This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Korach (5762)
This week we read the shocking story of how a clever Jew by the name of Korach actually convinced all the Jews to rebel against Moses and Aaron, lost the battle and brought shame and tragedy on the Jewish people.
The Torah tells us that G-d made three special miracles to punish all these rebels.
First the ground opened, swallowing Korach and his family. Second: fire came from heaven devouring 250 of his leading supporters. And finally: Aaron's staff sprouted almonds overnight while the staffs of the remaining leaders who opposed him did not.
The Torah is a living book of life. 'Torah' means 'Teaching'; every idea and even word therein teaches us how to live and how to put 'life' and meaning into every moment. So these three strange punishment miracles must also be teaching us something.
To understand what their lesson is and, in general, what does the story of Korach's rebellion teach us today, G-d willing, here is a story that will help us understand.
About 150 years ago in Russia lived a Chassid (follower and pupil) of the Fourth Lubavitcher Rebbi, Rebbe Shmuel by the name of Zalman.
Zalman was a businessman. He lived in the city of Minsk and was on the verge of becoming a very wealthy man. Or so he thought. Three businessmen came to him with a foolproof proposition.
A soft drink called Kvass was beginning to become popular in Russia promising big profits, but not many people had the ability, knowledge or means to produce advertise and distribute it.
But they did. One of them knew the formula for this moneymaking drink, the second had an empty factory to manufacture it and the third had all the connections to distribute it. All they needed was a backer and chose Zalman as the lucky man.
It was a sure thing! Zalman knew these men; they were honest, serious and hardworking. He began calculating which assets he would have to liquidate to amass the necessary capital when suddenly he stopped. He had almost forgotten about the Rebbe! He was a Lubavitcher Chassid, how could he forget the Rebbe? The Rebbe, being a very spiritual man, also saw the 'big' picture and always knew what was best.
At that time the fourth Rebbe of Lubavitch called the Ma'hara'sh (Our teacher, Rabbi Shmuel) was Rebbe, and Zalman never made an important move without informing him and asking his advice. Chassidim are taught that everyone has a purpose in the world and the Rebbe is only one that really knows what it is, it would be unthinkable to make such a move without his advice.
He traveled to Lubavitch, asked for a private audience and was admitted almost immediately. He entered full of enthusiasm but as soon as he began and before he could even begin to explain, the Rebbe waived his hand and told him to forget it.
Of course Zalman was disappointed but he dutifully backed out of the room, returned home and told his friends that the deal was off.
"What?!" They exclaimed," Did you tell the Rebbe the details? Does he know about the profits!? Did you tell him how much you would give to charity? Are you sure the Rebbe even knows what Kvass is??"
Zalman had to admit that he hadn't really explained anything and, in fact, he really wanted to invest in this project. So, after a day or two of thought he decided to try again. Convinced that this time it would be different he returned to Lubavitch to fill the Rebbe in on all the details.
This time when he arrived he had to wait several days till the Rebbe could receive him. But when he entered he immediately launched into an explanation of his idea. But after a few minutes of listening the Rebbe interjected. "But Zalman I already told you just a few days ago that you should not invest your money in this. Why are you coming again?"
Zalman sheepishly succeeded in blurting out a few syllables like "Er… I just.... of course …. Yes" and again backed out the door.
"What!!" shouted his wife when he arrived home, "Zalman! I don't believe this is happening! This is business, Zalman, business!! It's a sure thing!!! All over Russia people are making fortunes from Kvass!!!"
His would be investors, who were also standing there, raised their hands in exasperation and began suggesting that they look elsewhere for backing while his wife continued:
"Zalman! This time write everything down! Probably when you talk to the Rebbe you were excited, right? So write it all down here on this paper. Here, we'll help you, and then give it to the Rebbe. Then we will see what he says."
For some reason Zalman couldn't oppose this cold logic. After all, the deal did look foolproof, the Rebbe didn't really give him a chance to explain and if these men got another backer he would probably regret it for the rest of his life.
So, for what he hoped was the last time, he traveled to Lubavitch, got an audience with the Rebbe, handed him the document without saying a word, waited a few seconds and heard the same decision: "NO!"
But this time when he returned home his wife and the 'partners' put on so much pressure he became so nervous at the thought of losing a sure thing and ignoring his business sense that was screaming for him do it that that ………. he did it! He invested!
"I'll give 25 percent of the profits to the Rebbe, no ... thirty percent. I'll give thirty percent to the Rebbe!!" he comforted himself.
At first things looked promising but then the public suddenly lost interest in kvass and the entire thing ……….. collapsed.
Zalman was broken, and broke. He had lost every penny to his name, but what really depressed him was that he had ignored the Rebbe.
He traveled again to Lubavitch to request forgiveness and a program of repentance. The Rebbe answered:
"You see, Zalman, there are three types of Chassidim. One type is the 'REALLY normal' Chassidim. They think that because we Rebbes see a lot of people so we have unusually much experience and can be relied upon a hundred percent. These are logical Chassidim.
The next are the 'normal' Chassidim. They believe that because we Rebbes are wise and learn a lot of Torah so our intellects have become refined to the point where we are always right; they believe we possess super logic. So these Chassidim trust us from 'above' logic.
But the real Chassidim are those that everyone calls 'fools'. They believe that we Rebbes are holy people and whatever we say is right even if it's against logic.
But Zalman, you aren't any of these. Your repentance is; be a Chassid.
This answers our questions.
The job of Moses (and what the Mystical book The Zohar calls the 'Moses' of every generation) is not just to teach the Jews but to educate the entire world to the goodness of the Creator. As we say thrice daily in the "Alenu' prayer to: 'Taaken Es H'olom b'Malchus Shadai' "To correct the entire world with the awareness of G-d.
But to do this Moses needs followers: he has to convince ALL the Jews to be true Chassidim.
Only when the Jews are united under Moses do they have the ability, through their learning of the Torah and doing its commandments, to reveal the Creator in His creation to all mankind. Or, in the language of Judaism: to bring the Moshiach. (See Mimonedies, Laws of Kings chapters 11, 12)
This is what Moses lived for and this was what Korach fought against.
Korach said "All the people are ALREADY holy, why are you special Moshe?" (16:3).
In other words he wanted to freeze their enthusiasm for Moses (the word 'Korach' also means 'freeze' in Hebrew) and to make them all cold and logical like Zalman in our story
So now we can understand the three punishments.
1) Korach was swallowed in the immobile earth because he tried to immobilize the Jews by defying Moses' totally 'non-rational' goal to change the world.
2) His followers were consumed with fire because they became 'inflamed' by his ideas and not by Moses' super-natural intelligence.
3) And the rest of the Jews witnessed the miracle of the staff growing almonds because they refused to be spiritually 'fruitful' and refused to rely even on Moshe's experience.
So it is today: we must be dynamic and excited by the Lubavitcher Rebbe's message that we do all we can to bring Moshiach.
Although it may seem to be against logic that we Jews can change the entire world, nevertheless it is true. We must begin by trying to encourage other Jews to do even one more commandment and all gentiles we meet to observe the Seven Noahide Commandments.
Let us take a lesson from this week's section and let nothing cool us down. Even it if doesn't seem to make sense and is even against common logic; One more good deed, word or even positive thought or prayer can actually tip the scales and bring……
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