These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: CD #1024 — Segulos for Refuos. Good Shabbos!
Torah Is the Great Unifier in Klal Yisrael
The pasuk says that Moshe told Korach and his followers: “Do this: Take for yourselves firepans – Korach and his entire assembly.” [Bamidbar 16:6]. Rashi makes the interesting comment: “We only have one G-d, one Aron (Ark), one Torah, one Mizbayach (Altar), and one Kohen Gadol (High Priest).” Moshe is trying to dissuade the 250 people together with Korach from trying to pull off this stunt. Rashi points out that the nations of the world may have a variety of priests and a variety of deities that they worship, but that is not the case with the Jewish religion. Since our religion is based on a single G-d, a single Aron, Torah, Mizbeach, and Kohen Gadol, your group’s challenge to the authority of Aharon will be an effort in futility.
I saw an interesting question. If we look at the Beis HaMikdash, Rashi’s statement is in fact correct. There is one Menorah, one Shulchan, one Mizbayach, and one Aron. However, there were two Keruvim (Cherubs) on top of the Aron! How does that fit in with this concept that in the Beis HaMikdash everything was always “one of a kind”?
The Gerer Rebbe, the Beis Yisrael [1895-1997], comments that the Keruvim symbolized unity as well. Even though there were two of them, they faced each other. Therefore, despite the fact that they were two physical units, they are really just a single entity.
I saw an addition to what the Gerer Rebbe said, and I think it is a beautiful addition.
The Keruvim are attached to the Aron. What is in the Aron? The Torah is in the Aron. The Torah is the great unifier in Klal Yisrael. The Torah is able to combine disparate units and disparate kinds of people. That is the Torah. The Keruvim are considered one because they are attached to the Aron, which represents Torah, the great unifier in Klal Yisrael.
I recently made the point that as much as we like to tell ourselves that we are One Nation, the truth of the matter is that we are a fractious people. Even within the Orthodox world, there is significant division and divisiveness. We have different philosophic and hashkafic issues with different people, which are legitimate. We see that there are different people who occupy different places on the Orthodox spectrum. They have nothing to do with each other because of these philosophical differences and the intolerance that it breeds. However, it is not legitimate to become intolerant of each other because of those differences.
I commented that it has been my experience that despite our differences, we can come together on this Orthodox spectrum in three areas. The first area is business. People that have business dealings can get along fine with one another, irrespective of their religious convictions. A Jew dressed entirely in his customary chassidishe attire can interact with a Harvard educated knitted-Yarmulka-wearing customer or supplier. They barely speak the same language. One speaks a broken English and the other barely speaks a broken Yiddish but somehow, they can come together and do business. In matters of business, they can be the best of friends and trust one another implicitly. Why is that so? It is because “business is business.”
The second area where I have seen—with my own eyes—that people who would normally not even bother acknowledging one another’s presence bond closely together is in a hospital emergency room, or in a hospital surgical unit’s family waiting room. Again, I have seen people from different backgrounds with different modes of dress and different hashkafos—but when they are there together in a time of trouble, they unite because of their tzores. They will daven for each other, they will support each other, and they will cry on each other’s shoulders, both figuratively and literally.
The third area where I have seen people of very diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds come together and bond intimately is at the Siyum haShas. (For me, this is the most prominent memory of those auspicious occasions.) When we complete the cycle of learning Talmud Bavli, you can see people dancing together who, again, would have nothing to do with one another under normal circumstances. Torah is the big unifier. Sometimes it may be only for a brief moment or for several hours during the Siyum haShas ceremony—but people feel connected to each other simply because we learned the same daf, we completed the same tractate, and we feel that unifying bond of sharing a common Torah.
Le’havdil, I find this also in society in general. One common denominator binds together all strata of society. There are wealthy people, educated people, truck drivers and neurosurgeons. However, one thing unifies all of them—sports! Again, one person can be in overalls with grease under his fingernails, a real beer belly swinging his six-pack. He is at the ballpark sitting next to a fellow using a blackberry and wearing a $600 Italian suit. They would not say boo to each other in any other setting, but here they are rooting for the same home team together. They share insights and they share intense emotions as the game progresses one way or another. Sports in general, and the “Home Team” in particular, are the great unifiers of general American society.
Sometimes when I am on a train or a plane and I need to speak to the person next to me, we might not have much in common. However, we can always talk sports with one another. L’Havdil, “We toil and they toil.” For them, the great unifier is the sports team. For us, the great unifier is the Torah. So too, the Keruvim, even though they were two bodies, represent the Unity of Torah. The Aron makes them one.
Analyzing Where Korach Went Wrong
The second observation I would like to share is something I saw written up in the name of Rav Shneur Kotler, zt”l [1918-1982]. Parshas Korach is an extremely difficult parsha to understand. What led Korach to do what he did? (If my memory serves me correctly, I think I heard Rabbi Weinberg say on numerous occasions that he felt that Parshas Korach is the most difficult parsha in the Torah.) Korach was from among those who carried the Aron. He was a distinguished individual. Yet, he literally brought destruction upon himself and upon a couple of hundred other people as well. Rav Shneur offers an explanation that many other people offer as well. Korach’s motivation, ironically, came from a good source. It was misplaced, but it came from a good source. That source was the rabbinic teaching that “Kin’as sofrim tarbeh chochmah” (scribal jealousy increases wisdom). We know that competition in Torah study is a motivational force, which expands knowledge.
Korach sought greater closeness with the Ribono shel Olam. The problem was that he was a Levi and Aharon was a Kohen. A Kohen does the Service inside the Beis HaMikdash itself. The Leviim are relegated to a secondary role. They are the gatekeepers. They sing in the choir during the offering of the sacrifices. However, they are not “on center court.” They are not as close as the Kohanim to the Divine Service.
This was Korach’s motivation. He felt that “the entire congregation was holy” so why was he not entitled to as great a role in the Divine Service as his cousin, Aharon. “I want more. I want to become closer to the Master of the World!” His fatal mistake was not recognizing that a Kohen is a Kohen and a Levi is a Levi. We do not have time to elaborate on the differences between the spiritual essence of one versus the other; but suffice it to say that different people are born with different strengths, and the Ribono shel Olam has specific roles for each of them to play.
The answer to the question “Why can’t I have a more prominent role?” is that in order to get the job done, different people need to perform different roles. Any person who does his particular role, does it faithfully, and executes it to the best of his ability—the Ribono shel Olam is as happy and as satisfied with him as He is with the Kohen. The Levy that does his work with devotion and dedication in terms of his closeness to the Almighty is exactly as close as the Kohen. This is the fact that Korach and his followers failed to understand.
Rav Sheneur Kotler cites the text of the Daily Psalm recited by the Leviim in the Beis HaMikdash on Monday as a proof. It begins with the words “A song, a psalm by the sons of Korach.” [Tehillim 48:1]. There is a pasuk in that chapter to which I never paid much attention. The pasuk reads, “Demeenu Elokim Chasdecha, b’kerev Heichalecha.” We imagined (Demeenu comes from the word dimyon—imagination) O G-d that Your kindness can only be inside the midst of Your Sanctuary.” However, our jobs unfortunately were relegated to outside the Sanctuary. Then the next pasuk says, “k’Shimcha Elokim ken Tehilascha al katzvei aretz.” Even at the ends of the earth, we can still have that closeness. Even there, Your praise can be found. This was our mistake! This is the answer to the sons of Korach.
The sefer Bei Chiya brings an observation from a friend of his regarding this Shir shel Yom of Monday. Monday was the second day of Creation. What happened on the second day of Creation? The Ribono shel Olam split the “upper waters” from the “lower waters”. It was the first time in the history of the universe that a division was made. There were waters that stayed up in Heaven with the Ribono shel Olam and there were waters that stayed down here to form the oceans eventually. The lower waters had complaints to the Almighty—”You are relegating us to be the Gulf of Mexico!” “Meanwhile, these waters in Heaven are next to You!” What did the Ribono shel Olam say? “No! This is the way it is!” There is a division. Eventually, He promised the lower waters that they would have their role as well, which would give them their own opportunity for closeness to Him. However, their role was to stay below. This is why we specifically recite the Psalm for the Children of Korach on Monday—the day that the Almighty says that it is possible to achieve closeness to Hashem both up in Heaven and down on earth.
Finally, at the end of the Parsha, when the Ribono shel Olam wants to validate the legitimacy of the Kehuna of Aharon, the Ribono shel Olam performs a miracle. The leaders of each tribe are told to take their staffs and place them in the Ohel Moed and the tribal leader whose staff will bring forth fruit—he is the person whom the Almighty deemed to be the Kohen Gadol.
What fruit does the Ribono shel Olam pick to deliver this message? Perhaps, we would have picked an apple—the most common fruit. The Almighty picked almonds. The Rebbe Reb Bunim translates the pasuk “…Vayetze perech, va’yatzetz tzitz, vayigmal shekeidim” [Bamidbar 17:23] – “First came out a flower, then it blossomed, and finally almonds emerged.” Cut to the chase! Who needs the flower? Who needs the blossom? Let Hashem go straight to the almonds and get to the bottom line. The answer is that to produce almonds, you need to go through the process of flowers and blossoms and then finally fruit. That is the way life is. That is the way nature is. It is not just the bottom line. To produce anything, there needs to be a process and every part of that process is important.
That is the lesson the Almighty wished to send to Klal Yisrael. You can do whatever your job entails, and you can achieve the same closeness with the Holy One Blessed Be He because at the end of the day, you all participate in bringing forth the fruit, which is the Will of the Creator.
Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]
Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]
This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Korach is provided below:
- 017 Visiting the Sick
- 062 May the State of Israel Extradite a Jewish Criminal?
- 106 The Temple Mount Today-Obligations & Restrictions
- 151 The Mitzvah of Pidyon Haben: Some Fascinating Facts
- 198 The Ethiopian Jewry Question
- 244 Tachanun
- 288 “Masiach L’fi Tumoh”: The Coca Cola Question
- 334 Leaving a Chasunah Before Benching
- 378 Truth Telling to Patients
- 422 Bais Din’s Power to Subpoena
- 466 Tachanun: To Say Or Not To Say
- 510 Pidyon Habein and Vending Machines
- 554 The Kohain and the First Aliyah
- 598 Siamese Twins
- 642 Different Minhagim for Saying Kedusha
- 686 Ma’alin B’Kodesh V’ain Moridin
- 730 Divergent Minhagim in One Shul
- 774 Tachanun: Most Fascinating Insights
- 818 Bikur Cholim on Shabbos
- 862 Preventative Medicine To Avoid Chilul Shabbos
- 906 Tachanun Without a Sefer Torah?
- 950 Pidyon Habein: Not Your Regular Cases
- 993 Pidyon Habein Without A Bris Milah?
- 1037 Should A Chosson Come To Shul During Sheva Brachos?
- 1081 Ha’arama: Halachic Loopholes – Advisable or Not?
- 1124 Segulos for Refuos
- 1166 Do You Really Need Ten for a Minyan?
- 1209 The Chasam Sofer’s Battle Against the Reform Movement
- 1254 Why Shouldn’t You Park In a Handicap Space?
- 1298 The Shul That Did Not Say Tachanun By Mistake; Now What? and Other Tachanun Issues
- 1342 The Case of The Man Who Now Deines That He’s a Kohain
- 1386 The Importance and Power of Saying Parshas Ketores
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