Parshas Korach: Be the Best JEW You Can Be; Be the Best YOU You Can Be! – A Shlichus Essential

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Parshas Korach: Be the Best JEW You Can Be; Be the Best YOU You Can Be! – A Shlichus Essential

BS”D

Dedicated l’ilui nishmas and to the everlasting legacy of the Rebbe – Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson – of righteous memory.

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A little backstory..:

Among the general world – the Jewish People, also imperfect mortals included – there are a.) individuals who teach us what we must do, and b.) individuals who teach us what not to do.  There are those who’ve achieved enduring eminence, and there are also those who’ve alternatively created for themselves a legacy of infamy.  Korach was one of ours who, in both cases, fell into the later category.

“Vayikach Korach ben-Yitzhar ben-Kehas ben-Leivi v’Dasan va’Aviram b’nei Eliav v’On ben-Peles b’nei Re’uvain – Korah the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi took [himself to one side] along with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, descendants of Reuben.” {Bamidbar 16:1}

Korach ‘took’ himself from the midst of the congregation of Israel, separating himself so that he might dispute the establishment.  Also, demagogue that he was, he ‘took’ others as well with his words, from laymen to heads of the Sanhedrin – especially among his neighboring Reubenites – swaying their hearts to rally to his cause, insisting he meant only their shared good.  Korach’s accusation?  Moses and Aharon had assumed too much greatness for themselves, patronizingly and selfishly (G-d forbid).  Their father Amram and his brothers numbered four.  If Moshe merited the Malchus (kingship), then the offspring of Amram’s immediate junior – Izhar – should be destined for the next position of Kehunah Gedolah.  That would be Izhar’s son, Korach.  However, G-d willed it otherwise – that Aharon should assume the priesthood.  Korach’s mutiny was a blatant disregard of the Divine ordination, and the truth that Moshe and Aharon acted by G-d’s word alone.  Korach’s objective?  Compel the brothers – especially Aharon – to step down, and allow him to acquire what he perceived as fittingly his.  A further reasoning Korach gave was that “kulam kedoshim – all (of the Jewish People) are holy;” so why should the roles of spiritual and national leadership be Moshe and Aharon’s alone?  They all heard in unison the proclamation at Sinai, “Ani Hashem Elokaichem – I am Hashem your G-d;” so why the nepotism?

At the distressing accusations and complaints, Moshe felt despair.  He began to reason with the rabble-rousers gently, and only harshened in face of their adamancy; nevertheless, they continued to rebel against him.  Moshe then proposed a test for the sake of Heaven, to clearly establish that it was indeed Aharon and his sons after him who were Divinely endowed with the priesthood.  Korach and his company of two hundred-fifty men – along with Aharon – were to take censers, fill them with Ketores (incense), and place fire upon them before the Tent of Meeting, and see whose G-d accepted.  Hashem’s Cloud of Glory descended upon the Mishkan (Tabernacle); it was Aharon’s Ketores that found favor.  Moshe urged the Bnei Yisroel to distance themselves from Korach, Dasan and Aviram’s tents, and proclaimed that with if these men would die in a way no person had perished before, it would be a sign that Moshe was simply a messenger of G-d in all his deeds, and didn’t appoint Aharon, his sons, or their relative Elizaphan ben Uziel over the Levitic family of Kohath of his own accord.  If Hashem didn’t cause the mouth of the earth to open up and swallow Korach, his accomplices and all they possessed, which was the forewarned sign, Moshe declared that Korach would have been entirely correct, and Moshe was only in it for himself.  The wonder was divinely wrought: the earth split beneath Korach, Dasan and Aviram, and swallowed them and all that was theirs alive into the grave.  And what became of the remaining two hundred-fifty dissenters who’d brought firepans of incense before Hashem?  Hashem sent a fire to consume each and every one of them.  Their pans, sanctified in holy service – albeit performed by the wrong people – were forbidden from benefit, so Elazar Hakohen beat them thin as an overlay for the Mizbeyach Hanechoshet (the copper altar).  They served as an eternal reminder of the price of rivalry, strife, and scorning Hashem’s will; for indeed, the battle and mutiny of Korach v’Adaso was essentially a battle and mutiny against G-d.

Don’t be misled by the warped perception that Moshe and Aharon comprised a totalitarian elite who eliminated anyone who stood in their way of free reign, and Korach was a martyred victim of a sorry fate.  Ultimately, when all is said and done, G-d is just, and it isn’t up to us to affirm or criticize His ways.  He’s been managing quite fine since long – actually, infinitely long – before we humans came into the picture, along with the rest of creation; He knows what He’s doing.  Still, we can perhaps find reason, or at least endeavor to, in the gravity and details of Korach’s error and end.  That reason may be multi-faceted, and undoubtedly runs deep.  I’ve been considering this Torah episode extensively in the past week, and would like to share with you some of my personal reflection and insight on a timeless lesson we can learn from the eternal words.  If we succeed in applying the Torah to our own selves and lives, we will be authentically “leben mit dehr tzeit – living with the times!”

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I frequently quote Seeds of Wisdom, an anthology of the Rebbe’s wisdom culled from his talks, meetings and correspondence, compiled by Mendel Kalmenson.  A personal favorite of Rabbi Kalmenson’s grounding lines is, “Material discontent is a vice; spiritual discontent is a virtue.”  We are heartily encouraged to aspire and strive to emulate the outstanding traits of the Torah leaders of our generation, and our role models; and also, to apply their example practically in our own lives, at our own level.  However…  we shouldn’t seek to become their carbon copies.

As people, we have a general protocol, to establish civilization and uphold moral order.  As Jews, we share an expanded common mission in this world, to spread forth the knowledge of the One G-d, and sanctify Him in everything we do.  And then, we have our individual quests and callings.  We all were formed in the image of our Creator, but He invested each of us with unique gifts, characteristics and strengths, Divinely tailored to suit our individual purposes in this world.  Every single one of us has been endowed with a separate, personal Shlichus to carry out in this life.

When we discover just what that special mission is, reflected by our distinct soul, all our activities and business should be directed in achieving that purpose.  All the fragments of our daily lives will be bound with that unifying thread of intent, and we will thus be able to effectively elevate and transform our specific corner of the world Divinely ordained for us to repair.

Korach was dissatistfied with whom he was created as.  He desired Aharon’s place of Kohein Gadol, the High Priest in the service of G-d.  At face value, we take it that Korach envied Aharon’s glory and status, superficially.  However, other commentaries and Chassidic Masters explain that Korach envied Aharon’s position for the closeness to G-d and liberation from all worldly pursuits it occasioned – something indeed sacred and valuable.  Nevertheless, Korach wasn’t meant to be the Kohein Gadol.  Moshe reminded him that he was a Levite, who bore a cherished Avodah of his own:

“Ham’at mikem ki-hivdil Elokay Yisrael es’chem may’adas Yisrael l’hakriv es’chem eylav la’avod es-avodas Mishkan Hashem v’la’amod lifnei ha’aidah l’sharsam – Is it not enough that the G-d of Israel has distinguished you from the congregation of Israel to draw you near to Him, to perform the service in the Mishkan of the Lord and to stand before the congregation to minister to them? {Bamidbar 16:9}

The Levi’im merited their own significant service in the Mishkan (and later on in the Bais Hamikdash – Holy Temple), such as singing before G-d, guarding the Sanctuary, assisting the Kohanim, and transporting the Mishkan.  The children of Levi in general filled the vital role of spiritual mentors and Torah educators to the rest of Klal Yisrael.  Korach himself was so no small fish; he was a head among the Kohathite family, who bore the holiest furnishings of the Mishkan when the nation journeyed.  Moshe continued, upon which Rashi elaborates, that, ‘Hashem drew you near to service from which he has distanced the rest of the congregation of Israel!’  “Uvikashtem gam-kehuna – and (now) you seek the kehunah as well?” {ibid. 16:10}

Perhaps we can begin to understand the rationale of Moshe’s concern, and the gravity of Korach’s misjudgment.

The Alter Rebbe, Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, of righteous memory, teaches that there lives and leads a Moshe Rabbeinu in every generation, and each subsequent leader actually possesses the soul of the original Moshe Rabbeinu.  One duty of the multi-faceted role a Rebbe plays, is that he helps us discover our express missions in this world, and inspires us to devote ourselves to the task; he helps us recognize our role of candle, for which he gives us the match to ignite ourselves.  A significant element of his leadership is raising others to become leaders – not just followers.  We see this manifested clearly in the episode of our focus between Moshe and Korach, as the former endeavored to gently redirect his disquieted colleague, guiding him to appreciate the unique and precious role he was indeed so fortunate to have merited, and to reaccept it with meaning and commitment.  What an incredible opportunity Korach had to positively influence the Bnei Yisroel, in his own way, through his own leadership!  Unfortunately, Korach turned a deaf ear, and a valuable opening for Teshuvah, growth and self-discovery was lost.

To quote the esteemed Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, “G-d loves diversity.”  Quite intentionally we were all created varying and colorful.  As Korach mistakenly assumed in his crusade for democracy and uniformity in terms of Israel’s Divine service, it is not when all components of a greater whole are identical that harmony is achieved.  Rather, it is when all those different components, energies and strengths, are united with a shared goal: essentially, to serve Hashem and uphold His Torah, illuminating the entire world with it.  Is it possible to build healthy homes and function as a world without both men and women, each making the unique contributions that define them?  It is sad indeed when a woman feels compelled to act like a man in order to be validated; she spurns the gifts and nature G-d graced her with as a female, whose influence and nurturing are incredibly powerful.  Likewise with men.  From the beginning of both genders, Hashem had a distinct modus operandi in store for each of them.  Their differing essential energies and mentalities are both required to perpetuate humankind on our mission.  Similarly, the wonder of the human body is an intricate composition of numerous organs and limbs serving vastly different functions; yet, they all come together in one miraculous body working at maximum efficiency and in mind-boggling harmony.  This concept is also applicable in trying to understand G-d’s Sefiros, His Divine attributes and expressions.  For example, Chessed (giving, kindness) is the polar opposite of Gevurah (restraint, severity), and the attributes stemming onwards from them also mirror their conflict.  The world and all as we know it cannot come into creation and continue to exist by one without the other, so they are first united together in the attribute Tiferes (splendor, Divine harmony).

Korach hit home with at least one insightful point: “Ki kol-ha’aidah kulam kedoshim u’besocham Hashem – The entire congregation are all holy, and the Lord is in their midst.” {Bamidbar 16:3}  The mortal king is no different from the servant, nor the scholar from the layman in regard to how G-d resides among them all equally, and they are unified in their collective duty to Him.  It is simply that in respect to their unique roles in society – and who they are inside – they each express, demonstrate and work towards their essential purpose a little differently, with their own flavor, from where they stand and how they serve.

You needn’t be of the same faith, ethnicity, community or level of observance to live by this truth.  A poignant example I would like to share is a story of the Rebbe is a private meeting with a Reform rabbi.  This visiting rabbi was considering retirement from the pulpit after many devoted years of service.  When he turned to the Rebbe for counsel on this pivotal decision, the Rebbe discouraged him from retiring, and instead motivated him to continue.  The Rebbe explained, “You’re a soldier on the front!”  The Rebbe looked at this community leader – notwithstanding that his approach to Judaism radically differed from his –  and perceived a soldier, fighting on the battlefield of this world for the Jewish future, and supporting his fellow Jews, spiritually, communally, etc.  Ever so rarely did the Rebbe suggest or even hint to those seeking advice should become a chossid.  One of the Rebbe’s greatest legacies was encouraging people to ‘be the best YOU you can be.’  The Rebbe was visited by Jews and gentiles alike; when speaking with other Jews, he never pressured anyone to become “religious;” rather, he urged them to ‘be the best JEW you can be,’ to treasure their inner selves and to uphold G-d’s Torah to the best of their ability.

We must be happy and accepting of how and whom Hashem’s created us as – Kohen or Levite, man or woman, short or tall, impoverished or wealthy, exuberant or introverted.  He provided us with all the tools we need to succeed. It is up to us to inject those gifts and strengths with life, and bring the purpose they were created for to fruition.  We each have our part, and must give it all we got, with dedication and joy in our portion.

We can then forge on as a lamplighter to all those around us, transforming the world – one more light,  one more soul, one more Mitzvah at a time.

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We are taught that the life and merits of one who has passed on uplift the world on a greater level than ever possible to achieve in this world.  Together, let’s think about how the Rebbe’s impacted our lives personally; let’s try to internalize his vision; and wishing you a meaningful Gimmel Tammuz.

May we merit to see the Yom Shekulo Shabbos and Geulah Sheleimah NOW, with our luminaries and forbears leading us into Eretz Yisroel, and Hashem feeling delighted and comfortable to reveal His Presence in our world.

Shabbat Shalom!

—The Messenger Bird

 

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