Musings on Parashat Korah

This week we have been witness to a tsunami of love and support coming from all branches of Israeli society towards the families of the three kidnapped boys Ayal, Naftali, and Gil-ad. The tremendous pain felt throughout the country is a testimony of true brotherly love. Thousands rallied in prayer and study vigils demonstrating their support and concern for these precious boys. Others visited with the families and strengthened their communities. These acts of love and unity are precious in G-D’s eyes and have the power of bringing about our final redemption.

The importance of showing solidarity and support to one another can easily be learned from this week’s Torah Parasha.  One of the hardest things to understand is how Korah and his collaborators were capable of rebelling against Moshe and Aaron. Didn’t they see enough miracles in the desert to know that G-D appointed Moshe and Aaron? What makes it harder to understand is that they were not simple people, they were great individuals – heads of tribes etc. How could they have fallen so low? The answer is that they succumbed to one of the most basic human weaknesses – the pursuit of honor. It says in Pekay Avot – who is a wealthy man? One who is satisfied with his portion. This does not mean that a person should put his head down and not pursue his inner calling. It means that one must achieve success by kosher means. If his honest and G-D fearing, efforts result in success than it is clear that Hashem is blessing him and he made the proper choice. On the other hand, if a person tries and cannot succeed using proper means, than it is clear that he should look somewhere else for his life’s calling. Korach and his collaborators all shared a common folly – they could not accept the role that Hashem had chosen for them. Each was motivated by a different position of honor that he sought for himself. Korah couldn’t live with the fact that his wasn’t chosen to lead the Kahat family. As the son of Yitzhar, the second oldest son to Kihat, Korah felt that he should have been chosen over Elizafan. The tribe of Reuven couldn’t accept the fact that the Levites replaced the first born son as leading the Divine service in the temple. And finally the 250 heads of Sanhadrin felt that they had the right to cling to G-D the same way that the Kohanim did.

On the other hand, the Midrash Raba shows how different Aaron was when he was chosen to be the Kohen Gadol. Instead of priding himself with his new position leadership – he questioned if he was deserving of it. The midrash explains how Aaron was frightened after being anointed and felt that perhaps he would be punished for using the oil of anointment. As the verses in Exodus 30:32, 33 say: “Upon man’s flesh shall it not be poured, neither shall you make any other like it, after the composition of it: it is holy, and it shall be holy unto you. Anyone who blends something like it or puts some of it on an unauthorized person must be cut off from his people.” The Midrash then goes on to teach us how worthy Aaron was by bringing down King David’s Psalm 136 : “A Song of Ascents, of David. Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity! It is like the precious oil upon the head, coming down upon the beard, Even Aaron’s beard, coming down upon the edge of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon Coming down upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Hashem commanded the blessing– life forever.” The comparison of dew of the Hermon and the precious oil explains the midrash: That just as dew is totally free for all to enjoy so to was the oil meant for Aaron who was worthy of being anointed with it. Aaron’s behavior says it all. Instead of running after honor and glory he ran away from it. Therefore, it was honor that chased after him. Rabbi David Kimchi known as the Radak, a famous commentary from the 13th century explains that this psalm which talks about how good it is when brothers sit together refers to Zacharias’ prophecy in chapter four where he sees a vision of the Menorah with two olive trees one on the right and one on the left. These olive branches refer to the sons of Yitzhar which he explains as Zerubavel and Joshua the high priest. Both of these great individuals are called sons of Yitzhar because they were both anointed with olive oil called Yitzhar in Hebrew. Instead of being jealous of one another, which happens often among people with similar greatness, they were both happy and unified in heart and soul. This, explains the Radak, will happen at the end of days when the king and the high priest will be completely unified through brotherly love – “how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity.”

It is interesting that in this week’s portion Korah is the son of Yitzhar – which can also mean oil in Hebrew as mentioned above. The Torah is hinting that he was anointed as a Levite and should have been happy and complacent with his lot.  Instead he chose to argue and create disunity by challenging those chosen by Hashem for positions that he sought for himself. The lesson of this is quite clear. In order to bring about redemption and rectify the sin of Korah we must be happy with our position in life and happy for others as well. As we see when Aaron meets his brother Moshe after G-D chooses him as the leader of Israel – his reaction is one of happiness. Exodus 4:14 “Is there not Aaron, your brother, the Levite? I know that he can speak well. Behold, he is coming out to meet you, and when he sees you, he will be glad in his heart.”

In conclusion, at this difficult time we are all witness to brother love and solidarity. Let us pray that after the boys return home we will continue to remain together in heart and spirit, for unity gives us the most strength and paves the way for the bright future of One Nation living in One Land.

Rabbi Moshe Goldsmith

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