By Rabbi Dr. Meir Tamari
There is a school of thought, characterized by the Rambam, Rashi and
others that see the weaknesses, the revolts and the sins of Israel in the
desert, as the result of their slavery in Egypt. According to this school,
these were the spiritual and religious effects, both of the slavery itself
and of the immorality, idol worship and impurity of Egypt. They created a
constant struggle within the people of Israel, that sometimes they met
successfully but at others times, failed. There is another school,
however, led by the Ramban [Nachmanidies], the mystic's and the Chassidic
Masters, that views the back sliding and the weaknesses, as the result of
spiritual errors on the part of a generation that the sages had described
as one of great knowledge and merit. After all, this generation had
witnessed great miracles in Egypt and in the desert, while they had
witnessed the revelation at Mount Sinai; none of these befitted a
generation of slaves. It is in this tradition that the Master Samuel of
Sochochow followed and his treatment of Korach, is only one example of
this tradition. Simcha Bunem of Phsyscha, one of the founders of the
Chassidic school to which Sochochow belonged, referred to, "My Zeide
Korach", and saw him as a great Rebbe.
This tradition is in keeping with the decision in the Talmud, that Korach
and his congregation have a share in the World to Come (Sanhedrin, 109b).
It would seem that there is a contradiction between this decision and the
statement in the same source that one who denies that even a single word
or a single sentence in the Torah is of Divine origin, has no such share.
Korach accepted that only the Ten Commandments were spoken by G-d while
the rest of the Torah came only from Moses. The reason why he,
nevertheless, still had a share in the World to Come despite this claim,
was because he had a great spiritual desire and an inspired religiosity;
unfortunately one that he was unable to achieve.
Korach wished to correct the sins of Cain and Able, even as Moses had
done. Cain is from 'kinjan', to acquire, to purchase or to take an action,
even as Eve said at his birth, "I have acquired a man" (Bereishit, 4:1).
His trait was to act and to do religious acts with great diligence and
effort. This is an important and positive trait, as it gives one the
ability to withstand the pressures of desires, of evil or of spiritual
weakness. " A person should rise up like a lion in the service of
God"(Orech Chaim, section 1). At the same time there is the ever- present
danger of arrogance and pride in this trait, which can lead one to evil
itself. His mother, therefore, had completed the phrase whereby she named
him, by saying, "before the Lord". Cain failed to meet the challenge of
arrogance and pride. Able also had a short- coming for which he was to
die. His name comes from the root of’ hevel’, vanity and he dismissed
everything in this world as being a product of vanity and therefore
valueless. That this dismissal applied even to Divine worship and
religious acts, we see in the text, "And Able, he also brought a sacrifice
[following the example of Cain]”. Although humility and modesty are great
and desirable traits, nevertheless, they contain the root of evil. They
may be lead one to despair of everything, including the ability to serve G-
d and to achieve spiritual greatness. Such despair and depression is
fertile soil for sin and evil. While Moses had been able to preserve the
Torah balance between modesty and strength, Korach was not. Korach, by
following the way of Moses in kingship could thereby correct the faults of
Able. However, though he set out to emulate the modesty of Moses, still he
could not shield and protect himself against the arrogance of Cain;
therein lay his sin.
The Zohar tells us that, “Korach wanted to do away with the Shabbat and to
retain only the festivals". The Chagim are periods of ‘Simcha’ defined by
Simcha Bunem of Physcha as the overflowing of ecstasy and holiness. All
the festivals relate to the experience of human beings, the Children of
Israel, and therefore they have a partnership, as it were, with the
festivals. The Bet Din even determines the calendar of the year and
therefore the dates of the festivals. In the festival’s kiddush we
say, "in joy and rejoicing". In the kiddush of Shabbat on the other hand,
we read, ”in love and pleasantness”. Shabbat is a time of ‘oneg’, that is
the rejoicing of the intelligence, the mind and knowledge. Human beings
have no share in the creating of the Shabbat nor does it reflect their
experience; it is solely the evidence of the work of the Creator and His
Mercy. It is a day that is completely devoted to Torah. Korach wanted a
religion of ecstasy and spiritual experiences that did not include study,
knowledge and wisdom. Judaism is a balance between the festivals and the
Shabbat, between the fire of ecstasy and religious outpourings, and the
cool of study and knowledge. The destruction of such a balance is an
example of the faults of Korach.
When Aharon lit the Menorah for the first time the text tells us that he
did exactly what HaShem told him to do. The Berditchever Rebbe explained
why this was a praise of Aharon, even though we would expect even the
simplest person to carry out G-d’s word. However, anyone else would, in
their ecstasy and fervor, have spilt the oil, knocked over the Menorah or
done other things in their spiritual outpouring. Aharon was able to
suppress his yearnings and do exactly what he had been commanded to. That
is his praise.
The Avnei Nezer, told his son the Shem Mi Shmuel that he once saw, the
Admor of Kotsk, at prayer in privacy during Rosh HaShanah. His prayer was
without motion, in silence and in perfect isolation. It was like watching
a pillar of fire. This is the ecstasy of the mind that is the true ecstasy.
Shem Mi Shmuel, 5670.
Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Meir Tamari and Torah.org.
r. Tamari is a renowned economist, Jewish scholar, and founder of the Center For Business Ethics (www.besr.org) in Jerusalem.