This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Korach (5763)
This week we read of the twenty four gifts that G-d allocated to the Kohanim (priests): the first born animals, the first fruits, the 'show' bread, tithes of produce, first shearings, redemption money of first born sons, portions of many sacrifices and more.
Rashi tells us (our portion 18:8) that these gifts are listed here because our weekly portion tells the story of how an evil genius named Korach almost succeeded in usurping Aaron and taking the Priesthood into his own hands.
But at first glance this is not understood.
These gifts have nothing to do with Korach; if he hadn't made trouble they would still had been given to the Cohanim. Why should this entire weekly Torah portion be called on his name, especially being that he was an evil man?
This week's section should have been named after the gifts. Or at least after the first word of the section; "Va'Yikach", as is done in other weekly sections.
Here are three stories that might help us to understand.
The air was so tense in the room you could almost cut it with a knife. About fifty Lubavitch Chassidim were sitting around a table listening intently to the Rebbe RShaB (Shalom Dovber, the fifth Lubavitcher Rebbe) when the young communist official came in. He didn't even knock. Clean shaven with a small mustache and a neatly pressed suit he just quietly entered, approached the table and stood there.
1919 in Russia; the communist party began enforcing total power. Any meeting of more than three that weren't family members was forbidden. Expounding any doctrine other than communism was forbidden. The gathering (Farbrengen) was supposed to be a secret, but it was no wonder that they knew about it; they seemed to know everything.
The Chassidim were scared; death suddenly hovered over their heads and danced before their eyes. They thought that they were safe with the Rebbe but now it looked like the end of the line. Any second more police would come pouring through the door, all eyes turned to the Rebbe for a sign to flee.
But the Rebbe paid absolutely no attention to the newcomer. He was speaking quietly in Yiddish showing how a seemingly simple Torah sentence related to a complex aspect of the Jewish soul. After a few seconds everyone was glued back into the real world of the Rebbe as though nothing ever happened.
The 'intruder' also seemed not to notice what was going on around him. He took a seat and sat almost motionless, listening intently and staring at the Rebbe as thought hypnotized. Once in a while he wiped what was perhaps a tear from his eye but he was clearly hanging on his every word.
The Farbrengen carried on through the night. They sang, drank vodka and the Rebbe spoke wondrous things. Until finally he indicated that it was over. They all stood, the Rebbe rose from his place, gave a quick glance around and left silently.
One of the older Chassidim turned to the stranger and gave him a look as to ask what is he doing here. He looked back and replied quietly.
"My father was a Chassid and when I was young he took me to the Rebbe, I even went to a few Farbrengens.
"Of course today I know better. I live a free life where no pleasure is forbidden. Communism has freed me and it will soon free the entire world as well. I am sure of it! I believe it with all my soul." His eyes became misty as though he was looking to the distance then abruptly narrowed his eyes in contempt and continued.
"I do not believe in your jealous G-d! Feh! Superstition! The Torah, the commandments, the rituals… it is all nonsense! Good for children and old ladies!!
But I came here tonight because...well. Because the Rebbe is too real. I deny everything but I can't deny the Rebbe."
The second story is about a famous Zionist writer by the name of Asher Ginsburg known by the pen name of 'Echad HaAm'.
Like some of his colleagues, he had been brought up in a religious background and rejected it all. But unlike all of them he was a Talmudic genius and was well versed in Jewish philosophy as well.
Nevertheless he hated Judaism, saying that one who has a sense for the pleasures of this world; music, art, literature, etc would never choose a life of Judaism. The prerequisite for taking the Torah seriously is ignorance of the 'real' world.
The story goes that someone once tried to convince him to visit the Rebbe ReShaB, but he wanted no part of it.
"Let the Lubavitcher Rebbe come visit me!" he scoffed. "I'm as versed in Talmud as he is and have as many followers to boot! Why should I visit him?" But he finally agreed, and the next time he was near Lubavitch a meeting was arranged.
After the meeting the Rebbe was asked for his impression of his visitor and he replied severely: "All I can say about him is that he knows what G-d is, and intends to rebel against Him."
Echad HaAm, however, answered exactly the opposite,
"All I can say about the Rebbe is that he knows exactly what the world is...and he intends to rebel against it!"
The third story occurred more recently. Some thirty five years ago a Knesset member of the National Religious party, Dr. Josef Berg had a private audience with the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Dr. Berg was a religious man, a Talmudic scholar and an accomplished academic with a doctorate, but there were many areas that the Rebbe disagreed with him strongly and the Rebbe talked to him about these areas. (Later he especially aroused the Rebbe's ire by not taking a firm stand against the leftist version of 'Who is a Jew', which has since caused incomprehensible confusion and loss of Jewish identity.)
When he finished the meeting and came out of the Rebbe's office he was obviously very emotional and when asked what happened he explained.
"The Rebbe is a spiritual and intellectual giant; I've never imagined that there could be a person like that. It was an overwhelming experience!"
But when asked if the Rebbe had any effect on his views he replied emphatically, "Not at all! Every time I felt I was being swept away by his logic and holiness, I grasped my hands together under the table and kept repeating mentally to myself,
"I am Yosef Berg! I am Yosef Berg!'"
This is the reason the section is called 'Korach' (which implies 'ice' and 'division') because he revealed the most powerful and most common negative trait in the Jewish race; the opposition to true leaders.
This trait drove the Jews to oppose not only Moses but King David and all the prophets thereafter which brought the destruction of the Temples and the horrible exile we are now in.
True Jewish leaders teach us to act like 'sons of G-d' (Deut. 14:1), and a 'nation of priests' (Ex. 19:6); namely to connect to the Creator and put infinite meaning into every instant of our lives.
Or, in the language of the Tanya; every Jew has two souls (two 'selves'); a normal (human -spiritual) soul and a G-dly (Jewish) soul. True Jewish leaders awaken the G-dly soul and inspire us to see the world from the G-dly perspective as well.
But Korach taught the opposite; BE YOURSELF. Use only the natural viewpoint.
(I call it "Popeye-ism". Looking at the world with one I (eye), seeing no depth, and concluding that 'I am what I am and that's all what I am').
He was for all egocentric endeavors; religion, self-expression, personal success, permissible pleasures (they were surrounded by miracles so it was difficult to deny G-d completely).
But he was completely COLD to the INFINITE.
And the nature of the world and every individual creation in it is to retain it's identity and therefore conceal the Creator. (The Hebrew spelling for 'world' (olom) is the same as 'concealment'.)
Like the people in the above three stories; they couldn't deny that the Rebbe was G-dly; a true Jewish leader, but they resisted all change.
The way to correct this flaw is with the gifts to the Kohanim: By devoting our pleasures and accomplishments to the Creator (through charity as well) we open a living channel to the infinite. And that defeats and melts the Korach inside of each of us.
This is especially relevant to us today living in the age that the Lubavitcher Rebbe called the 'Generation of Moshiach' and the 'First generation of Redemption'.
The Moshiach is the ultimate example of the true Jewish leader.
He will bring ALL the Jews back to true Torah Judaism and ALL the gentiles to worship ONLY the Creator (as we say in 'Alenu' thrice daily). And the Rebbe said that all we have to do is open our eyes.
Now is our chance to overcome the Korach inside of each of us and bring.....
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