This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Korach (5773)
This week we read the strange story of Korach and his war against Moses and Aaron.
The story is strange for many reasons. First; after all the miracles and salvation that Moses and Aaron did in taking the helpless Jews from Egypt, providing for them Manna and Water in the desert and revealing G-d to them at Sinai why would Korach want to oppose them?
Second; Rashi (end of 16:19) informs us that ALL the Jews joined the rebellion… what could he possibly have said to convince them?
And finally; Moses practically begged Korach to make peace. Why did he have hope for such a dangerous and charismatic troublemaker?
Here is a story I recently heard from Rabbi Yisroel Brod here in Kfar Chabad that might help explain. (I’ve heard other versions as well but this seemed to ring true).
The story centers on a thirty year old, non-observant Jew who we will call Joe. Joe had been orphaned before the age of ten. His mother had been sick for a year or so before her passing and it’s not clear what happened to his father; but in any case, at ten years old he was alone and bitter.
He knew it didn’t make any sense, after all it wasn’t her fault she died, and he was just destroying himself with negativity but all this didn’t help. He was angry at his mother for leaving him; all the other kids had parents except for him.
His mother had been an observant Jew and her family sort of adopted him and continued his education so as he got older he learned that it was forbidden to hold a grudge. But all the logic didn’t help. He had an empty place inside that wouldn’t leave and it just naturally filled with anger.
The years passed. Maybe it was a sort of revenge but Joe became totally estranged from Judaism. Then one day he got an idea. He would go to the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
It’s not so clear where he got this idea from or what his motivation was but he remembered that his mother mentioned this Rabbi a few times so he went. Perhaps he wanted to make trouble, perhaps he was just curious or bored but whatever the reason he made up his mind to visit the Rebbe’s headquarters.
He had heard that the Rebbe only received guests at night and only once or twice a week. Figuring he had nothing to lose, one night he took a taxi to the Crown Heights area of Brooklyn to 770 Eastern Parkway and entered. (According to another version he called months earlier and made a reservation.)
It was after midnight but the place was well lit, busy and lively just as at midday. Bearded young men with friendly faces were walking about, others were vociferously learning Torah in a room off to the side, once in a while someone rushed by him in a hurry. A young man approached him, shook his hand and asked him if he could help and when Joe answered ‘The Lubavitcher Rebbe’ the young man pointed to a small hallway where a line of several people stood silently and nervously before a large closed mahogany door.
“They are waiting for yechidut [a private meeting with the Rebbe]” the young man said. “The Rebbe is in there” and he pointed to the door “and they’re waiting to talk to him alone. Some have been waiting for months for this meeting. Did you make an appointment?”
Joe went to the line, examined it for a few minutes from a distance and made his move. He went to the first man in line, tapped him on the shoulder and whispered. “Excuse me. I have something really urgent. Really urgent! But I have to catch a plane. Please, it’s really important and it will only take a minute, maybe less. Can I go in front of you?”
The man hesitated for a few seconds, looked Joe in the eyes, shrugged his shoulders, quietly said “Nu, Urgent? Nu, what can I say?” and let Joe get in front of him.
At that moment one of the Rebbe’s secretaries (I heard it was Rabbi Groner) entered the hall, noticed what was happening; that Joe had pushed his way into line without permission in front of someone that had been waiting for weeks and he rushed to remove him.
But at that moment the Rebbe’s door opened, someone came backing out, eyes red possibly from weeping, and Joe entered.
The secretary ran after him to pull him out but the Rebbe just made a sign to leave the intruder alone and the secretary had no choice but to retreat and close the door.
Joe sat in the chair next to the Rebbe’s desk and said nothing. He just stared at the Rebbe, half in defiance, half in curiosity, and was silent. He decided to stare the Rebbe down and make the Rebbe talk first.
The Rebbe looked at him for a few seconds and said with a European accent. “I know you.”
Joe just pointed to himself, shrugged his shoulders, raised his palms upward, shook his head and said, “Me? No, not me!”
The Rebbe continued, “I received a letter some years ago.”
“Not from me!” He replied.
About me?” Joe said incredulously. “Who would write a letter to you about ME?”
The Rebbe stood, pulled a letter out of a cabinet, sat back down and put it on the table. “Your mother.”
Joe was shocked; he could see from afar that it was an old handwritten letter. Could it be from his mother?
“She wrote me twenty years ago saying she was about to die and requested that I should pray for you. Here, you can read it.”
The Rebbe turned the letter to Joe [that seemed to be stained with his mother's tears] but kept his hand on it so Joe could not pick it up.
Joe read the letter. It was as the Rebbe said! His mother didn’t just leave him! She pleaded to the Rebbe to watch over him. His insides were turning around, his head was spinning. He had been wrong all these years! She really did try her best to provide for him! Tears filled his eyes but he couldn’t cry, the inner turmoil was too much and too sudden.
“Rebbe!” He begged “can I have this letter?!” But the Rebbe pulled the letter back and said.
“I can give you a copy, but the letter was written to me and it stays with me.”
“But it’s my mother!” Joe said not understanding why the Rebbe wouldn’t just give it to him! It was his mother!! “Why not?” He whispered with a broken heart like a child.
The Rebbe answered “Every year, just before Yom Kippur I gather all the pupils in my Yeshiva; several hundred young men, and I bless them [as my own children] together with all the Jewish people. And before I bless them …… I read this letter.”
This answers our questions. Korach hated Moses and Aaron because they claimed to be the guardians of all the Jews, as the Rebbe was in our story, and as guardians they knew what was best for all of them.
Korach, on the other hand, wanted ‘freedom’. He claimed that because all the Jews had already left Egypt and saw and heard G-d at Mt. Sinai so Moses was no longer necessary and each Jew could decide independently what was good and bad.
And that is why Korach convinced ALL the Jews to join him. They wanted ‘freedom’ as well.
But, in fact, Moses was right. He knew that leaving Egypt and receiving the Torah at Sinai was only the BEGINNING of serving G-d and just as these events couldn’t have occurred without him so also the true fulfillment of the Torah depends on him. Only Moses can inspire the Jews to leave their PERSONAL Egypts. (as the saying; Moses could take the Jews from Egypt but he couldn’t take the Egypt from the Jews. Rather he must inspire them to do it themselves.
Just as in our story, the Rebbe inspired Joe to see the truth.
This is a very deep lesson to all of us. Each of the Rebbes of Chabad were geniuses and experts in EVERY facet of the Torah and each did amazing miracles. But their true excellence was their love for EVERY Jew (and afterwards every creation of G-d).
And this love was expressed in the minutest details in order to bring out the true uniqueness of each and every one. But on the other hand it was very demanding. That is why Moses pleaded with Korach to repent.
This will be the job of Moshiach; to demand from each Jew to change totally and be a vehicle of constant love to others just as the Rebbe showed in our story.
And it all depends on each of us. One more good deed, word or even thought can tilt the entire world to merit and soon we will all be dancing with...
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