Making a Difference
By Rabbi Pinchas Avruch
As Korach's challenge to Moshe reached its crescendo, with all parties
prepared to offer incense - G-d's dearest form of service - on the morrow,
Moshe beseeched G-d not to be swayed by the sweetness of the offering of
Korach's followers. "This [Dasan and Aviram's refusal to respond to Moshe's
overtures for peace] distressed Moshe greatly, and he said to G-d, 'Do not
turn to their gift-offering!'" (Bamidbar/Numbers 16:15) Moshe was concerned
that Divine acceptance of the rebels' incense offering would vindicate their
Why did Moshe give this service any consideration? The incense to be offered
was unsanctioned, a form of service that brought death to Aaron's sons,
Nadav and Avihu (see Vayikra/Leviticus 10:1-2). Surely a similar fate
awaited these men; Moshe even warned them of such a consequence.
Furthermore, the service was to be performed as a step in the challenge to
G-d's command to the Jewish nation to follow the leadership of Moshe as the
political leader and chief prophet of the Children of Israel. Moshe himself
had declared that this would be the test to disprove the veracity of
Korach's claim. Why was Moshe concerned that this empty, deceitful service
would have any consequence?
The Alter of Kelm (Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv; 1824 - 1898; Of the three
leading students of Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, founder of the Mussar movement,
Rabbi Ziv was the one who Rabbi Salanter expected to carry on the movement;
he shunned positions and titles and devoted his life to Rabbi Salanter's
teachings) explains that this episode reveals the awesome powers contained
within the sincere service of G-d, whether the sacrificial order of old or
contemporary prayer services. Moshe realized that even their service could
be accepted, thereby effectively validating their rejection of Moshe and the
Torah, a step that Moshe feared would serve to negate the authority of the
Torah (Heaven forbid). By extension, WE possess the awesome power harnessed
in our prayers for the salvation of the Jewish nation. True, we continue to
be mired in our Exile, but the number of challenges avoided and trials
rescinded as a result of our prayers is incalculable.
Rabbi Yechezkel Sarna (1890 - 1969; successor to Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel
[Alter of Slabodka] as the spiritual mentor of the Slabodka Yeshiva; moved
the Yeshiva from Europe to Chevron in 1925 and, following the 1929 Chevron
Massacre, to Jerusalem; later assumed position of Rosh HaYeshiva/Dean)
similarly questions those who believe that their prayers fall on "deaf ears"
and are ignored. Granted we have yet to witness the ultimate redemption, but
we cannot begin to estimate, posits Rabbi Sarna, how many otherwise harsher
decrees have been softened by the tearful supplications of G-d's children.
On the other side, Rambam (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon/Maimonides) states in the
Laws of Fasts: "One who does not cry out [for Divine mercy on a fast day]
displays his cruel nature." Rabbi Sarna notes that the non-supplicant is not
called "evil", but "cruel". When a person finds himself in a situation of
challenge for which there appears to be no natural course of resolution, his
estimation of the situation awakens his heart and stirs him to cry out to
G-d with all of his heart and soul. Because the distress touches him or his
loved one, he genuinely appreciates that he has no one upon whom he can rely
other than G-d in heaven. If, indeed, he would react this same way for
communal challenges just as he does for personal challenges, the outpouring
would most certainly originate in the depths of his soul. To not identify
with the communal need on a personal level - to lack the genuine sense of
identification with his "brother's" pain - is to possess a lack of
sensitivity akin to cruelty.
We look at the problems in the world around us - the butchery of civil wars
in Africa, the carnage of terrorism, the poor and hungry in our own cities,
the personal suffering of families in our own congregations - and we think,
we feel, we "know" that we cannot make a difference. Our teacher Moshe
feared the awesome power of a simple Jew's heartfelt, tear-filled prayer. As
we contemplate the awesome power inherent and imbedded within our spiritual
potential, we are comforted by the knowledge that we do, indeed, impact and
shape history. Whether it is a confrontation between nations halfway around
the world or a crisis faced by our next door neighbor, our prayers make all
the difference in the world.
Have a Good Shabbos!
Copyright © 2003 by Rabbi Pinchas Avruch and Project Genesis, Inc.
Kol HaKollel is a publication of the Milwaukee Kollel Center for Jewish
Studies 5007 West Keefe Avenue; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; 414-447-7999