Torah Portion

Parashat Korach

Don’t Be Swallowed Up

All day long we are in a race with the outside world.  We have a lot on our heads and so much to do: tasks and obligations, going to work, coming home, going shopping and filling the shelves, and giving everyone attention and making them happy.  We have so many roles and positions.

Korach and his rebellion

Harav Israel Asulin

Monday, 28th of Sivan, 5775

BS”D

In this week’s Torah portion we meet Korach and his congregation in a situation that you won’t believe: “They assembled against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, ‘you take too much upon yourselves, for the entire congregation are all holy, and the Lord is in their midst. So why do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?’… Moses said, ‘With this you shall know that the Lord sent me to do all these deeds, for I did not devise them myself. If these men die as all men die and the fate of all men will be visited upon them, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the Lord creates a creation, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them and all that is theirs, and they descend alive into the grave, you will know that these men have provoked the Lord.’ As soon as he finished speaking all these words, the earth beneath them split open.  The earth beneath them opened its mouth and swallowed them and their houses, and all the men who were with Korach and all the property. They, and all they possessed, descended alive into the grave; the earth covered them up, and they were lost to the assembly” (Bamidbar[1] Chapter 16 Verse 3; 28-33).

Korach and his congregation were all very great people with stature. They were wise sages, people who saw Hashem’s hand in Egypt and during the splitting of the Red Sea.  They said ‘we will fulfill and we will listen’[2]  and merited to stand at the foot of Mount Sinai and to receive the Torah. How could this be?  How could enlightened people like this fall into such a foolish argument and lose everything?

“And Korach, who was very bright, why did he fall into this foolishness? His eyes deceived him- he saw many great descendents coming from him, like Shmuel who is compared to Moses and Aaron, as it says (Tehillim[3] 99) ‘Moses and Aaron among His priests, and Samuel among those who call in His name.’  Twenty-four watches came from his descendants, who were all prophets (Divrei Hayamim[4] I Chapter 25), all these were sons of Heman, (so Korach) said: ‘Is it possible that this greatness is to come from me and I will be silent?”(Midrash Rabbah[5] Bamidbar, Portion 18, Paragraph 8).

There is something scary about the words, “his eyes deceived him”; he simply made a mistake. “His mistake was because when he saw that Shmuel, the prophet, and the people mentioned above, would be descended from him, he became proud due to his misunderstanding and it was his foolishness that made him disagree with Moses…” (Likutei Halachot[6], Hilchot Arev, Halacha 5).  Korach, looked ahead through prophecy and saw all the majesty and beauty that was to be descended from him in the future, and was mistaken in his interpretation.   He did not intend to sin or to rebel, he did not intend at the onset to do something bad; he was just mistaken.

It sounds shocking; one can be great and enlightened, can even have the power to prophesize, and be the grandfather of Shmuel the prophet, and still get confused and err.  Even to the extent that they are swallowed up by the earth in one moment.

What should we say; the small, the tired, and the confused amongst this fog of dark exile? What should we say in the dim ‘valley of tears’[7] that leads our generation astray?  Korach, who was from a great generation and he himself was so great; made a mistake and lost his entire world.  What does this mean for us, from where we are, do we have any chance?

First and foremost we need to understand, what caused Korach’s mistake?  Was there a way to prevent it?  Was there a way for him to be saved and not to make this mistake?

The foundation for Korach’s mistake was the fact that he looked outside and beyond and not inside.  He looked around him at the positions and the authority of those around him; he looked ahead in prophecy about what and who was to be descended from him over the years.  He checked and investigated everything that was around him and external to him, but he did not look at himself.  He forgot to check what was going on inside of himself; what he really wants and what the issue really is.

If he would have left everything, the past and the future and the reasons and the grandchildren…if he would have been closed off from the external world, and only look inside of himself, he would have realized that this was all the plot of a small worm of jealousy that was eroding him completely.  Apparently, it was too hard and disempowering to go against this insulting revelation; ultimately he would have merited to repent and to inherit all the good of this world and the next world.

“And now that he has suffered what he has suffered for thousands of years, and finally there will be his uplifting and rectification by Moses…” (et al).  Korach was mistaken and sinned and was swallowed up by the earth, but in the end he was rectified by Moshe.  And us, the small, and the confused, can be saved from great mistakes, not with our strength, but by the strength of true Tsaddikim and their exceptional advice.

The key to being saved from destructive mistakes like this one is to look inside and not outside.

How can one look inside and not outside?

All day we are in a race with what is going on outside; the world hits us with the intensity of a tsunami. We have so much on our heads and so much to do; jobs and obligations and going to work and coming home, cashing checks at the bank and withdrawing cash, going shopping and filling the shelves and appeasing everyone and being a good father or mother or child or grandchild or neighbor or boss.  We have so many roles and positions.

When will we look inside and not outside?

We can during personal prayer.

It is true that we are in the generation before the Messiah, and we are already treading in dirt up to our necks of secular culture, but we don’t have to be swallowed up, we don’t have to bury ourselves in this life and in its’ race for seventy years; we can raise our heads and breathe a little air.

One hour a day stopping from everything, going inside a closed room or finding a quiet corner, for just Hashem and I, to speak.  Telling him everything I am going through and what I am feeling and how my day went and whatever speaks to me from what is going on around me.

And going inside a little deeper, taking a self-accounting; calculating the state of my soul, which I did not have a chance all day to look at or even to remember its existence.  Seeing my soul, looking at it in the eyes and asking: dearest, how are you today and how do you feel?  What do you want to tell me?  Why do you feel guilty? What do you want?  Why are you angry? Why are you scared? What are you waiting for?  Checking out what is going on inside.

Open a window a crack for your soul, raise your head a bit, float an inch above the ground, so as not to be swallowed up.

[1] Numbers

[2] ‘נעשה ונשמע’ is expressed in the book of Names from the mouths of the people of Israel at Mount Sinai. This expression became a significant symbol of faith and acceptance of the entire Torah unconditionally. Common interpretation sees this expression as a symbol of the symbiotic relationship between the accepting of the commandments and the receipt of the yoke from heaven.

[3] Psalms

[4] Chronicles

[5] Midrash Rabbah refers to part of or the collective whole of aggadic midrashim on the books of the Tanach, generally having the term “Rabbah” (רבה), meaning “great,” as part of their name.

[6] Rebbe Natan’s explanation of the Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), based upon Rebbe Nachman’s teachings

[7]עמק הבכא is a valley, which is thought to be in the North of Israel, where there are willow trees and poplar trees growing and has become a symbolic site of suffering of Jews and of all of humanity.  This place is mentioned in the prayer לכה דודי (Lacha Dodi).

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