Parshas Korach

June 7, 2013
29 Sivan, 5773

Parshas Korach
Candle-lighting Time: 8:08  PM

This edition of Sparks of Torah is dedicated in honor of two students of The Sunday Experience who are celebrating their Bar Mitzvahs this Shabbos: Reese Kark and Joshua Maginsky. Mazel Tov! Mazel Tov!


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All Blue

By Rabbi Raphael Leban

It is a time-honored custom to reward children who stay awake until the end of the Passover Seder with an ‘afikoman present.’ Whoever finds and/or returns the afikoman gets a present.

One Passover, Rabbi Noach Orlowek’s youngest son asked him for his afikoman present‑ he wanted the entire world. I heard the story from the Rabbi when he wanted to illustrate the unbounded desire of the youthful mind. Rabbi Orlowek readily agreed to his son’s request and after Yom Tov gave him a globe.

Sometimes, though, ‘getting it all’ isn’t exactly what it’s cracked up to be.

In Parshas Korach, Moshe’s leadership role as G-d’s spokesman was challenged by Korach and his followers. According to the Medrish, they couched their criticism in a metaphorical question. If an ordinary four-cornered garment requires tzitzis with a single thread of bluetecheiles, would a garment that’s entirely dyed that very blue techeiles color need such a string? They meant to imply that a single, holy leader is necessary if everyone is ordinary, but when everyone is already holy, the leader (Moshe) is irrelevant.

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein z”l pointed out that their question was hardly unreasonable. If a single string of techeiles could serve as a reminder of the transcendent, certainly when the entire garment was that color the reminder would be made. However, the challenge of that generation, explained Rabbi Feinstein, was precisely because their lives were so full of techeiles.

Imagine what life was like for that first generation of Jews who left Egypt. They saw the plagues, the splitting of the sea, the manna that fell to them from the heavens on a daily basis. Their trust in G-d was based on their having personally witnessed these incredible events. It was handed to them on a silver platter. The challenge of such a gift, however, is that it wasn’t developed by them slowly over time and internalized each step of the way. They couldn’t take the level of trust that had been given to them and apply it to new circumstances they had not yet seen.

Our ability to trust that G-d runs the world and is ultimately looking out for our best interests is something that we build in ourselves, through years of studying Torah and through viewing the events of our daily lives with the right eyes. When we take it one string at a time, we can put our full faith in G-d and His servant Moshe. Without that process, we could see nothing but blue everywhere we turn, and still miss thetecheiles completely.

How Great is the King

By Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum

There is mutiny brewing in this week’s parsha and its fires engulf hundreds of Jews within the camp, amongst them the most prominent members of our nation. Korach challenged Moshe’s authority as the leader of our nation and was therefore dispatched in order to maintain the integrity of Moshe’s leadership. Although many times we find that the people complained to Moshe that he had taken them out of Egypt only to bring them into the wilderness to die, the perpetrators were never punished with death. Nachmonides explains that Korach and his followers committed two heinous acts that earned them their sentence. Firstly, they degraded Moshe’s status by objecting to his claim that he was the king of the Jewish people. Not only did they reject him as ruler, perhaps even more importantly they rebuffed him as the superlative ‘scholar in residence’ of the nation. Secondly, the dissenters renounced their belief in all the miracles that had been performed by Moshe as commanded by Hashem. They asserted that all these wondrous acts had been performed by Moshe alone. After we received the Torah on Mt. Sinai, Moshe was guaranteed that the nation would trust in him and all future prophets. Yet here was a large pronounced group denying that Moshe was indeed the true head of the nation.

Even though it appears that the dissidents launched a two-prong attack against Moshe, in reality the point of contention between Korach and his followers against Moshe actually struck at a crucial tenet of Judaism that is an indispensable underpinning upon which we exist and function. We do not believe in the secular notion of the separation of government and religion. On the contrary, the leadership of our nation is not a political function, rather it is the direction that we take concerning any particular issue that arises, dictated and governed by the collective leadership of our most esteemed Torah scholars. We believe that their united clarity of vision, cultivated through years of intense Torah study, grants them the maturity of perspective and the ideals and morals that will provide us with lucid and unstinting positive direction.

Korach, however, was not driven by these principles of conduct. As the Midrash points out, wholly jealous motivations compelled him to attempt destruction of Moshe’s status and control of the nation. His cousin was appointed to a position that he felt solely entitled to and therefore he became obsessed with his mission to wrest control of the people away from Moshe and effectively repudiate the true will of Hashem from its implementation. This, in fact, is the leading piece of rebellion that he perpetrated. When we topple our Sages authority in favor of ill-suited replacements who depend upon non-Torah or worse yet, anti-Torah methodologies to determine the direction of our people, we have effectively shattered the moral fiber that exemplifies the Jewish nation.

Indeed, the mitzvah to appoint a king is not a political process. Rather, the halacha states that he must be exemplary in his observance of the mitzvos, an exceptional Torah scholar and demonstrate superlative personal conduct. There is no requirement that he be an orator, politically savvy or well-versed in governmental protocol. Those prerequisites do not necessarily promote the success of a country and quite often they lead to its demise. Rather the commander-in-chief is subordinate to Hashem and when we take our orders from the true CEO of the global organization, we are guaranteed that we will be successful and prosper.

Byte For Shabbos

Korach convinced 250 of the greatest Torah scholars to join him in his fight against Moshe. However, they did not actually agree to his premise. Rather, they wanted to experience the highest level of sanctity possible and therefore risked their lives in order to bring the incense, which was one of the most important and lofty parts of the daily service. Although they were punished for their actions, nonetheless they persevered, believing that this was an acceptable way to serve Hashem.


A Question for the Rabbis

Is one obligated to leave an area where an infectious disease is rampant? Rabeinu Bachya (commentary on Numbers, 16:21) cites the verse in our the Torah portion this week in which G-d tells the Jews to “separate from the midst of this evil congregation [of Korach].” He says that even though G-d has the power to save an innocent person in the midst of a disaster, nevertheless He either wanted to the Jews to stay away from the “poisonous air” that would surround Korach, or He was informing them that once the attribute of just punishment is unleashed, it does not distinguish between the righteous and the evil. This idea is mentioned in the Code of Jewish Law (Yoreh Deah116:5) which rules that one must leave a city if there is a plague there, and one should do so at the beginning of the outbreak and not wait until it progresses.

Joke of the Week
Q: Why can’t we put Jews in jail?
A:  Because they eat all the lox