Torah Weekly - Parshat Korach
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Korach, Datan and Aviram, and 250 leaders of Israel rebel against the authority of Moshe and Aharon. The rebellion results in their being swallowed by the earth. Many resent their death, and blame Moshe. Hashem's "anger" is manifest by a plague which besets the nation, and many thousands perish. Moshe intercedes once again for the people: He instructs Aharon to atone for them and the plague stops. Then Hashem commands that staffs, each inscribed with the name of one of the tribes, be placed in the Mishkan. In the morning the staff of Levi, bearing Aharon's name, sprouts, buds, blossoms and yields ripe almonds. This provides Divine confirmation that Levi's Tribe is chosen for Priesthood and verifies Aharon's position as kohen gadol, High Priest. The specific duties of the levi'im and kohanim are stated. The kohanim were not to be landowners, but were to receive their sustenance from the tithes and other mandated gifts brought by the people. Also taught in this week's Parsha are laws of the first fruits, redemption of the firstborn, and other offerings.
"And Korach took..." (16:1)
Nothing is more desired or desirable in this world than peace. And yet nothing seems more elusive. All people want peace. Everyone wants to sit under his fig tree, secure that no one will come and take away his family, his house or his possessions. And yet almost since the beginning of time, peace has been the most elusive dream of mankind. Why is world peace such a difficult, a seemingly impossible, thing to achieve?
If there's one Hebrew word that everyone knows, it's shalom - peace. However, shalom has another function in Hebrew: It is also the Jewish (and Arab) form of greeting.
The Talmud tells us that Shalom is one of G-d's names, and thus it is forbidden to wish someone "Shalom" in a bathhouse. Why should we greet each other with "Shalom," which is one of G-d's names? Why don't we just say "Hi!"
Shalom means "perfection," "completion." This world is a creation which is inherently lacking. That's the way it's meant to be. The whole purpose of this world is to be a place which strives to arrive beyond itself.
The word for "earth" in Hebrew is aretz which comes from the root rutz - "to run." This world is always running, moving towards its completion - but it can never complete itself. Its completion can only come from outside itself. It can only come from Above. The word for "Heaven" in Hebrew is shamayim. This can also be pronounced shamim - the plural of the word "there." This world is always "running" to "there" - outside and beyond itself.
This world contains many wonderful things - truth, kindness, love, mercy - but perfection isn't one of them. And that is why Hashem's name is Shalom, Perfection. Hashem is the Perfection of all the lacking of this world. Only Hashem can bring this world to its ultimate "there."
What does this all have to do with this week's Torah portion?
The Midrash tells of a bizarre encounter between Moshe and Korach:
Korach took 250 Jewish leaders and dressed them in four-cornered garments colored all in techelet blue. They stood in front of Moshe and asked: "Does a four-cornered garment all of techelet blue require tzitzit-fringes, or is it exempt?" Moshe replied "It requires tzitzit." They began to laugh at him. "If one thread of techelet can exempt a four-cornered garment of any other color, surely a garment which is totally techelet blue should surely be able to exempt itself!
What does this strange sartorial encounter teach us?
Take a look out the window. If the sky is clear, look as far as you can into the distance. What do you see when you look to the farthest "there" that can be?
In Hebrew, that color is called Techelet. Techelet is the color we see when we look at the world without any outside interruption, without any object interposed between our eyes and infinite distance. Techelet is the color of "there."
Techelet is related to another Hebrew word with an almost identical spelling. That word is tachlit which means "end" and "purpose." Techelet is the end of sight, of all perception. Techelet is seeing all. And it is also its purpose - its tachlit.
A THREAD OF BLUE
The Torah commands that when wearing a four-cornered garment we attach four threads to each of its corners. These threads are called tzitzit. The word tzitzit is connected to the Hebrew word meaning "to peek" (l'hatzitz). At what are we peeking when we look at the tzitzit?
Three of the threads of the tzitzit are white, the fourth is supposed to be the color of techelet. The mitzva of tzitzit is a mitzva of sight. We have to see them. When we look at the blue of the tzitzit, we see a reflection of the blue of the Heavens, the blue of Shamayim, the place of all the "theres."
THE BLUE AND THE WHITE
Only one of the strands of the tzitzit, however, is blue; the other three are white.
If the end of all sight is the color blue, the beginning of all sight is white. Take the three primary colors, red, green and blue, and paint them on a wheel. Spin the wheel and what will you see? White. White is the root of all color, where seeing begins.
White is the beginning of sight; techelet is the end, the purpose, of sight.
The world view of Korach was: "We have the technology" within ourselves to perfect the world. We don't need to run anywhere. This world can be Shamayim; here can be there.
Korach was the first to make the utopian mistake of thinking that within humanity is all that is needed to perfect the world.
Perfection, however, can come only from G-d. Only He who makes peace in the heights can bring peace to us and all Israel.
Shmuel I 11:14 - 12:22
This haftara contains Shmuel's chastisement, "Whose ox have I taken, or whose donkey have I taken..." (12:3-4), echoing Moshe's words in this week's parsha, "Not one donkey have I taken from them." (16:15)
Another connection between this haftara and the parsha is Shmuel's lineage: Shmuel was a scion from the house of Korach, and his prominence was compared to both that of Moshe and Aharon (Tractate Rosh Hashana 25b).
The haftara begins with the nation's gathering at Gilgal to anoint King Saul and proclaim him King. However, Shmuel chastises the people for requesting a king, as it might indicate deterioration of the unique spiritual level of the nation that needed no king to live in harmony. His rebuke ends with a miracle where he calls out to G-d for rain in a mid-summer day, and a rainstorm begins.
To demonstrate G-d's "displeasure" at their desire for a king, Shmuel performs a miracle, bringing a thunderstorm in the middle of the wheat harvest. Why this particular sign?
The people didn"t see anything wrong in requesting a king, as the Torah itself commands the appointing of a monarch (Deuteronomy 17:15). Yet, the Torah commands appointing a king because a king has power to enforce law and order and to maintain observance of Jewish law. Shmuel reproached them as they were then on a very high spiritual plane, and thus they didn't need a king. On the contrary, appointing a king now might bring the secular influence of neighboring nations, as it would change Israel's unique legislative and social structure to be like that of any regular nation in the land. Appointing a king should be put off until Torah observance is lax and needs enforcement; then it is acceptable despite its negative ramifications. Shmuel demonstrated this by the rainstorm, as rain is a blessing only when it falls in season; but not in the middle of the harvest.
Written and Compiled by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair
General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
Production Design: Michael Treblow
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