Korach... began a rebellion against Moshe, along with 250 Israelites
who were men of rank and distinction. They assembled against Moshe and
Aharon and told them, “You take too much for yourselves. The entire
congregation is holy and G-d is with them. Why do you elevate yourselves
above the people of G-d?” (Bamidbar 16:1-3)
Once again, there is rebellion amongst the ranks, and once again, G-d will
intercede and put everyone in his place. It happens a lot throughout
history, including Jewish history as well. You would think people would
learn their lesson already, but it does not seem so. The same mistakes
keep getting made over and over again. As they say, history repeats.
One of the main reasons, of course, is that, at the time, no one thinks
that he or she is making the same mistake that others made before them. On
the contrary, they usually feel emboldened by their cause, and backed up
by a sense justice, of true right and wrong. Korach certainly felt this
way until the ground broke beneath him and swallowed him up.
And, many of us look on and shake our heads and say things like, “Tsk,
tsk. Won’t we ever learn?” And the answer usually is, “Some of us yes,
most of us, no.” Just take a look at all the times we didn’t learn, and
here we go again. The Zohar says that anyone who speaks loshon hara about
Eretz Yisroel is considered to be speaking loshon hara about G-d (Shlach
109b). But, does that stop anyone from bad-mouthing Eretz Yisroel these
days? Not necessarily. Just as we often err regarding what is permissible
to say about someone and what is not, people greatly err about what can
and cannot be said with regard to Eretz Yisroel, and when it comes to
loshon hara, the general rule is: When in doubt, do without — don’t say it!
No wonder G-d took the episode of the Spies so personally; it WAS
personal. He also took the complaint about the lack of meat and the manna
personally as well, because it showed a tremendous lack of appreciation
for G-d’s Providence. And how much more so when they recalled the “good
life” back in Egypt! Were they both masochistic and sadistic, or what?
“No, no, we aren’t talking about the slavery...” Rashi explains they
said. “We are talking about how we could eat food without making
blessings, and get food without having to do mitzvot...”
In other words, what they enjoyed was the hefkerut — the complete openness
of Egyptian society.
“What?” you are saying incredulously. “Egyptian society was anything but
open,” you are probably thinking. And you would be right, with respect to
the Jewish people, who lived the life of the overworked slave. However,
for the Egyptian, it was basically “do-as-you-please”, completely open for
everyone except the Jewish people. There were no demands in terms of
belief, just as long as you paid the proper homage to the people in power.
A lot of good that did for the Jewish people! What point was there in
reminiscing about the freedom of the society you came from if for you it
was not free at all? If anything, they should have kept running away from
Egypt, not talk about appointing a leader and returning back there. What
were they thinking?!
They were thinking about the fact that they would not remain slaves
forever. No one ever does, and if they waited long enough, they could join
society, either through acceptance or through assimilation, but either
way, they’d be free to eat without the need to make blessings or to worry
about living a moral life. And now that the worst of Egypt was destroyed
through the plagues and again at the sea, the opportunity to rebuild their
lives in relative security, was more appealing than ever.
As absurd as it may sound, it is not so absurd. Even for a religious Jew,
the looseness of the society he lives within can even work in his favor
for a time. For, in a society that says, “To each his own”, and “Do
whatever you will, just as long as you don’t impose your set of values
upon me,” there is room to be a frum Jew. In such a society that everyone
is content to “live and let be,” there is room to set up a sub-culture
that maintains traditional Torah values, as long as doing so does not
interfere with the lifestyle of others.
Of course, the only trouble with such a society is when it falls apart.
For, once a society built up by hekerut goes through difficult times, it
begins to look for scapegoats. And, since it was not a society built upon
justice, there is no one to make sure that once people start lashing out
at others, that there is some kind of mechanism to stop them, to keep them
in place. It is usually at that time that the freedom the Jew once
depended upon starts to disappear, and dark times arrive, often with
The Children of Israel cried and said, “Who will give us meat to eat?
We remember the fish we ate in Egypt for free, as well as the cucumbers,
the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. Our spirit is weakened
now because there is none of that — only manna!” (Bamidbar 11:-4-6)
Over the course of 3,319 years since the time we left Egypt, the Jewish
people have settled in many lands. In some places, it never went well for
us, but in other places, it at least started off well for us before it
ended off bad. However, in either case, it just goes to show how the
Jewish people, during times of exile, can never be too sure about anywhere
they may be living. If ever there was a nation that could justify its
paranoia about living amongst the nations of the world, it is without a
doubt, the Jewish people.
Not that millions of Jews living in the Diaspora today feel any reason to
be concerned. Many have been born into freedom, and during the golden eras
in the countries in which they find themselves, few either know or take
the long and blood-spattered history of their people that seriously. They
don’t deny it; they just feel that it was something that was possible only
in the past, not in the present or future, not in societies as civilized,
as the one they now live in.
The largest, and seemingly most secure of all Jewish communities outside
of Eretz Yisroel, at this time, is the American community. Though America
may not be as good to the Israelis as they have been previously, they are
still quite good to the Jews who live there. Of all the diasporas that the
Jewish people have ever lived in, the American one has probably been the
best of all.
However, what is the basis of Western Jewish security (whether Canadian,
British, or South African, etc.), for that matter? What is it, if there is
anything, that makes the Jews of America feel so at ease with where they
live, where they work, and their lifestyle, whether they are an Orthodox,
Conservative, or Reform Jew? You might get different answers if you ask
different Jews across America, but perhaps one of the most prominent
answers would be: American society is a just one.
The $64,000 question is, is it? Is it really just a system as people would
like to believe, one that is so engraved in stone that it can resist the
temptation of the masses that easily revert to anti-Semitism when things
go bad? There is no question that there is a system of justice in place,
and that the American one is and was, a valiant effort at creating a fair
and just society, especially at its conception. However, has it fulfilled
its original mandate, and does it have the moral fortitude to withstand
the greatest test of all the nations throughout the history of mankind:
how will it treat its Jews towards the end of the exile?
The answer, if you check it out and think about it deeply and without bias
is disappointing, but not surprising. Indeed, it seems that what benefits
the Jew at this time is not so much the American legal system, as anyone
who has become entangled in can testify, and as its history of loopholes,
pitfalls, and conspiracies can bear witness to, but the openness of
American society, the to-each-his-own aspect of the American lifestyle.
As Hollywood and American materialism reveals, not to mention the amount
of emphasis on political correctness which permits, indeed, demands the
corruption of ideas to suit the whims of those who corrupt those ideas to
suit their purposes, American society is hefker, certainly by Torah
standards, and it is this that has allowed two things to happen: millions
of Jews to assimilate and intermarry, and those who remain committed to
Torah, to continue on with their lifestyle with great success.
“Justice” implies more than just a legal system. It implies commitment to
morality of which the laws of torts is but one aspect. To be a just
society, you cannot talk out of both sides of your mouth, on the one hand
seeming to keep the peace and prosecuting the “bad” guys, while at the
same time rationalizing deeds against morality that are clearly against
the Torah for the sake of money, just to entertain others!
There is no question that America, and other Western countries have been
great to the Jews, but for how much longer will they be? If the fun leaves
Western society, what will happen to Jewish security? If true justice is
not the ruling factor in Western society, where will the Jews of Western
society turn when Western society turns against them? A hefker-based
society can be either a great place of freedom or enslavement, depending
upon which direction the political winds are blowing at the time.
Eisav thought to himself, “May the days of mourning my father approach,
[after which] I will kill my brother Ya’akov.” (Bereishit 27:33:41)
In 1898, the famous American humorist, satirist, writer, and lecturer,
Mark Twain, wrote an article for Harper’s Magazine called, “Concerning the
Jews”. In it, Mr. Twain addressed several points regarding the uniqueness
of the Jewish people, and at the same time the inability of the gentile
nations to show the Jew proper respect, to put it mildly.
However, it is worthwhile to see what prompted such a famous gentile to
write an article that, in his day-and-age, could easily have brought
trouble to his own personal life. Concerning the Jews begins as follows:
Some months ago I published a magazine article descriptive of a remarkable
scene in the Imperial Parliament in Vienna. Since then I have received
from Jews in America several letters of inquiry. They were difficult
letters to answer, for they were not very definite. But at last I have
received a definite one. It is from a lawyer, and he really asks the
questions which the other writers probably believed they were asking. By
help of this text I will do the best I can to publicly answer this
correspondent, and also the others — at the same time apologizing for
having failed to reply privately. The lawyer's letter reads as follows: “I
have read 'Stirring Times in Austria'. One point in particular is of vital
import to not a few thousand people, including myself, being a point about
which I have often wanted to address a question to some disinterested
person. The show of military force in the Austrian Parliament, which
precipitated the riots, was not introduced by any Jew. No Jew was a member
of that body. No Jewish question was involved in the Ausgleich or in the
language proposition. No Jew was insulting anybody. In short, no Jew was
doing any mischief toward anybody whatsoever. In fact, the Jews were the
only ones of the nineteen different races in Austria which did not have a
party — they are absolutely non-participants. Yet in your article you say
that in the rioting which followed, all classes of people were unanimous
only on one thing, viz., in being against the Jews. Now will you kindly
tell me why, in your judgment, the Jews have thus ever been, and are even
now, in these days of supposed intelligence, the butt of baseless, vicious
animosities? I dare say that for centuries there has been no more quiet,
undisturbing, and well-behaving citizen, as a class, than that same Jew.
It seems to me that ignorance and fanaticism cannot alone account for
these horrible and unjust persecutions. Tell me, therefore, from your
vantage-point of cold view, what in your mind is the cause. Can American
Jews do anything to correct it either in America or abroad? Will it ever
come to an end? Will a Jew be permitted to live honestly, decently, and
peaceably like the rest of mankind? What has become of the Golden Rule?"
(Concerning The Jews, Harper’s Magazine, 1898.)
What astounded the lawyer was the fact that ancient anti-Semitism, which
had often been associated with less-educated classes of European society,
was able to ferment amongst those who had become quite educated.
Furthermore, as the lawyer pointed out, fanaticism also could not be
indicted as the sole reason for such extremism against a people who
clearly caused the least amount of harm to society. In other words,
according to any true system of justice, the Jew should have received a
metal of valor pinned to his chest, not one smashed across his head.
Mark Twain offers some interesting insights, many of which might be
considered secondary causes. However, if they had known the Midrash, they
would have understood that the real basis for anti-Semitism, at least with
respect to Eisav and all of his descendants over the generations spread
throughout America, Europe, and Russia, is innate. They can’t help it; the
best they can do is be distracted from it, which is basically what Western
society does when things go well.
That is not historical rhetoric; that is historical fact, if one spends
enough time to find the thread that connects up all the anti-Semitism over
the millennia, and when one realizes who the ancestors of Western society
were. (Actually, I am writing a book about this now called, “On The Same
Page”. In the meantime, the latest book, “Be Positive Is More Than Just A
Blood Type, It Is The Way of Life” is now available through my site at
The only question is, is this still true? Or, has Western society finally
evolved past the nature of its ancient beginnings, allowing, finally,
intelligence to prevail over primordial urges? Is Western society’s sense
of justice, its sense of right-and-wrong so ingrained that it can be
relied upon during the most grave situations? Has the Jewish American
lawyer’s question from 1898 finally been answered in the affirmative?
Moshe said, “Through this you will know that it was G-d who sent me to
do everything, and that I have not acted of my own accord. If these men
die naturally, sharing the fate of most men, then G-d has not sent Me.
However, if G-d creates a new thing, and the earth opens up her mouth and
swallows them up with all their possessions, sending them to their graves
alive, then you will know that these men have rebelled against G-d.” As he
finished talking, the ground split under them. (Bamidbar 16:28-31)
On the surface of it, Korach seemed like a hero to many in his camp. That
is why he was able to marshal so much support from so many people. We,
fortunately, get to see the story from G-d’s perspective, through the eyes
of the Torah, and from that perspective, it is clear that he never was
hero. He was no champion of the people, even though he claimed to be
working on their behalf from the beginning.
What was Korach really after in the end? If he had succeeded in
transferring the power of leadership from those whom G-d had chosen to the
people in general, what kind of society would have resulted? A structured,
well-disciplined society, or one that would have eventually descended to
the depths of chaos? Judging from the Midrash’s version of Korach’s
confrontation with Moshe in which he rejected many aspects of the Oral
Law, it seems as if that was the type of society he was aiming for.
Even if Korach believed his talk of holiness, as if he had a better
approach to setting up a holy society than Moshe Rabbeinu did, without the
kind of structure G-d had Moshe implement, it would not have lasted long.
Likewise, as much as the founding fathers of the U.S. Constitution may
have wanted to create the ideal, moral society, without the structure
offered by Torah for the gentile nations, under the guidance of Torah law,
it could never have lasted, as amendment after amendment has proven, each
one interpreting the original intention of the fathers in ways that
clearly, the fathers had never intended.
Any system of justice established by people who do not believe in Torah, G-
d, the World-to-Come, etc., cannot be reliable. That is man interpreting
the law according to man, and man is certainly not reliable, except to
cause the earth to open up underneath him, causing entire populations to
be “swallowed up”. The last great “swallow up” was six million Jews in the
Holocaust, and given the appetite of people these days, given the crooked
perspective of so many nations at this time, it seems as if the ground is
shaking once again, looking to do some more swallowing.
Eretz Yisroel may look dangerous, but it is G-d’s special land, the one
that He personally pays attention to. The miracles that happen here on a
daily basis are innumerable. The Diaspora belongs to G-d as well, but He
acts as if He does not pay as much attention to it, and it never hurts a
Jew to ask, especially based upon our past history, “What is REALLY the
basis of what I rely upon for my sense of security in the Diaspora, and
can it really last forever?”
Have a great Shabbat,
Text Copyright © 2007 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.