Originally published June 2012.
Parshas Korach follows a structure very similar to last week’s. The Torah presents a historical narrative, laying out the choices made by individuals and the nation and their ramifications. Following this in shishi (ch. 18), the end of the parshah lists various mitzvos.
We’ve discussed in the past the idea that the definitions of the weekly parshah are imbued with deeper meaning. In our parshah, the mitzvos given at the end of the story of Korach and his crew are a tikkun. Their presentation here, following the story of korach, tells us about their effect on our souls middos, behaviour etc.
The Torah states that only Cohanim may take part in the temple service, and the Levites must aid Kehunah. The people must give gifts to the Kehunah from all aspects of and productivity, namely agriculture, and livestock. In all our endeavours we must make the temple, represented by the Cohen, the centre of our lives.
When Korach, a Levi, attempted to usurp the Kehunah, he destroyed this Seder. The mitzvos of the parshah come to put the relationship between Cohen, Levi, and Am back in order.
An Unlikely Alliance
Korach’s main target was the Kehunah Gedolah. His thrust against Moshe may have merely been ancillary to his true goal. His co-conspirators Dasan and Aviram were much more radical. They moved to set Klal Yisroel back onto its pre-cheit-haegel footing, to return the temple authority to the firstborns, like themselves. It’s a wonder that such disparate individuals could unite.
Korach was a mastermind, but he wasn’t a popular leader. he sat back behind the scenes orchestrating events for his benefit. He was also an extremely wealthy man. Chazal call his richers “wealth which it’s master keeps to his own detriment”. He acquired this great wealth in Egypt, having stumbled upon one third of Yosef’s treasury – a full third of the world’s wealth! The Maharshah’s commentary explains that only a fool would go up against someone like Moshe Rabbeinu, the greatest prophet of all time. Despite his genuine Torah acheivement, Korach’s wealth, talent and genius clouded his mind and warped his perceptions of reality.
Korach and his men were swiftly punished, swallowed up into the earth. Soon after, the people came and complained1)17:6. They were afraid, people were dying left and right and they were not sure who would be next. A plague ripped through the camp, punishment for their lack of faith – the people themselves were affected; like Korach, they had lost their clarity,
How did this happen? how did the people fall for Korach and his swan song?
According to Ramban, the entire book of Bamidbar is about the transition from dependent existence in the desert, complete with open miracles and supernatural sustenance, to true independence in the Land of Israel. As part of the people’s development towards this state of maturity, their souls began to awaken and their latent desire for independence sprouted.
Every parent wants their children to become thriving, independent human beings. In those instances when a parent overrides their child’s volition, it is in order to give them greater independence in the future. so it was with Klal Yisroel. Hashem raised us in the desert, but from now on, He took his hands off the reins and allowed us to make our own mistakes. Over the course of the first half of sefer Bamidbar, Klal Yisroel has noticed that things were not proceeding as smoothly as they had done before. Rather than looking inward, they sought out a scapegoat, and found one in the person of their leader, Moshe.
This explains why the parshah ends with a focus on the relationship between the Cohen and the people. Klal Yisroel had lost trust in their system of governance, and needed these mitzvos to be mechazeik their social order.
Kedushah and Tahara
The sfarim write that Cohen functions to bring the holy down into our world, and to sanctify. Levi, by contrast functions to raise the mundane up and to purify. Cohen is called Chessed/the Right, Levi Din, the Left. The avodah of the Levi is called simply “Avodah,” whereas the Cohen’s avodah is called “Avodas Mattanah”. The Levi’s reward is called “exchange” and the Cohen’s “gift”. Levi’s role in Klal Yisroel is different from Cohen’s. The levi’s work is just that – a job. He does what he needs to do, and that is the concept of din. The cohen’s mattanah is commensurate to his chessed, his giving in avodah, as he brings Hashem’s chessed and shefa down into this world. Kedushah elevates the physical world and makes it holy. Levi’s avodah levates the physical by properly utilizing it in the service of Hashem, everything in it’s exactly proper measure. The tzaddik, the Cohen, he never left the mikdash, he remained in a state of kedushah. Everything which he receives is a gift, all of it made holy by coming close to him.
We are capable of acheiving a state where everything we recieve is pure pleasure, pure chessed. in that state, everything we have is brought into our avodah in simchah, in breadth of heart and selfless dedication. but in order to get there, we must focus sharply on what is demanded of us and fulfil our obligations. We can only do that if we recognize that our reward is coming. The week is avodas levi. Shabbos is avodas Cohen, avodas mattonoh.
Photo Credit: Steve Harwood
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