Letter and Spirit

For the week ending 29 June 2019 / 26 Sivan 5779

Parshat Korach

by Rabbi Yosef Hershman
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Precocious Blossoming

After the unprecedented challenge to Moshe’s leadership, and in particular the selection of Aharon as the High Priest, Korach and his inner circle of rabble-rousing cohorts are swallowed by the earth. The remaining two hundred and fifty of Korach’s recruits, vying for the position and foolishly putting their lives on the line by offering ketoret, are destroyed in a Heavenly conflagration.

As a final proof to the nation that Aharon from the tribe of Levi was chosen to serve in the Temple, Moshe is instructed to request one staff from the leader of each tribe. The names of the prince of each tribe was inscribed on each of the twelve staffs, and the name of Aharon was inscribed on the staff of Levi. The staffs were then laid down in the Mishkan, before the Tablets. G-d instructed that the staff of the tribe of the chosen priest will blossom. On the following day: Lo! Arahon’s staff… was blossoming. It produced blossoms, sprouted twigs, and bore almonds.

The order is significant: first it produced blossoms, then it put forth twigs that bear leaves,then it bore almonds. This is the special characteristic of the almond tree — it blossoms even before it grows leaves.

All branches of fruit trees leaf, then blossom, then produce fruit. The same earth bears them all; the same rain waters them; the same wind blows through them, and the same sun nourishes them all. Nevertheless, the almond tree — the shaked — stands out among all its comrades in the field. Its uniqueness is in its

shkidah— from which is derives its name. Shkidah describes the zeal, devotion and vigor with which it performs its duty, and thereby precedes all its brother trees. While they are still making up their minds, it has already completed its work and it begins immediately with the goal — namely, the blossom, which produces the fruit; the whole purpose of the blossom is to produce fruit. For the sake of the fruit, the almond tree then produces its leaves.

This exquisite characterization of the Levite tribe as an almond tree reveals why it merited being the representatives of Torah and service of G-d. Only the Levites responded to Moshe’s call after the golden calf debacle, Whoever is for G-d, come to me! This is the spirit inherited by the elite of the Levi family — Aharon and his sons.

At the same time, a consoling promise is expressed here. The almond tree only precedes the others in blossoming and maturing its fruit. It leads the way before its brothers in the field, preceding them in development, but they too follow its example and bear their own fruit. Similarly, the Levites and the sons of Aharon lead the way in spiritual development and way of life, and the rest of the tribes are called upon to follow their example and attain the same spiritual level.

  • Sources: Commentary, Bamidbar 17:

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