Out Of Line(age)
By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
And Korach, the son of Yitzhar, the son of Kehas, the son of Levi
took... (Bamidbar 16:1)
Had it only said "And Korach took," we might have anticipated that
the 'taking' had not been a positive one. However, once Korach's
lineage is presented - and a powerfully spiritual one at that - we
can only anticipate a positive taking. Thus, it comes as a shock to
find out that in spite of the fact that Korach had such an
illustrious lineage, and in spite of the fact that the Divine
Presence hovered above, he still had perpetrated one of the worst
coups in Jewish history, and might have succeeded had G-d not stepped
Therefore, this parshah is not simply a recounting of a black moment
in Jewish history, it is a warning to all future generations about
how even a person with great leadership potential can go astray and
take many important people with him. Sometimes it can be the result
of a bad upbringing, and sometimes it may have to do with the root of
Korach, the son of Yitzhar was from the level of the Ruach of Kayin
from the side of evil, as the verse indicates, "And Korach took"
(Bamidbar 16:1). This evil Ruach of Kayin was enclothed within him,
and therefore, he accused Hevel his brother, Moshe Rabbeinu.
However, Yisro, though he too was from Kayin, as it says, "Chever the
Kenite separated from Kenites (kuf-yud-nun)" (Shoftim 4:11), was from
the level of good of Kayin. Therefore, he gave his daughter Tziporah
to Moshe, was good to him, and fed him bread. (Sha'ar HaGilgulim,
Sometimes, as in Korach's case, it is because of such an illustrious
lineage that downfall occurs, as the Arizal continues:
Korach thought he had rectified Kayin the firstborn, and therefore he
tried to overcome Moshe, who was Hevel. However, he had erred in
this because the tikun of Kayin could not have come through Korach,
since he was from his evil side. Rather, it could only come through
his descendant, Shmuel HaNavi, who was also from the good side of
Kayin. Chazal have said that Korach prophesized but did not know,
because he saw a fire go out from him (Tanchuma, Korach 5). (Ibid.)
In other words, Korach came from great people, and great people were
to come from him. Sandwiched between two sides of greatness, is it
not safe to assume that one is also great, and meant to become
greater? Answers Parashas Korach, and history over and over again:
For, we can't always relate to the full picture of who we are, for we
are more than we have become. Furthermore, our spiritual roots have
so much more to do with how we relate to reality than we relate to
it. Rav Chaim Vital writes:
My teacher also told me that if someone is from the root of Kayin,
which is from Gevuros and is called "fire," he becomes very animated
and anxious when he sees water and enters it, since water
extinguishes fire. Another sign is that he is quite afraid of
Sheidim and Mazikim (Damaging Angels), since all the Mazikim came out
from Kayin "in the land" as the Zohar says (Hakdamus HaZohar 9b).
(Sha'ar HaGilgulim, Chapter 36, p. 112)
Perhaps that is also why Kayin, whose base is fire, felt compelled to
kill Hevel, who 'comes from' water. Perhaps this is also why Korach,
who came from Kayin, felt compelled to overpower Moshe, who came from
In any case, we are warned. When taking up a position against
leadership, particularly Torah leadership, one has to be certain
about one's sincerity. One has to be cautious about his inner
spiritual driving force, which may be compelling him to take action
that may not be called for, and which may be the cause of his own
G-d spoke to Moshe and Aharon, saying, "Separate yourselves from this
assembly and I will destroy them in an instant!" (Bamidbar 16:20)
Why? Couldn't G-d just destroy them without having Moshe and Aharon
change their positions? Human beings, even sharp shooters can miss
by a few millimeters sometimes and hit the wrong person, G-d forbid.
However, if G-d could cause a fire to come out from the Holy of
Holies and take out the souls of Nadav and Avihu while leaving their
bodies intact, then surely he could wipe away Korach and his
followers without bringing the slightest harm to Moshe and Aharon!
There are different parts to the answer of this question, but one of
the main parts has to do with merits. Everything in creation comes
down to merits, which has a direct bearing on what happens to us at
any given moment in time. Sometimes, even though we lack sufficient
merits to succeed or even survive, we can still come out on top
because of our association with those who do.
Someone who was traveling by plane just after the World Trade Center
was destroyed last September told me that he was afraid to fly.
However, to calm himself down just before take-off he would survey
the passengers all around him and see how many religious people were
flying with him. Even though he himself wasn't all that religious,
he still felt that when it came to merits, the people praying three
times a day and learning Torah instead of watching the movie, not to
mention eating the strictest of kosher foods, had to bolster the
True, the fact that one is religious is not always a tell tale sign
of righteousness, as many not-so-religious people have often pointed
out to me. However, as this person knew only too well, the
performance of mitzvos still counts the most from the Torah
perspective, and he felt a heightened sense of security seeing
mitzvah-doers on his flight.
This is one of the powers of giving tzedakah and helping others so
that they can do important mitzvos, like learning Torah. Even though
the giver, if he were to stand alone and not give would become a
lightning rod for the wrath of G-d, by helping others less fortunate
than himself, especially those who learn Torah, he gains an added
protection from bad things. His chesed builds a connection that
serves both the recipient, and maybe the giver even more so.
However, sometimes the giver sins too much and needs to be punished,
for his own good. Sometimes G-d wants to deny the giver a chance to
remain protected because he abused life to the point that he must
lose life. Or, sometimes G-d just wants to see if the giver really
appreciates what he is doing and what it is doing for him.
In either case, G-d will create a situation that will force the
benefactor of good causes to re-think his position, in order to
decide his future involvement. The outcome may be that the giver
once again justifies his involvement and increases his appreciation
for the merit it brings to him, whereas other times the benefactor
may feel emboldened to sever his connection and abandon the recipient.
In the latter case, the benefactor has to beware. If he is justified
in doing so from Heaven's point of view, he has nothing to worry
about; he has done the right thing. However, if he is NOT justified
in doing so, that is, he has a distorted point of view or he is
simply protecting himself against some other kind of backlash, then
he may be saving himself some money but losing plenty of merit -
merit that he may need at some critical moment in his life.
The heads of governments do not read this parshah sheet, as one would
rightly assume. However, as a commentary on the situation today, one
might point out: Europeans, watch out. As you pull your investment
out of Israel in favor of others, you might consider that your
savings are really your losses if Heaven disagrees with your
motivation for doing so.
More internally, if the secular Israeli government decides to cut
corners by denying those who need money to continue on with their
Torah lifestyle before they lower the expenditure on other more
frivolous commodities, they may be losing more than they are saving.
Who knows if they are not severing ties to merits that have saved
them countless times throughout the last five decades. With crises
looming on the horizon and Divine judgment at hand, without the merit
of supporting Torah either directly or indirectly, will they be able
Korach did not survive. Once G-d had Moshe and the righteous of the
Jewish people sever all ties with Korach, it was as if the carpet was
pulled out from underneath him, and he fell to disaster. All of us
have to keep this in mind, so that we can keep a spiritual and
physical hand in as many meritorious projects as we can. The state
of the economy can be an excuse to cut back, as may be political
associations. However, they have been created by Heaven to see on
which side of the line we stand: on the side of merit, or on the
For the tithe of the Children of Israel which they set apart as a
gift to G-d, I have given to the Levi'im as an inheritance.
Therefore I have told them that they will not receive an inheritance
amongst the Children of Israel. (Bamidbar 18:24)
This is one of the mitzvos that is 'dependent' upon the land of
Israel, applying only to produce that has been grown there. It is a
positive mitzvah, one that instructs a Jew to separate out one-tenth
of the produce after the t'rumah due to the kohen has been taken, and
give it to a Levi. It is called 'Ma'aser Rishon,' the 'First Tenth.'
Thus, though the parshah began with Moshe saying,
"You have enough, sons of Levi!" (Bamidbar 16:7)
- still, they received more: financial support from the community
that was backed up by G-d. What else could one ask for?
However, at some point in the future, they lost that too, as the
Why did they fine the Levi'im with respect to the tithe? It is a
point of disagreement between Rebi Yochanan and Savya: One says
because they did not ascend in the days of Ezra, and one says in
order that the kohanim should depend upon them during their days of
impurity. (Yevamos 82b)
The Rambam takes a position with respect to this disagreement and decides:
Ezra fined the Levi'im in his time that they should not receive
Ma'aser Rishon and that it should go to the Kohanim instead, because
they (the Levi'im) did not ascend with him to Yerushalayim. (Hilchos
This took place after the Purim miracle, when Jews had permission to
return to Eretz Yisroel during the rulership of Darius, and to
rebuild the Second Temple - which was supposed to have been the FINAL
Temple. In other words, post-Purim was a phenomenal moment in
history when the time was right to bring history - ALL OF IT - to an
Why? Because, when Ezra tried to assemble the Jewish people of that
time to return from exile and rebuild the Jewish nation on their own
land, he received a lukewarm response. It seemed obvious to Ezra
that it was the will of G-d to return, in spite of the dangers
involved - and there were great dangers involved - to Eretz Yisroel.
As mentioned before, according to tradition, the Final Redemption is
supposed to 'begin' in earnest on Seder Night, and 'end' on Shavuos.
This year saw a war begin on Seder Night when a terrible blast
brutally murdered Jews sitting down to their own seder in a hotel in
The next day the Israelis were well into Jenin and this country saw a
level of war that has yet to be seen in this latest uprising. Seeing
that the Talmud says that war is the beginning of redemption, the
timing of the tragedy made it more ominous than the rest of the
suicide bombings to date.
The war and the tension only increased with each passing day, as
international criticism for Israel's 'incursion' seemed aroused.
Even the American's were forced to publicly condemn the attack and
call for restraint by the Israelis, even though they were only
seeking out terrorists and cleaning up after themselves wherever they
made a mess. They wouldn't even use Arab electricity to recharge
their cell phones, though they did make sure to distribute sweets to
the scared Arab children.
With the tension mounting and Shavuos fast approaching, one couldn't
help but wonder if this was going to be the year after all, being the
eighth year of the Sh'mittah Cycle as well. Even though things began
to calm down, the Palestinians made a point of committing another
horrible act of murder just in time to push the Israelis to enter
Gaza, right before Shavuos.
Who knows where such an attack would have gone, but it had the
potential to grow into something big, very fast, perhaps even on the
scale of the War of Gog and Magog. Then, all of sudden, after much
preparation, a series of bizarre events forced the Israelis to cancel
their plans and go back home, having accomplished absolutely nothing
in terms of warding off future terrorist acts.
Now, in retrospect, people wonder if that was an opportunity given to
us on a silver platter to initiate a series of events that might have
resulted in the Final Redemption. All reasons and excuses aside, it
was a non-war, a non-event, one that required more self-confidence
and conviction to carry out than the Israelis could muster.
No one in his right mind wants war. However, no one in his right
mind wants to extend the exile either. This is especially true given
what is coming up, and it does not look so promising.
We may not have the likes of Ezra around today, but history and
current events themselves call us and ask us to ascend. The price of
not responding is far greater than we understand and appreciate at
Shabbas Mevarchin: Tammuz
It has only been three weeks since we celebrated Shavuos and the
giving of Torah. Now, this week, G-d willing, on Sunday night to be
precise, we will begin a new month, the Jewish month of Tammuz.
With the coming of Tammuz, we become acutely aware that the 'Bein
HaMetzarim' (Three Weeks) period is fast approaching. It will begin
with the day fast of Shiva Esrai B'Tammuz, and end with the 24-hour
fast of Tisha B'Av. During the entire period we contemplate how
spiritually lame we are without a Temple, and what happens to the
Jewish people when we lose our way and stop relating to the ultimate
goals of Torah.
Kabbalistically, it is the most dangerous part of the year for the
Jewish people not because of what happened during history, but
because of what happened just prior to history, in the year before
creation. In fact, according to the Zohar, the second verse of the
creation story is really the first one, out of order only to make
understanding more simple.
In other words, 'tohu' and 'vohu' - null and void - was not the
result of creation, but the other way around. It was from the chaos
that preceded creation that G-d built the world as we know it now,
making chaos a dangerous undercurrent in all of history.
What is 'tohu' (not be confused with 'tofu,' a soya product)? In the
year prior to creation, it was a period of tremendous 'hester panim,'
the hiding of G-d's hand in existence. Even the most chaotic period
of history that we can recall does not compare to the spiritual chaos
that existed at that time of pre-history, though it is rooted in it.
In fact, what we perceive as spiritual darkness and destruction is
just an aspect of tohu that existed prior to history rearing its ugly
head within history. And, what we called the 'yetzer hara' - our
evil inclination - has its root in that awfully dark period of time,
which indicates why G-d even allowed it to exist: to give rise to
that which makes evil, and therefore free-will, possible.
The destruction of both Temples and of Jewish independence is the
direct result of tohu. As long as both Temples had meaning, they had
the power to keep tohu at bay, like a lion tamer who maintains the
psychological edge over the lion he is training.
However, lose that edge by making the Temples superfluous, and the
lion attacks, which in this case is the tohu. Since this is the
undercurrent of history, it is also the recurring pattern of history.
Three thousand years later from Mt. Sinai, we can testify to the
veracity of that statement as we watch the wall crack once again and
tohu seep into daily life.
The only solution is to make Torah and the Temples central once
again. The only thing that can push tohu back to where it belongs,
and even eliminate it, is the light of Torah and the Temples within
which the Divine Presence used to dwell. To accept exile as a viable
way of life is to send tohu a personal invitation to wreak havoc on
mankind, and particularly the Jewish people, G-d forbid.
My we see the rebuilding of the Temple in our time, and the Final
Redemption at long last.