Korach

“Parsha and Purpose” – Korach/Chukat 5782 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Celebrating Everyday Miracles”

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Parshat Korach (Diaspora) and Parshat Chukat (Israel)

“Celebrating Everyday Miracles

The Gemara in Taanit tells us that there were three miraculous gifts given to the Jewish People every single day while they were in the desert for 40 years: the “Anan” (the cloud cover), the “Mahn” (the manna) and the “Be’er” (the rolling well). [Taanit 9a]

The be’er, the Gemara says, is in the merit of Miriam, and therefore, when Miriam passes away in our parsha, the be’er stops giving water, as the verse states, “ולא היה מים לעדה”. [Numbers 20:2]

Immediately after Miriam passes away, there is no water for the Jewish People.

The Gemara continues:

 “וחזרה בזכות שניהם”

Due to Moshe’s and Aharon’s pleading with God, the water from the well resurfaces and gives the Jewish People water.

Rashi explains that Miriam’s Well is actually a rock that’s filled with water that rolls with them from place to place. [Rashi on Taanit 9a (“The Well of Miriam”)]

The Tosefta in Sukkah actually explains the protocol of how this rock-well of Miriam dispensed water throughout the 40 years in the desert. [Tosefta Sukkah 3:3]

And it is that rock-well that Moshe strikes with the staff. [Numbers 20:11]

Miriam is always synonymous with deliverance, especially from water. After all, it is Miriam who watches over baby Moshe in the water. [Exodus 2:4]

It is Miriam who helps the Egyptian princess save Moshe. [Exodus 2:7-10]

And if you look at Miriam’s name, the word “mayim” (water / מרים) is found in it.

And even the name is really a conjunction of two words “mar” and “yam”,

(“מר”  and”ים“)

…the bitterness that happens in a body of water, which Miriam transforms.

When the Jews cross the Sea of Reeds, it is Miriam who leads the women in song.

“ותען להם מרים”
“And Miriam sang to them”
[Exodus 15::21]

Miriam says:

“ ‘שירו לה’”
“Let us, as a group of women, come together, sing and dance to celebrate this open miracle of God.”

And therefore, in this week’s Torah portion, when Miriam passes away and is buried there, all of a sudden there’s a crisis of no water:

“ולא היה מים לעדה”
“and there was no water for the community”
[Numbers 20:2]

And they therefore complain to Moshe and Aharon. Moshe argues with the Jewish People:

 

“שמעו נא המרים:”
“Understand, rebels:”

“המן הסלע הזה נוציא לכם מים”
“Do you expect me to be like my sister, who was able to get water from a stone?!”
[Numbers 20:10]

Even the word “המורים”, which in the Sefer Torah lacks the letter “vav”, can be read as “שמעו נא המרים”, which also spells “Miriam”.

Moshe says: “Do you expect me to be like Miriam, you rebels, and give you the gift of water? That was Miriam’s greatness, not mine!”

After Moshe pleads with God – and there are mistakes that Moshe makes in this process, that we’ve discussed in the past – this well resurfaces. And then the Jewish people, after the resurfacing of this well, sing a song to God:

“אז ישיר ישראל את השירה הזאת”
[Numbers 21:17]

This song to God is the second shira (song) in the Torah. Unlike the overt miracle that happens once in history – the Jewish people crossing through the Yam Suf – this celebrates a miracle that happens every single day for 40 years.

And there’s a deep message in there for each and every one of us: sometimes we forget the daily miracles that occur in life. The Jewish people forgot that.

They are only reminded about it when there are a few days where that miracle, that gift, is lost; in this case, clean water.

What a powerful message for each and every one of us.

We sometimes forget the gifts that God gives us:

the fact that we have a beating heart;

the fact that we are blessed with family and friends;

the fact that we have the capacity to live free lives.

These are all gifts that God gives us, and we take them for granted.

The power of prayer is to remind us not just of the miracles that happened once in history.

The power of prayer, the opportunity of prayer, the brilliance of prayer, is to give us the capacity to recognize for ourselves and to God the miracles that happen every single day, as the Jewish people recognize in this week’s Torah portion after they lose water for a short period of time.

Shabbat Shalom.

Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Korach (Numbers 16:1-18:32) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel –”And they rose up in the face of Moses” (Numbers 16:2) When is dissension and argument positive, healthy debate and an outgrowth of “these and those are the word of the Living God” (B.T. Eruvin 13), and when is dispute negative, a venomous …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Shelach/Korach 5782 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“What is Our Contribution to the Holiness of the Jewish People?”

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Parshat Shelach (Diaspora) and Parshat Korach (Israel)

“What is Our Contribution to the Holiness of the Jewish People?

In Parshat Shelach and Parshat Korach, there are two rebellions against God. They are fundamentally different in their ethos.

Shelach is a spontaneous rebellion. It is a result of a dream of the Jewish people, a dream that was already born in Egypt:

וְהֵבֵאתִי אֶתְכֶם אֶל הָאָרֶץ
I’m going to bring you to this promised land.
[Exodus 6:8]

This is a dream that Yitro and Moshe also discuss:

נֹסְעִים אֲנַחְנוּ אֶל הַמָּקוֹם
We’re traveling to this wonderful place that God has promised us.
[Numbers 10:29]

It’s this dream that comes to a screeching halt when the dream of the nation collapses;

there is panic and rebellion.

In the case of Korach, it’s not a massive mob rebellion: out of the millions of people of Israel, only 250 rebel.

But there is a conspiracy to this rebellion: Korach waits until Moshe and Aharon’s popularity has waned, which is exactly what happens after the incident in Parshat Shelach, because Korach thinks it’s unfair that Aharon becomes the Kohen and not his family; and that Moshe is the leader and not his family.

His colleagues and co-conspirators, the Bnei Reuven, are upset that as children of Yaakov’s eldest son, they receive no leadership responsibilities.

Therefore:

וַיִּקַּח קֹרַח
And Korach took…
[Numbers 16:1]

Korach dedicates himself, focused on destroying Moshe and Aharon. As Rashi explains, he takes himself out of everything else to undermine Moshe and Aharon. [Rashi to Leviticus 16:1]

And as Rabbi Soloveitchik explains, in order for this conspiracy – or for any conspiracy – to work, it must begin with an ideology. Korach has two points. We will focus on one of them. He states:

כׇל הָעֵדָה כֻּלָּם קְדֹשִׁים וּבְתוֹכָם ה’
[Numbers 16:3]

“Every Jew has unique holiness. We are, after all, the Chosen People. It is part of our spiritual DNA. Moshe, you are no different than the wood chopper or the water drawer.”

And therefore:

וּמַדּוּעַ תִּתְנַשְּׂאוּ עַל קְהַל ה’
“Why do you, Moshe and Aharon, usurp yourself over the Jewish people?”
[Ibid.]

Korach is correct. There is a covenantal holiness of being part of the Jewish people. And in that holiness, there is no difference between the greatest sage – the “gadol hador” – and the Jew who can’t read.

As the Torah tells us:

כִּי עַם קָדוֹשׁ אַתָּה לַה’ אֱלֹהֶ֑יךָ
“You are a holy people.”
[Deuteronomy 14:2]

And as Rashi explains, it’s a holiness that comes from being part of the Jewish people. [Rashi to Deuteronomy 14:2]

However, there is another paradigm of sanctity that comes from the individual: the sanctity of the individual is distinct and unique.

The greatness that each and every one of us has as an individual is not the same.

It is proportional to my personal engagement with God.

And therefore, the verse continues:

וּבְךָ בָּחַר ה’
[Deuteronomy 14:2]

Each one of us has a unique relationship with God. Yes, we are all part of Knesset Yisrael, there is a holiness that is top-down. But there is also a holiness that is bottom-up. It’s what we contribute to the mix.

Community holiness arises from what the individual contributes, and therefore Moshe says:

בֹּקֶר וְיֹדַע ה’ אֶת אֲשֶׁר לוֹ וְאֶת הַקָּדוֹשׁ
[Numbers 16:5]

In the morning, “boker” – a word meaning “clarity” – we will be able to discern who can lead and who does not lead.

There’s a message here, and that is, we are holy as an entity, yes, but the holiness that we bring to the entity as individuals is so profound.

And Moshe is explaining that’s what God will testify to in His conversation between Moshe, Aharon and Korach.

So this parsha leads us with the following question: what is our contribution to the holiness of the Jewish people?

What do we do in our everyday lives to make the holiness of the Jewish people continue to grow and develop?

What do we do, as members of the Jewish people, to make a difference?

Korach doesn’t understand that, yes, it’s true, we’re part of a unique community, but part of that uniqueness comes with the responsibility for each and every one of us to contribute to changing our society and to enhancing the holiness of what it means to be God’s junior partner in the continued evolution of the creation process.

Shabbat Shalom.

Is Judaism Pluralistic? And what is the difference between disagreements and war? Rabbi Eliahu Birnbaum is the director of the Beren-Amiel and Straus-Amiel Institutes for Educational and Rabbinical Emissaries Throughout history, Judaism has been characterized by machloket – halachic disputes and disagreements.  The Jewish world has always comprised a myriad of diverse opinions: Beit Shamai …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Korach 5781 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“From Devastation to Transformation: Owning Our Adversity”

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Parshat Korach (Numbers 16:1-18:32)

“From Devastation to Transformation: Owning Our Adversity”

The horrific scenes from last month in the Israeli city of Lod – synagogues being set afire as Sifrei Torah and holy books lie strewn on the floor – have been forever etched into our collective memory.

And the wounds – psychological and physical – from altercations between Jewish and Arab neighbors in that city, will take time to heal.

But out of the pain in this fractured city has come some inspiring responses from our students at Midreshet Lindenbaum’s campus in Lod.

They entertained local children with carnivals and games so parents could go to work; they helped staff the community’s situation room during night shifts so other residents could sleep; they boxed up possessions salvaged from rubble in burnt apartments; they cleaned up apartments that had been vandalized; and they began to raise money to rebuild a burned Talmud Torah.

Perhaps the spirit driving these acts of love and compassion are best expressed in the words of Carmel Levi, an 18 year-old student at Midreshet Lindenbaum-Lod, who said:

“I chose to spend this year learning Torah specifically in the city of Lod because here, I can learn Torah in a family-like atmosphere and really be part of what’s happening in Israel – even in times of trouble. Despite everything that happened, we won’t give up on Lod.”

These inspiring words and actions, which demonstrate a deeply-rooted sense of Ahavat Yisrael and Ahavat HaBriot, also reflect the quintessentially Jewish tradition of transforming devastation into redemption, an example of which we find in our parsha, Korach.

250 leading figures among the Jewish people challenge the leadership of Moshe and Aharon. (Numbers 16:2-3)

In the subsequent contest to authenticate if Moshe and Aharon are indeed the chosen leaders, Korach and his rebellious followers must take their firepans and place incense before God, as do Moshe and Aharon. (Numbers 16: 16-18)

The result is decisive:

וְאֵשׁ יָצְאָה מֵאֵת הֹ’ וַתֹּאכַל אֵת הַחֲמִשִּׁים וּמָאתַיִם אִישׁ מַקְרִיבֵי הַקְּטֹרֶת

And a fire went forth from God and consumed the 250 men offering the incense. (Numbers 16:35)

What is most perplexing is what happens to these firepans, the very items that were used in their campaign to overthrow Moshe and Aharon, essentially a rebellion against God.

I would have assumed that these firepans would have been destroyed along with the people who participated in the rebellion.

After all, these items are spiritually radioactive, to be placed in a spiritual nuclear containment facility, decommissioned and destroyed.

However, the opposite occurs!

Here’s what God instructs Elazar, the son of Aharon and heir to the priestly leadership of the Jewish people:

וְיָרֵם אֶת הַמַּחְתֹּת מִבֵּין הַשְּׂרֵפָה וְאֶת הָאֵשׁ זְרֵה הָלְאָה כִּי קָדֵשׁוּ׃

…remove (literally, lift up) the firepansfor they have become sacred – from among the charred remains; and scatter the coals. (Numbers 17:2)

Elazar is then to take these firepans from the rebellious group and hammer them into sheets of bronze, to be used as plating for the mizbe’ach, the altar.

These firepans, which had been used in religious rebellion, are now considered sacred, to be used in service to God.

What a powerful message for each and every one of us.

When we face setbacks or difficult ordeals, we try hard to put them behind us, to discard them from our consciousness as much as possible.

But while that may help to temporarily ease our pain, there is another, exceedingly difficult but rewarding path that we can take, and that is transformation. 

Not only were the firepans not destroyed, they were transformed into a vessel that represents our capacity to sacrifice, engage with and find redemption from God.

As our inspiring students in Lod teach us, we are not to run away, but rather to transform darkness into light, in order to live more joyful, productive and more meaningful lives.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Todd Berman

Parshat Korach: Selfless Leadership – for the Sake of the People Rabbi Todd Berman is the Associate Director of Yeshivat Eretz HaTzvi. He received his semikha from the Joseph and Gwendolyn Straus Rabbinical Seminary and is also a graduate of Columbia University, Harvard Graduate School, Yeshivat Hamivtar and Yeshivat Har Etzion. Founder of the Jewish …

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Parshat Korach (Numbers 16:1 – 18:32) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel –  “…for the entire congregation are all holy, and God is in their midst. So why do you raise yourselves above God’s assembly?” [Num. 16:3]. Where did Korach err in his rebellion against Moses and Aaron? On the surface, his argument appears to be …

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“Parsha and Purpose” – Korach/Chukat 5780
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“Lifting Every Voice: Leadership in a Time of Unrest”

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“Lifting Every Voice: Leadership in a Time of Unrest”

The minute that Moshe is challenged by Korach as the leader of the Jewish people, God swallows up Korach and his entire rebellious cohort.

But then God says, “I want each tribe to take a staff, and the staff that blossoms will truly represent who should be the leader of the Jewish people.” Numbers 17:20

Why is there a need for another miracle?

Imagine a board meeting. The members begin to discuss the rabbi and immediately, those who are against the rabbi get swallowed up. Is there really still a need for a follow-up vote on whether or not to support the rabbi?

And yet, in our parsha, even after God makes it clear that Moshe is the leader and not Korach, He still demands that there be a blossoming of a staff to appoint the leader.

In the next parsha, Chukat, there’s the tragic episode in which Moshe is told by God, ve’dibartem el ha’sela. which really means, “and they [the Jewish people] should speak to the rock.” But what Moshe does is to hit the rock, and because of that, he cannot lead the Jewish people into the Land of Israel. Numbers 20:8

In both of these cases, there’s a common denominator. Our goal as leaders, whether it is in our families, in other areas of our lives, in the community or greater society, is to inspire change – not to compel it. Our goal is to create a collaborative environment, not to compel a vision.

What God is saying after Korach and his cohort is swallowed up is, I want people to realize that Moshe is the leader – not because his opposition has been swallowed up, but because his staff blossoms, and that is what defines leadership. 

And that’s the challenge that Moshe has in Parshat Chukat. God is telling Moshe, the people need water. They have to learn that they don’t just have to go through you, they can send their own email, their own WhatsApp, their own letter to Me, to God.

The Jewish people have to grow up. They have to realize that they have a powerful voice. 

VeDibartem el ha’sela – “speak to the rock.” Teach them they can also pray, teach them they can also engage. 

But instead Moshe takes a direction which does not allow the Jewish people to have a voice. And because of that God determines the need for a new leader to replace Moshe. The leader will be Moshe’s student, but his style of leadership will be much different. The Jewish people will engage with him. It won’t be a top-down model; it will be much more collaborative. 

What powerful messages for us, and the type of lives we lead, especially during this time in which we’re seeing so much unrest throughout the world.

Imagine if we realize that we have a voice to make a difference, to inspire change in safe and creative and constructive ways. 

We can do that, and that’s what we’re seeing all over the world.

It’s not about striking the rock. It’s about speaking truth to power.

It’s about allowing our voices to blossom. 

And through that, we create leadership that is eternal, and make changes that will better society for ourselves, for our children and for our grandchildren.

Shabbat Shalom.  

Rabbi Eliahu Birnbaum

Parashat Korach: Disputes, Wars and Everything in Between The Torah and the Jewish mentality demand for there to be disagreement as the ideal state of things, precisely because Judaism isn’t a religion of dogma and conflict. Rabbi Eliahu Birnbaum, Director of the Beren-Amiel and Straus-Amiel Emissary Training and Placement Programs Constant disputes have been a …

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Shabbat Shalom: Korach (Numbers 16:1-18:32) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin  Efrat, Israel –  “Moses said to Korach: ‘Hear me, sons of Levi: Is it not enough for you that the God of Israel has set you apart [as Levites]… Must you also seek the priesthood?’” (Numbers 16:8-10)  Last week’s portion of Shelah, in which the desert …

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This week’s “Parsha and Purpose” is dedicated
in memory of Milton Eisner z”l 
beloved father of David Eisner
former President of OTS’ North American Board

“Parsha and Purpose” – Shelach/Korach 5780
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“The five? No, the SEVEN books of the Bible”

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“The five? No, the SEVEN books of the Bible”

The Book of BaMidbar is compelling and perplexing. There are three different components: the introduction – the movement of the Jewish people towards the final stage of redemption, entering the land of Israel. Moshe tells his father-in-law, Yitro, “join us.”  Numbers 10:29

We are introduced to laws, like Pesach Sheni – the second Paschal. Numbers 9:9-13

And we are also introduced to a formula that the Jewish people will use to decimate their enemies. 

Vayehi binsoa haAron, vayomer Moshe. Kumu Ado’shem veyafutzu oyvechaNumbers 10:35 We’re introduced to this language that will be recited and which will help the Jewish people capture the land. And then what happens is, this language, this mantra, is placed in between two upside-down, Hebrew letter nuns; frozen – as Rashi says, it becomes like a book out of place. Rashi on Numbers 10:35

In fact, the Talmud tells us that the few verses of vayehi binsoa haAronare considered its own book. Shabbat 116a That essentially, the book of Bamidbar is actually three books. One book is pre-vayehi binsoa haAron; a second book is this small unit of text, and a third book is everything that follows.

The post-vayehi binsoa haAron book is the reason why the entire piece of vayehi binsoa haAron is put inside of upside-down nuns. Primarily what happens in the parshiot of Shlach and Korach. Because in these parshiot, the Jewish people failed to understand the singular quality of various components of our life. They failed to understand the singular component of the land of Israel. They failed to understand the unique qualities of Moshe and Aharon as leaders. 

In earlier post-vayehi binsoa haAron, such as Parshat Behaalotcha, Miriam and Aharon failed to understand the relationship between Moshe and God, and the Jewish people failed to understand the importance of food as sustenance in the whole story of the quail. 

So the book of Bamidbar is essentially three sections. Section one, the movement of the Jewish people to redemption; section three, their failure to understand the unique qualities of various spiritual and physical aspects of life. And the middle section, the vayehi binsoa haAron section, that is frozen by upside-down nuns and is out of place.

We have the power to remove those upside-down nuns. We can move the text from being suspended when we recognize the unique gifts that God has given us and that we can change the world. The Jewish people has forgotten our singularly important, God-given gifts. 

Each and every one of us has our own gifts. Let’s evaluate them. Let’s decide how to use them in a purposeful fashion, and through that, we can indeed redeem ourselves, and the Jewish people, and society. 

Vayehi binsoa haaron will then be removed from being frozen in time and will become a piece of our prayers that we will be able to actualize through our practices.

Shabbat Shalom.