Korach

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

“From Devastation to Transformation: Owning Our Adversity”

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. 

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 …

Read more

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 …

Read more

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

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

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. 

“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 …

Read more

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 …

Read more

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”

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. 

“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.

Shabbat Shalom: Korach (Numbers 16:1-18:32) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel – “And Korach took…” ( Numbers 16:1)  Is controversy a positive or a negative phenomenon? Since the ideal of peace is so fundamental to the Jewish ideal – to such an extent that we even greet and bid farewell to each other with the …

Read more