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Parshat Korach (5760)

This week’s section speaks about the war that Korach made on Moshe and Ahron.

The Talmud tells us that Korach, besides being blessed with “Ruach HaKodesh” (Divine inspiration) and prophesy, was wise, wealthy, and clever.

If so, we have to understand what drove him to make such a foolish, futile argument against G-d’s chosen leaders, which cost him and thousands of others with him their lives?

There are many answers to this question: According to some he was angry with Moshe for not appointing him to a higher position or he was jealous of Aaron, but none of them seem to fit a person of Korach’s spiritual stature and intelligence.

The answer to this is very relevant to us today. But let us first consider a story from the Baal Shem Tov.

Late one freezing Ukrainian winter afternoon the Besht (Baal Shem Tov) told his pupils to dress warmly because he was about to teach them a very important lesson outside.

An hour later, close to sunset, they reached a thicket of trees on the banks of a large frozen river and they hid themselves there watching the river, not knowing what to expect.

The night arrived and after a short time the cold became almost unbearable, but the pupils waited in silence. Suddenly the Baal Shem said “Listen … they are coming!” At first no one heard anything, but then the faint sound of a drum could be heard through the night wind until, in the distance faint torches marked the approach of a religious procession. Slowly they approached; it was a procession of some one hundred priests dressed in black habits carrying torches, marching on the thick ice in two parallel lines, heads down, solemnly singing some sort of liturgical chant in low unison.

The Besht’s pupils watched silently as the priests formed a large circle. The bishop took his place in the middle and preceded to carve a large cross in the ice while the others stood and chanted in the eerie, torch lit, winter night. When he finished, they all began to recite something in unison and then turned and marched back into the darkness from whence they came.

The Besht’s pupils were sickened by the ceremony they had witnessed but they followed their leader home before they heard the explanation.

“In the summer when it’s warm” said the Baal Shem, “that river is alive and flowing. But when it is cold, when it freezes, not only is it possible to stand on it, it’s even possible to carve an idol there.”

Similarly the Jewish soul;” he continued, “if it’s warm and happy, it flows … and nothing can harm it. But when a person becomes cold to G-d, anything can happen.”


That was Korach’s fault; he was cold …
(The Hebrew word for ice is Kerach) and because of his coldness he divided the nation against G-d’s chosen [The word Korach also means division (Deut. 14:1 Yechez. 1:22)]

But the source of his coldness was very spiritual; rooted in the foundations of creation, and the root of the human soul. That is why it is important for us to understand it.

In the book Noam Elimelech by Rav Elimelech of L’zinsk he likens Korach’s disagreement with Moshe to the second day of creation when G-d divided between the ‘upper and lower waters’.

Kabala teaches that these ‘waters’ represent pleasures; and on the second day G-d separated physical from spiritual pleasures.

Korach preached that G-d made this division, because He desired that this physical world should be permanently non-spiritual and physical pleasures (that are not against the Torah) should be encouraged.


He felt that Heaven and earth must remain separate: He wanted to freeze the service of G-d… to make it devoid of spirituality. Spiritual things must be left to spiritual people. Torah and the Commandments should be done only for the ‘World to Come’ but not to spiritually improve this world.

In other words; he opposed everything that Moshiach is supposed to do: To reveal G-d in this physical world.

That is why EVERYONE liked Korach (See Rashi on 16:19). He convinced them all that Moshe was unjustly trying to take control of every instant of everyone’s personal life. It was unreasonable, he claimed, to expect everyone to be spiritual. And Moshe demanded such service from everyone constantly, even in his or her most mundane activities.

Korach promised the people freedom. He told them that they are holy just as they are; everyone should just ‘do their thing’ and NO ONE HAS TO CHANGE spiritually.

Ironically, despite the fact that he unified almost all Israel and had very religious motives, Korach is tragically famed for exactly the opposite; being a divisive troublemaker NOT for the sake of Heaven (Avot 5:17).

Little did he know that he was opposing the very G-d he thought he was serving … by opposing Moshe.

Moshe wanted to reveal G-d and reunify heaven and earth as G-d began to do on the THIRD day of creation.

As we say in the prayer Alenu; that with the coming of Moshiach: ‘G-d and His Name will be one’.

And toward that goal he forced the Jews to be warm to anything spiritual, to feel the life in Torah, Mitzvot; he wanted everyone to try to be Tzadikim.

That is the reason that the great Kabalist Rabbi Yitzchak Luria o.b.m. in the introduction to “Shaar Hakdomot” disqualifies any Rabbi that doesn’t unite mystical teachings with the Torah he learns.

This was also the purpose of the Baal Shem Tov in spreading the teachings of Chassidut; to warm up the Jews of the world by bringing the spiritual into the physical. That was the ‘important lesson’ he taught to his followers in the story we brought previously.

As the previous Lubavitch Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Shneerson, said when he entered the USA in 1940 to begin the worldwide Chabad outreach program “I came here only to break the ice.”

This coming Thursday the 3rd of Tammuz, marks the 73rd anniversary of the beginning of his freedom from Communist prison in 1927. May we all merit to walk in his light and be warm, living Jews interested only in bringing as much G-dliness and spirituality into the world as possible with the speedy arrival of the Moshiach NOW!!

Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.

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