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Parshat Korach (5769)
This week we learn the terrible, tragic and seemingly meaningless story of Korach's war against Moses.
The word 'Torah' means 'teaching'. Every idea and even word and letter of the Torah comes to teach us something important in life. What does this weird story come to teach us?
If it is to discourage us from contradicting true Torah leaders the Torah could have just simply said, "Don't be like Korach and friends who got swallowed up in the ground for arguing with Moses and Aaron." And explain the story in the Talmud or Midrash (oral Torah) like so many other Torah stories.
Why tell us this long negative narration?
To explain this here is a story told by the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak in Chapter 48 of his book Lekuti Diburim.
In the town of Dovromisel was a large Jewish community and one of its members was a Jew by the name of Rab Chaim Shimon who made his living from producing heavy sweaters and Chaim Shimon's were among the best.
In fact they were of such a high quality that even some of the aristocracy bought them for their households. But nevertheless it was a major surprise to him when a local baron by the name of Stefen Varbitzki sent his foreman, Yan Bidnitzki, with an order and cash for two hundred sweaters!
The novelty was not the size of the order but rather that Bidnitzki and Varbitzki were famous for their rabid anti-Semitism! The fact that these Jew haters were buying his sweaters would send a message to everyone that the sweaters must be really something special.
Because Chaim Shimon didn't have that many in stock, he sold the foreman all that he had, some thirty altogether, signed a paper promising to deliver the remaining 170 within a month and watched as Bidnitzki's wagon faded into the distance.
As soon as he was out of sight Chaim Shimon set to work making the remaining sweaters. He hired extra help to be sure that they were finished before the time and personally checked each one several times to be certain they were of the highest quality. The Baron and his foreman would be looking for even the slightest flaw as an excuse to make trouble and he didn't want to take any chances.
Sure enough, three weeks later the remaining 170 were ready, checked and rechecked, loaded on the back of two wagons and on their way, with Chaim Shimon, to the Baron one week early.
But when he arrived he was in for a rude surprise. Before he could enter the castle grounds, Bidnitzki the foreman, came out waiving his fists and screaming curses and insults! And when Chaim Shimon tried to announce that he came to deliver the order, Bidnitzki angrily screamed that the Baron canceled it and said he could take his sweaters and jump in the lake!
When Chaim Shimon tried to protest and ask for an audience with the Baron, Bidnitzki became so furious that he pulled his pistol from his belt, cocked it and pointed it at him! And he would have pulled the trigger if the gentile wagon drivers that were bringing the sweaters hadn't jumped down and grabbed his arm.
Chaim Shimon, totally confused and broken, had no choice but to turn the wagons around and head back for home. But as soon as he left the Baron's castle grounds he decided that rather than admit defeat he would spend the night at a nearby town and calm down. He told himself that there must be some good hidden here! Maybe G-d would send him a miracle! He had to think positively!
The winter was beginning to set in and the peasants in the town were feeling it. Now with no proper sweaters they were cold. So it came to them as a major surprise when Chaim Shimon told them that the Baron had turned him away. Why would he do such a thing? The Baron was a manic but he wasn't stupid. It didn't make sense, with cold serfs and servants the Baron himself stood to lose a lot of money! It didn't take long for the news to spread until even the servants in the castle were talking about it and one of them was the Baron's oldest and most trusted servant.
Now is the time to say a few words about the Baron.
The Baron was known for his crazy whims and sadistic outbursts of anger. When he was making one of his drinking or hunting parties with the other landlords in the area he would gather all his servants and serfs, some five hundred of them, sit before them on a sort of throne, order them to sing songs praising him, then arbitrarily pick one of the crowd and order one of his henchmen to administer to the poor fellow 10 lashes in public amidst the singing! Then after the lashing the victim had to crawl to the Baron and thank him!
Interestingly, his father, from whom he inherited his fortune and title, had been very kind to everyone and actually liked the Jews. In fact he even had a Jewish foreman but his son fired him when he took over after his father's passing, put Bidnitzki in his place and then evicted the Jews from his lands.
When this old servant was bringing the Baron his tea the next day he decided to risk the Baron's wrath, take his life into his own hands and ask him why he cancelled the sweaters.
"Cancelled? sweaters? What sweaters? They are only due in a week from now. I didn't cancel anything." The Baron was totally surprised by the question.
"But, my lord" The servant replied, "The Jew did bring the sweaters. In fact, right now he's in the next town saying that foreman Bidnitzki told him that you canceled. And, well, the people, your loyal subjects, really need those sweaters and are very disappointed and cold. They're freezing and don't want to work."
The Baron stood to his full height, pounded his fist on the table and yelled "Canceled? I CANCELED?! I want to see that Jew and I want to see that black hound Bidnitzki! I want them both here...NOW!!!"
In a short time both were standing before the Baron who was sitting on his throne-chair before them whip in hand and shaking with rage. He pointed to Chaim Shimon and said "Talk!"
"Your majesty, although it means a big financial loss to me but I am even more bothered by what flaw did the Baron see in me or mysweaters that he canceled the…"
"I canceled!?" the Baron thundered. "Who told you that I canceled? I, Baron Varbitzki, NEVER CANCEL!! Who said I CANCELED!?!"
Chaim Shimon glanced at the foreman. "WHAT?" The Baron yelled, "That black hound!?" And with a flick of his hand sent his whip cracking across Bidnitzki's face drawing blood.
"I'll deal with you later!' he hissed at the foreman. "And you" he pointed his whip at Chaim Shimon. "You also deserve to be lashed also! Yes! Lashed for believing this black dog Bidnitzki that I would cancel my word! But I see that you are an honest man. You brought the sweaters a week early! I like that! Even if you are a Jew. Now let's have a look at those sweaters."
As soon as the servants and serfs standing outside saw the Baron they began singing and blowing trumpets as always. Chaim Shimon opened the canvas on one of the wagons revealing the merchandise, took one out and presented it to the Baron. "Beautiful!" The Baron said as he examined it. "Come, let us put them all into the storehouse. And, oh yes, please bring the bill, I have decided to add a small amount to each sweater for your trouble."
But as they were putting them on the shelves the Baron happened to pick up one of the original thirty sweaters that the foreman had brought back and said, "Interesting, this is different from the ones you bring now."
Chaim Shimon took one of the others off the shelf and exclaimed, "Why, these are not my sweaters! These are simple products that sell for, perhaps one tenth of mine.
"What?!" The Baron glared again at Bidnitzki with fire in his eyes "What is going on here!?" He sent one of his guards to bring the two farmers that accompanied Bidnitzki to buy the first 30sweaters and when they stood before him, knees knocking in fear, he narrowed his eyes and said,
"If you lie I will have you killed! If you tell the truth I promise not to hurt you. Now tell me. What is happening here?! Why are thesesweaters different?!"
The two farmers looked at each other nervously, cleared their throats several times and one of them spoke up. 'Well, your majesty, when we bought the sweaters from the Jew, well, you see, after we had the sweaters, our foreman Bidnitzki here told us to drive to the market."
"That's right, your majesty" the other farmer piped up. "He took the sweaters and sold them in the market for a higher price than he bought them. Then he took the money and bought these inexpensive ones for a tenth the price. So he profited twice. And then he gave each of us a few pennies and warned us to keep quiet or he'd kill us. That's probably why he sent the Jew back yesterday, so you wouldn't find out.
The Baron motioned and two guards grabbed Bidnitzki and dragged him away begging for mercy, while the Baron just stood there stroking his mustache. He turned to Chaim Shimon and said.
"Listen, I think I made a big mistake. My father told me to treat the Jews well, but, well now that I think of it, I fell under the spell of Bidnitzki. He hated the Jews so much and he did me so many favors, or so I thought, that I listened to him. He began working on me years before my father's passing. Now I want you to do me a favor, I want to accept my apology and I want to order two hundred more sweaters."
Chaim Shimon returned home and three weeks later when he returned with the new sweaters he was received by the 'new' foreman; Aaron Yosef who had been the foreman under Varbitzki's father.
Aaron Yosef told Chaim Shimon that the in last the three weeks there had been a lot of changes. First, the Baron had the evil Bidnitzki publicly beaten almost to death and thrown into prison. Then he (Aaron Yosef) was restored to his place as foreman. And finally the Baron personally made a visit to the Jews that he had expelled and invited them to return!
The story ended as the Baron asked Aaron Yosef to prepare a meal for three and bring it to his castle where he Aaron Yosef and Chaim Shimon dined together and reminisced about his father's love for his Jewish subjects.
This answers our questions.
The reason G-d put man in the world was in order to transform it to 'heaven on earth'. In other words, to take the meaninglessness, harshness and emptiness of this world and 'transform' them to meaning, blessing and joy.
But this can only be done when we meet obstacles and overcome them.
This is the POSITIVE lesson we can learn from Korach: How to REACT to obstacles such as hatred, jealousy, disappointments and negativity; namely by being calm, connected to G-d, and concentrating ONLY on the positive goal and not on the negative barriers.
And even more it teaches us that this proper reaction can TRANSFORM bad to good!
Just as Korach solidified Aaron's claim to the Priesthood with 24 special 'gifts' and the evil foreman in our story caused the Baron to become a positive friend. Similarly, if we keep the goal in mind we can transform all the darkness of this world into joy and blessing.
And that goal is to do, say and think everything possible and positive to bring…..
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