d will make known the one who is His own and the holy one, and
He will draw him close to Himself, and whomever He will choose, He will
draw close to Himself'." (16:5)
The above is the standard--and at first glance,
simplest-translation of our verse. However, notes R' Aharon Lewin z"l
hy"d (rabbi of Rzeszow, Poland and member of the Polish Senate; killed
in the Holocaust), this translation is problematic. In particular,
the phrase "whomever He will choose, He will draw close to Himself"
appears to be redundant after the verse has already stated, "G-d will
make known the one who is His own and the holy one, and He will draw
him close to Himself."
Accordingly, R' Lewin suggests the following alternative reading
of the pasuk: In the first half of the verse we read that G-d will
select the "holy one"- either Aharon or Korach. The second half of
the verse does not mean, "whomever He (G-d) will choose (either Aharon
or Korach), He will draw close to Himself." That would be redundant.
Rather, the phrase should be translated: "whomever will choose him
(i.e., whomever will choose to stand with the `holy one' that G-d
chooses-either Aharon or Korach), He (G-d) will draw close to
Himself." Read this way, the verse is teaching that Hashem looks with
favor upon those who attach themselves to righteous people.
Alternatively, the phrase can be translated: "whomever will
choose Him (i.e., whomever will choose to stand with G-d), He (G-d)
will draw close to Himself." Read this way, the verse is teaching
that Korach's true motives were not pure as he claimed. Like so many
other rebels against G-d, writes R' Lewin, Korach insisted that he was
only standing up for right and justice, for the dignity of the Jewish
People and of G-d himself. We shall see! said Moshe. Tomorrow, G-d
will choose the one who has truly chosen Him.
"Moshe said, 'Through this you shall know that Hashem sent me to
perform these acts, that it was not from my heart'." (16:28)
R' Yaakov Kaminetsky z"l (died 1986) writes: Moshe said these
words on his own, without consulting with Hashem. By doing so, he
placed the entire Torah at risk. If Hashem had not caused a miracle
to happen (i.e., the earth swallowing Korach), the implication would
be that Moshe was not Hashem's agent.
How could Moshe take this risk? He had no choice! If his own
contemporaries could question his authority and not be dealt with
decisively, how could later generations be sure that Moshe spoke for
G-d? If Moshe had not risked his own reputation (and the Torah's) to
impress his own generation, he would have lost future generations.
"The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households,
and all the people who were with Korach, and the entire wealth." (16:32)
The Gemara relates that the sage Rabbah Bar Bar-Chanah once was
traveling in the desert when an Arab offered to show him the hole into
which Korach had been swallowed. Rabbah saw a fissure from which
smoke was rising. He took a ball of wool, soaked it in water, and
stuck in on the end of a romach / spear, and then lowered it into the
hole. When he removed it, he saw that the wool had been singed by
fire. The Arab told him, "Put your ear to the ground and hear what
they are saying." Rabbah did so and he heard, "Moshe is true, his
Torah is true, and we are liars."
What was Rabbah teaching by this story? R' Yitzchak Shmelkes z"l
(19th century rabbi of Lvov, Galicia) explains that Rabbah wanted to
indicate the seriousness of fomenting in machloket / strife. First,
he took wool, which represents tzitzit in particular and mitzvot in
general. (Tzitzit, through their blue color, also remind us of the
heavens, and therefore of G-d's "Throne.") Next, he dipped the wool in
water, which is frequently used by our Sages as a metaphor for Torah.
Then, he stuck the water-logged wool on the end of a romach / spear,
alluding to the 248 limbs and organs of the human body. (The gematria
of "romach" is 248.) By this, he represented a person whose entire
being, all 248 limbs and organs, are steeped in Torah and mitzvot.
Finally, he lowered the spear into Korach's hole and, when he
removed it, it was singed by fire. This demonstrates that even if a
person is entirely devoted to Torah and mitzvot, once he becomes
involved in machloket, it is impossible to emerge unscathed.
(Bet Yitzchak Al Ha'Torah)
We learn in Pirkei Avot (chapter 5): "Any machloket which is for
the sake of Heaven will stand. Any machloket which is not for the
sake of Heaven will not stand." At first glance, the Mishnah is
stating that a machloket which is for the sake of Heaven will be
ongoing. If so, this would seem to indicate that a machloket which is
not for the sake of Heaven is preferable, for it will not stand!
No, says R' Yechiel Mordechai Gordon z"l (1883-1965; rosh yeshiva
in Lomza and Petach Tikvah). The Mishnah means the following: Any
machloket which is for the sake of Heaven will stand still and will
not expand to new venues and envelope innocent bystanders. In
contrast, any machloket which is not for the sake of Heaven will not
stand still. It will spread continually until many people who have no
relationship to the original dispute and no business with it will be
caught up in it.
(Quoted in Avot Mi'Shulchan Rabbotainu)
Letters from Our Sages
This week's letter is from She'eilot U'teshuvot Maharik (No. 9)
by R' Yosef Colon (France and Italy; approx. 1410-1480), an important
halachic authority who is quoted frequently in later works.
What follows is a brief excerpt from a lengthy responsum about a
shul that had the following custom: On the Shabbat on which Parashat
Bereishit was read, the first aliyah (usually reserved for a kohen)
was given to a member of the congregation who donated oil for the
entire year. The custom was that if a kohen was present, either he
bought that mitzvah or left the room so that someone else could be
called to the Torah.
One year, there was a kohen who did not buy the mitzvah and also
would not leave the room. The members of the congregation agreed to
prevent this kohen from entering their shul and they enlisted the help
of the municipal government. Maharik's letter follows:
A Torah scholar to whom secrets are revealed, the foundation of the
building, one who asks relevant questions, my soul's friend, the wise man,
R' Shmuel: . . .
It appears, in my humble opinion, that even if that kohen is as
great as [the sages of the Mishnah] Shimon ben Azzai and his friends,
he went too far, for we should not change the customs which our
forefathers before us, pious men and men of deeds, practiced.
Regarding matters such as this, Chazal said, "Leave the Jews alone -
if they are not prophets, they are the sons of prophets." Certainly
this is true regarding this custom which honors and elevates the
Torah. It is obvious that [the honor of the Torah] is elevated when
people jump at the chance to read its beginning in exchange for money
- there is no love of Torah greater than this. Also, in this way, oil
to light [the shul] is more readily available.
In all of the holy communities of France and Germany, a similar
custom is observed on Simchat Torah. These and these intend [their
deeds to be] for the sake of Heaven, except that these do it when they
finish the Torah and these do it when they begin the Torah . . .
Regarding the most insignificant custom we learn in Bava Metzia
[86b]: "R' Chanina ben Chachilai said, `One should never deviate from
the local custom, for Moshe went up to the Heavens [to receive the
Torah, and he did not eat; the angels came to visit Avraham, and they
did eat]'." Also, we learn in Bereishit Rabbah on Parashat Vayera:
"When you enter a city, follow its customs." Certainly then, in the
case of an important custom such as this, which honors and elevates
the Torah; it may not be changed and must be followed.
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ('lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah'), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and
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