Korach – Living with the Torah’s Weekly Portion

Korach: Sunday: From Cain to Korach

And Korach took/Vayikach Korach”… All the Torah commentaries attempt to explain what exactly it is that Korach took. The grammar-based commentaries explain that the verb lakach, the root of Vayikach/and he took, also means to die, as in the verse, “Ki lakach oto Elokim/ For G-d took him”. Based on this, we can explain that Korach took himself to die. Korach had suicidal thoughts. Consciously or subconsciously, he was looking for death. And he found it.

The Kabbalists say that the soul-root of Korach is in the soul of Cain, as opposed to Moses, who is mainly connected to Abel. The conflict that Korach instigated with Moses is basically a ‘rerun’ of Cain, who was jealous of Abel. This time, however, the screenplay is different: The ground does not open its mouth to cover the blood of Abel. Instead, it swallows up Korach-Cain.

Cain also had a propensity for depression, as we see in G-d’s words to him: “Why are you wroth? And why has your countenance fallen?” Depression begins when one feels dissatisfied with what he has and is jealous of what someone else has. This lack of inner joy eventually leads him into depression and suicidal thoughts.

As opposed to Korach, “Moses will be joyous in the gift of his portion”, as the Zohar opens the portion of Korach: “More desirable than gold and fine gold and sweeter than honey and honeycombs”. “How lofty are the words of the Torah, how dear they are, desirable Above, desirable to all”. Korach is an extremely wealthy man. He has gold and fine gold. He also has a way with words – his tongue drips with honey and honeycombs. But Moses is the most desirable and the sweetest, because he holds the Torah dear. Moses is the chosen and Korach-Cain once again has to learn the hard way to be happy with his own lot and not to envy what is not his.

(From Rabbi Ginsburgh’s shiur on 28 Sivan 5772)

Korach: Monday: The Individual Within the Collective

“And Moses was very wroth and he said to G-d, do not turn to their offering”. What offering? Rashi brings two explanations: According to the simple meaning of the verses, the offering is the incense that the congregation of Korach plans to burn. But “The Midrash says, I know that they have a part in the daily, collective, tamid offering. But their portion should not be favorably accepted by You. May the fire leave it out and not consume it.”

This is an important new concept: The collective is not just a group of individuals.  Rather, it is a body in and of itself, similar to how we differentiate in Jewish law between a public offering and an offering in which there are a number of partners. If so, it is seemingly impossible to say that in a tamid offering, which belongs to the entire collective of Israel, there is a certain portion that belongs to a certain person. Nonetheless, the Midrash says that Korach and his congregation have a certain portion in the collective tamid offering.

In other words, it is true that the collective is more than a collection of individuals – but this does not erase the individual. Within the collective, there is the “lot and portion” of each individual. Somebody of the stature of Moses, the great and esteemed leader, can see this portion. This is the secret of the king of Israel. We specifically anticipate a king, who, on one hand is a private person, while on the other hand, he represents the collective Congregation of Israel. There is one, private individual at the pinnacle of the pyramid. By maintaining his individualism, he exemplifies the fact that within the great collective, each and every individual Jew is set like a diamond. Each individual is an entire world.

(From Rabbi Ginsburgh’s book, Malchut Yisrael 2)

Korach: Tuesday: Just a Question

_“And they and all that belonged to them descended, alive, into the underworld (of the dead)_ / *she’olah*.” When Korach was alive on earth, everything was clear to him. He had no questions/she’ailot, (cognate to *she’ol*/underworld). After all, as the Sages say, “Korach was smart”, sure that he was right, with no room for questions or re-evaluation of his outlook. He is always the first to speak, and he has an answer for every question, like a tallit that is made completely of _t’chelet_ and a home that is filled with holy books, two examples that he used to try to prove his claims against Moses. (As he was extremely wealthy, Korach also did not have to resort to borrowing, _lish’ol,_ also cognate to _she’ol,_ anything from anybody)…until the earth opened its mouth and he went down, alive, into _she’ol._

Did Korach even notice that he was in _she’ol?_ It is not clear. He descended, alive, to she’ol. Perhaps even there, he continued to live, sure of himself and pleased with his wisdom – “I am right and everybody else is mistaken”.

There is, however, a way out of she’ol. As above, _she’ol_ is cognate to she’eilah/question. If you understand that you don’t know everything, if you will only cast a doubt on your perfection and start asking questions – you can rectify your situation.

In Psalms 139, King David wrote: “וְאַצִּיעָה שְּׁאוֹל הִנֶּךָּ”  _“And if I will make my bed in she’ol, here You are.”_ This verse can also be translated as: _“If I propose a question, here You are.”_ Even if you are in she’ol, if you begin to set out your questions _(she’eilah)_, G-d will reveal Himself to you. Even there, “here You are”.

The entire verse reads: “אִם אֶסַּק שָׁמַיִם שָׁם אָתָּה וְאַצִּיעָה שְּׁאוֹל הִנֶּךָּ”/ _If I ascend to the Heavens, you are there. And if I propose a question, here You are.”_ If you think that you can ascend to the Heavens _(shamayim)_ by virtue of your own wisdom, the truth will always be “over there” sham – far from you. In this case, shamayim can also be understood as the plural of sham/there. If you are flying high on your own wisdom, all that you will find up above is more distance between yourself and the Divine truth. But if you just start to question yourself and your wisdom– behold, G-d Himself is with you.

(From Rabbi Ginsburgh’s book, “Lichyot im Hazman)

Korach: Wednesday: The Secret of the Incense

Just in yesterday’s Torah portion, two hundred fifty men who came to offer incense (ketoret) died. Today, the Children of Israel complained that Moses and Aaron were responsible for “killing the Nation of G-d”, and then a plague broke out, which was halted only when Aaron offered up incense.

The ketoret has eleven different ingredients. Every holy thing has is made up of ten elements, while the number eleven aligns more with the area outside of holiness. True to form, according to the secrets of the Torah, the ingredients of the ketoret correspond to the ten “Crowns of Impurity”. These are Divine powers that  afford vitality to evil. (This vitality inspires them from above, like Surrounding Light). Above those ten ingredients of the ketoret is the eleventh, pure frankincense, which is pure Divine good. (The frankincense is also offered independent of the other ketoret ingredients, together with the showbread. In addition, our Matriarchs are called frankincense). Thus, the ketoret has tremendous power – the power of life and death…

The Torah portion that discusses the ketoret (Ki Tisah) begins with “ And G-d said to Moses, קח לך סמים/ take for you herbs”. This is reminiscent of the beginning of our current Torah portion, which starts with “ויקח קרח/ And Korach took”. Korach’s very name is made up of the two main letters kuf and cheit, which spell קח/take. And in the words ” ויקח קרח”/and Korach took, the letters  קח appear twice. The remaining letters add up to two times קח. Additionally, קח לך סמים/ take for you herbs = Korach.

Ultimately, there is a rectification for Korah, himself, as the Kabbalists hinted in the verse, “”צדיק כתמר יפרח (“A tzaddik will flourish like a date palm”). The last letters of each of those three words in Hebrew spell out Korach. Just as the date palm transforms bitter waters to sweet fruit, so the bitterness of Korach will be sweetened.

(From Rabbi Ginsburgh’s book, Sha’ashuim Kol Yom)

 

Korach: Thursday: The Staff of Aaron

Moses sets the staffs of the twelve princes of the tribes in the Tabernacle, together with the staff of Aaron. “And behold, the staff of Aaron, of the House of Levi, budded and put forth buds and it bloomed blossoms and put forth almonds”.

Every staff was once a branch of a flowering tree. When the branch is cut from the tree, it is called a shevet for as long as it has some moisture and vitality to it. The Twelve Tribes/shvatim (plural of shevet) of Israel are living branches in the tree of the Nation of  Israel. In practice, the Torah generally calls the tribes matot. A mateh (singular form of matot) is a staff that has dried out and seems to be dead. Only Aaron’s staff retains some moisture, some inner vitality, which reawakens to life and blossoms when it is in the Holy of Holies.

The staff of Aaron represents the entire tribe of Levi. Levi means ‘accompaniment’, alluding to connection, as Leah says, “Now my husband will connect (yelaveh/cognate to Levi) to me”. Levi is connected to Divine vitality even when, on the outside, he looks dry. (Levi/לוי  is an acronym for moist/לח and dry/יובש). But the tribe of Levi does not remain alone. Moses placed it “inside” the other tibes. Levi is in the middle of all the tribes, giving life to all the Tribes of Israel. In effect. Levi represents the Divinity in all of Israel. Additionally, the numerical value of Levi = Eloki (Divine), similar to “The man of G-d”, which was especially said about Moses, who was from the tribe of Levi).

We can explain the phenomenon of Aaron’s staff blossoming in the style of the Ba’al Shem Tov: The staff of Aaron is the point of ayin/nothingness. This is the point of inner truth, “the middle lock that locks from end to end” and ascends to receive inspiration at the “height of all heights” – literally until the Divine ayin.

(From Rabbi Ginsburgh’s article, Shevet Mi’Yehudah)

Korach: Friday: Service that is a Gift

Service that is a gift(avodat matanah) I will give your priesthood, and the outsider who draws near shall be put to death.” The Alter Rebbe in his book, the Tanya says that there is a love of G-d that every person can and must awaken in his heart, “And you shall love Havayah your G-d”, by means of contemplation on the greatness of G-d. (As it says in the verse that precedes “And you shall love”: ‘Shema Yisrael…Hashem echad’), or by contemplating on G-d’s love for us. This is a love that we awaken from below to Above.

The Alter Rebbe goes on to say that there is another kind of love: -“Great love of delights”, which is purely a gift from G-d, coming from Above to below. This is the “service that is a gift” – service of G-d that is a gift from Above. Whoever merits this gift, does everything with delight in G-d, feeling that it is the most pleasurable thing that he could ever do. He thoroughly detests evil (as is the Tanya’s definition of a ‘complete tzaddik’).

Let us return to the simple meaning of the verse: In the Talmud it is explained that there are two types of service of the Priests in the Temple: Avodat matanah/Service of giving and Avodat siluk/service of removing, taking something away. ‘Service of giving’ includes most of the service of the offerings, in which something is given on the altar. ‘Service of removing’ includes the ‘trumat hadeshen’, when something is removed from the altar. Thus, there is no death penalty for a non-priest who performs the service of removing, as the verse specifically says that the death penalty pertains only to a non-priest who performs the service of giving (avodat matanah).

From here we can learn that the main point of service of G-d is giving, by employing the trait of lovingkindness. “There is no service like the service motivated by love”. The blemish of the trait of lovingkindness is when a person wishes to remove – to take things – while finding it difficult to give. A healthy Jewish soul gives happily – “Whoever gives, gives with a good eye”.

Here we have two inner explanations for “avodat matanah”:

  1. Service of G-d that is a gift, such as Love of Delights.
  2. Giving with no trace of miserliness.

These two explanations are connected. True giving comes naturally and pleasurably, with the feeling that giving charity and performing acts of lovingkindness are the greatest pleasures in life.

(From Rabbi Ginsburgh’s shiur from 13 Av 5769)

Korach: Shabbat: The Very Best

Our Torah portion ends with the mitzvot of the gifts to the Kohanim. The mitzvah to give from the most choice and beautiful produce. In the mitzvah of separating Trumah Gedolah, the Torah says, “ All the best of the oil and all the best of the wine and the corn”. For the mitzvah of the Levites to separate Trumat Ma’aser for the Kohanim, the Torah says, “From all your gifts you shall separate that which you separate before G-d, of all the choicest… It is a mitzvah to give from the best and it is forbidden to give from the inferior. (According to the Ramban, these are two of the 613 mitzvot of the Torah).

The Rambam, at the end of the laws of what is forbidden on the altar, writes: “He who wants to bring merit to himself, should restrain his evil inclination and broaden his hand and bring his offering from the most beautiful and finest of the product that he is bringing. For it says in the Torah, ‘and Able also brought from the best of his flocks and from their choicest and G-d turned to Abel and his offering.’ This applies to everything that we do or give in the Name of the Good G-d. It must be from the very best. If one built a house of prayer, it must be nicer than the house in which he lives. If he is feeding a hungry person, he must give him from the best and sweetest items on his table. If he is covering the bare, he must cover it from the nicest of his coverings. If he set something aside to be holy, he must said aside the nicest of his property. As it says, “All the choicest for G-d”.’ There is nothing to add after these clear words.

The Torah portion of Korach begins with the words, “And Korach the son of Yitzhar took”. Toward the end of this portion, it says, “All the best of the yitzhar/oil”. Actually Korach is the “best of the yitzhar”. But that is exactly his problem. He keeps the pleasure for himself. This is the pleasure at the foundation of the tribe of Levi, as Leah says, “This time my husband will connect/yelaveh, cognate to Levi, to me (intimate relations with pleasure). Korach does not understand that he must restrain his evil inclination and give the pleasure to G-d (This is what Cain did not do in the same manner as Abel, who gave the best of his sheep to G-d).

In the powers of the soul, pleasure is very lofty. It simmers and permeates all the powers (like fat oil) and is even loftier than will. But it is possible to become addicted to pleasure. We must give the very best to G-d. We must give pleasure itself to G-d. How? By understanding that even loftier than pleasure is the power of faith.

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