• Dvar for Korach (Numbers 16:1-18:32)

    In this week’s Parsha, Korach and his horde argue for more power, are exposed as selfish and evil, and are subsequently punished (16:1-35). The very next day, the Jewish people complain about the recent deaths, G-d asks Moshe and Aaron to step aside as He kills everyone, and sends a plague to complete His will (17:10). Instead of moving away, not only do Moshe and Aaron stay and fall on their faces in prayer, but Moshe then sends Aaron to stand amid the plague with incense to stop the epidemic, which works. Although there are many anomalies in this story, the most striking is how Moshe and Aaron were able to disobey a direct order from G-d to move away, and how Aaron has the power to stop a plague with incense that just a day earlier caused the death of Korach and his 250 followers.

    Rabbi David Fohrman points out that when G-d tells Moshe and Aaron to stand aside, it wasn’t a command so much as a prerequisite: If Moshe and Aaron step aside, G-d will destroy the people and start over. If they don’t step away, then it can’t happen. In fact, it was so clear to them that it was their choice that when Moshe saw that the plague had begun to kill people, he sent Aaron to stop it with the very incense that was used to validate Moshe’s righteousness the day before.

    The message in this narrative is that we do have the power to effect change, despite what seems to be overwhelming odds. Prayer is a way to manifest what we value and cherish, just as Moshe and Aaron conveyed their continued faith in the Jewish people through their own prayers and actions. Our prayers and actions express our convictions and can effect change in the world.

  • Dvar for Korach (Numbers 16:1-18:32)

    Parshat Korach begins by describing Korach and his 250 people’s claims for more authority and power. The very first word used is “and he (Korach) took” (16:1), yet the Torah never explicitly explains what it is that Korach actually took. Two questions can be asked: Why start with a verb that’s never associated with what was taken, and how is being swallowed by the ground (16:31-33) an appropriate punishment? 

    Rabbi Riskin explains that there are two different types of disputes. One dispute is for the sake of learning and appreciating other perspectives, such as the disputes between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel. Another type of dispute is done for the sake of standing out and to create a divide, such as the dispute of Korach. This could help us answer our questions: Korach took for the sake of taking and argued for the sake of argument. The punishment and cure for such behavior was to be swallowed by the earth beneath. Earth gives nutrients to what grows in it and supports all that is on top of it.

    The cure for taking is to be surrounded by giving. Just like arguing can be done in a constructive way, so could anything else we do. It all starts with understanding our own personal motives and surrounding ourselves and our families with positive, supportive and giving environments.

  • Dvar for Korach (Numbers 16:1-18:32)

    After hearing the complaints of the rebellious Korach and his associates, Moshe cries out to G-d not to accept their offerings and insists that he had never wronged any of them in any way. As Moshe knew that his actions were legitimate, why was he so seemingly defensive about Korach’s criticism? After all, G-d knew that Moshe was in the right and had not wronged Korach or his allies – why did Moshe feel the need to make his case before Him?

    Daniel Lifshitz suggests that perhaps we can answer based on a comment of the Tiferet Yisrael to the Mishna in Avot, “Who is wise? He who learns from every person.” The Tiferet Yisrael notes that some of the most important people to learn from are those who dislike us. They are the ones who shine a spotlight on our every shortcoming. Their criticism may include much exaggeration or even outright falsehood, but often it also contains a grain of truth. Focusing on these grains of truth can help us learn what areas of our conduct or character could use improvement. Moshe understood this concept and when Korach hurled accusations at him, he took advantage of the opportunity for honest self-assessment. His conclusion was that the complaints were baseless and said as much to Hashem, but only after going through introspection and accounting before Hashem. This type of reaction goes against most people’s instincts, but it can help turn unpleasant situations into opportunities for personal growth.

  • Dvar for Korach (Numbers 16:1-18:32)

    Parshat Korach relates the story of Korach, Datan, Aviram and 250 members of the shevet (tribe) of Reuven challenging Moshe’s choice for Kohen Gadol (high priest). The end result was that the 250 members were burned by a heavenly fire, and the three leaders were miraculously swallowed by the earth. From a motive perspective, Korach’s actions makes the most sense because he felt slighted for not having been chosen himself, and had something to potentially gain by complaining. But why would 250 people follow him to their certain death, with apparently little to gain?

    The answer can be found in Rashi, the great medieval commentator, who writes that just as Korach’s family camped on the southern side of the Mishkan (Tabernacle), so did the tribe of Reuven. Rashi quotes the words of Chapters of the Fathers, “woe to an evil person, and woe to their neighbor.” The 250 people met their demise simply because they were influenced by their neighbors. This points to the awesome influence that friends, neighbors and associates have on us. Who we surround ourselves with is a matter of life and death. Do we have positive friends and neighbors? And just as importantly, are WE positive friends and neighbors to others?

  • Dvar for Korach (Numbers 16:1-18:32)

    After hearing the complaints of the rebellious Korach and his associates, Moshe cries out to G-d not to accept their offerings and insists that he had never wronged any of them in any way. As Moshe knew that his actions were legitimate, why was he so seemingly defensive about Korach’s criticism? After all, G-d knew that Moshe was in the right and had not wronged Korach or his allies – why did Moshe feel the need to make his case before Him?

    Perhaps we can answer based on a comment of the Tiferet Yisrael to the Mishna in Avot, “Who is wise? He who learns from every person.” The Tiferet Yisrael notes that some of the most important  people to learn from are those who dislike us. They are the ones who shine a spotlight on our every shortcoming. Their criticism may include much exaggeration or even outright falsehood, but often it also contains a grain of truth. Focusing on these grains of truth can help us learn what areas of our conduct or character could use improvement. Moshe understood this concept and when Korach hurled accusations at him, he took advantage of the opportunity for honest self-assessment. His conclusion was that the complaints were baseless and said as much to G-d, but only after going through introspection and accounting before G-d. This type of reaction goes against most people’s instincts, but it can help make unpleasant situations into opportunities for personal growth.

  • Dvar for Korach (Numbers 16:1-18:32)

    After hearing the complaints of the rebellious Korach and his associates, Moshe cries out to G-d not to accept their offerings and insists that he had never wronged any of them in any way. As Moshe knew that his actions were legitimate, why was he so seemingly defensive about Korach’s criticism? After all, G-d knew that Moshe was in the right and had not wronged Korach or his allies – why did Moshe feel the need to make his case before Him?

    Daniel Lifshitz suggests that perhaps we can answer based on a comment of the Tiferet Yisrael to the Mishna in Avot, “Who is wise? He who learns from every person.” The Tiferet Yisrael notes that some of the most important people to learn from are those who dislike us. They are the ones who shine a spotlight on our every shortcoming. Their criticism may include much exaggeration or even outright falsehood, but often it also contains a grain of truth. Focusing on these grains of truth can help us learn what areas of our conduct or character could use improvement. Moshe understood this concept and when Korach hurled accusations at him, he took advantage of the opportunity for honest self-assessment. His conclusion was that the complaints were baseless and said as much to Hashem, but only after going through introspection and accounting before Hashem. This type of reaction goes against most people’s instincts, but it can help turn unpleasant situations into opportunities for personal growth.

  • Daily Aliya for Korach, Shvii (7th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: The Levites, too, will not receive a share of the land of Israel. Instead they are entitled to a tenth of all the Israelites’ crops–this in return for the Tabernacle and Temple services which they render. Upon receiving this tithe, the Levites must, in turn, separate a tenth of this tithe and give it to the priests.

    So the Levites get 10% of everyone’s crops, and they must give 10% of that to the priests. This underscores the importance of giving, regardless of how or how much you have. As Rav Dessler explains, giving is what makes us love others, not receiving. The more you “invest” in those around you by giving them love, food, money, attention or respect, the more you grow to appreciate and love them, and the phenomenon grows exponentially from there. But it all starts by giving (this is where I should link you do the Donate page for Lelamed.com, but I won’t).

  • Daily Aliya for Korach, Shishi (6th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: G‑d commands Moshe to return “Aaron’s staff” to the Holy of Holies, where it is to remain for perpetuity. The Jews express to Moshe their fear of mistakenly entering a restricted area of the Tabernacle, and dying as a result. In response, G‑d commands the priests and the Levites to carefully guard the Tabernacle, to prevent unauthorized entry by non-priests. The Torah then lists the various gifts to which the priests were entitled. These include the privilege of eating certain sacrifices, as well as select portions of other sacrifices; receiving the five shekels for the redemption of Israelite firstborn sons; a portion of all grain, oil, and wine crops; the “first fruit”; and more. Aaron is informed that his descendents will not receive a portion in the land of Israel–instead, G‑d is their inheritance and portion.

    The staff is meant to dissuade those rebellious ones from complaining, but the Passuk says that “their complaints will stop” (utechal telunotam), “complaints” being plural, but “stop” being singular. Why the discrepancy? Is it one complaint that this staff will deter, or many? Rashi analyzes the grammar and determines that the word used to mean “complaints” is actually a collective singular noun, so it makes sense that “stop” is singular. Nonetheless, logic would dictate that this staff should deter more than just one complaint. It could be, however, that complaints all come from the same lack of faith, and rather than focusing on the symptoms, the Torah focuses on the disease. How a staff can help deter someone from complaining is a discussion for another time (maybe next year’s Aliya?).

  • Daily Aliya for Korach, Chamishi (5th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: This Aliya describes the “test of the staffs.” G‑d tells Moshe to take a staff from each of the twelve tribes, with the name of each tribe’s prince written upon their staff. Another staff was taken to represent the tribe of Levi, and Aaron’s name was written on that staff. These staffs were placed overnight in the Holy of Holies chamber of the Tabernacle. Next morning they were removed, and miraculously Aaron’s staff had budded with almond blossoms and almonds. This was further proof that Aaron was G‑d’s choice for High Priest.

    Of all the random miracles, ripe almonds growing overnight on a stick with a tribal leader’s name on it is pretty high on the list. But since we know nothing in the Torah is random, ripe almonds must represent something more. Rashi helps by saying that almonds are the fastest growing “fruits”, and it represents the possibility of immediate reward/punishment by G-d. G-d could have chosen to sprout fruits that normally take longer, but instead left the Israelites with a message of warning for those that question Him, and a lasting message for those that adhere to His word.

  • Daily Aliya for Korach, Revii (4th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: G‑d instructs Moshe and Aaron: “Separate yourselves from the community, and I will destroy them in an instant.” And indeed, a plague struck the nation, and many thousands were dying. Moshe tells Aaron to quickly take a firepan with incense and go into the midst of the congregation and atone for their sin. Aaron does so. He stands “between the living and the dead,” and the plague is halted.

    Apparently the thought process of Korach and his men contaminated some others, and a plague started to cleanse this evil. But why use the very firepan and incense to atone and stop the plague, when that was the very item used to sin? the Medrash Agaddah explains that the Israelites were slandering and vilifying the incense, saying that it was a deadly poison. G-d’s response is to show them that the very incense that was used to sin is the incense that will save them, proving that it was the sin that caused their demise. Same action, different results. And the only difference is the thought process behind them.

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