Declaration of Independence
And the earth opened her mouth wide, and swallowed them up, their
houses, their tents, and all the substance that was at their feet . . ."
The posuk is not from this week's parshah, but it is obviously a review of
what happened previously, and it remains an important lesson for all
generations that is worth repeating every year. In truth, it is a theme
that runs through all of Torah, but specifically Sefer Bamidbar, since it
is this sefer that specifically deals with the preparation for life in
Eretz Yisroel. And, even more specifically, in a parshah that has already
passed, but which has much to add to the discussion.
Let us begin with analyzing the source of Korach's downfall. The Talmud
provides the following insight based upon the above posuk:
The substance that was at their feet: This refers to a man's property,
that which stands him on his feet. (Pesachim 119a)
In other words, Korach was overly independent. Independence is a good
thing, as we see from Moshe Rabbeinu who made some very important
decisions, such as the breaking of the first set of tablets, without first
consulting G-d. And, when Pinchas killed Zimri to fend off the plague, he
merited to become Eliyahu HaNavi, whereas the daughters of Tzelofchad used
their independence to be the cause of a halachah regarding the laws of
Thus, a certain amount of independence is rewarded by G-d, but too much of
it can be the source of one's downfall, as history has revealed time-and-
time-again. The trick is to know when your independence is making you more
G-dly or when it is pushing you further away from G-d. Unfortunately, many
people fail to notice the difference, and walk the plank of independence
right into the sea of self-destruction.
Fortunately, the Torah provides some excellent case studies of those
people who got it right. The foremost example was Moshe Rabbeinu, because
he was both the most charismatic of all leaders, and yet G-d Himself
called him "the humblest of all men." He was bold enough to stand up to
the entire nation that rebelled under the direction of the Spies, and
Korach and his entourage in this week's parshah, and yet he remained
However, before we even look at Moshe Rabbeinu and what it meant to
be "trustworthy in the House of G-d," we can start the lesson with his
brother, Aharon HaKohen. For, he too appears to have been very unassuming,
yet he held off the Erev Rav when they wanted to create the golden calf.
However, his decision to give the impression of participating was one that
he made completely on his own, at great risk to himself and his people.
As Moshe Rabbeinu said to him after seeing the golden calf:
Moshe asked Aharon, "What did this people do to you to make you bring so
great a sin upon them?" (Shemos 32:21)
In fact, so risky was his decision that even he wondered later on if he
had made a grave mistake, as we see at the beginning of Parashat
G-d spoke to Moshe, saying, "Speak to Aharon and say to him: When you
kindle the lamps-beha'alotecha-toward the face of the Menorah should the
seven lamps cast light." (Bamidbar 8:1)
That the flames rise upward, and expression of ascending is used, implying
that one must kindle the the lamps until the light ascends on its own.
The mitzvah to light the Menorah follows last week's parshah that ended
with the Chanukat HaMishkan, the Dedication of the Tabernacle, and Rashi
asks why. He answers that it is for Aharon HaKohen's sake, who apparently
was upset that neither he nor his tribe were amongst the princes who
brought gifts in honor of the dedication.
For, when Aharon saw that he was left out, he could only assume that it
was because of his involvement in the golden calf episode, even though he
acted completely for the sake of Heaven. Therefore, G-d told him, through
the mitzvah of lighting the Menorah that he will do in the Mishkan on a
daily basis, he will be offering a "dedication offering" continuously,
whereas that of the princes was only a one-time gift.
The question is, what was bothering Aharon HaKohen? He was a man of whom
"Is not Aharon HaLevi your brother? I know that he can speak well. Right
now he goes out towards you; when he sees you, he will be very glad."
Thus, we see that Aharon was never one to be jealous of another, but
rather, he was someone who was "rodeif shalom," a pursuer of peace,
something which is not possible when someone is subject to jealousy.
Rather, it wasn't from the dedication ceremony that Aharon felt excluded,
but from the Klal itself. For, as the Torah testifies and the Talmud
explains, the Torah was given to the entire nation as one people, as a
whole. At Mt. Sinai at the giving of Torah, we camped "k'ish echad b'leiv
echad," as a single person with a single heart, and by being left out of
the Chanukat HaMishkan, Aharon wondered if he had forfeited that privilege
as a result of his involvement in the construction of the golden calf.
In contrast to this, we have in the same parshah the account of Moshe
Rabbeinu's father-in-law, Yisro. He converted to Judaism, and Moshe
implores him to continue on with the Jewish people to Eretz Canaan, where
G-d has promised to do good for His people.
Moshe said to Chovev, Moshe's father-in-law, the son of Reuel the
Midianite, "We are journeying to the place which G-d said He would give to
us. Join us; you will benefit, for G-d has promised Israel good." He
answered him, "I will not go, but will instead return to my own land and
rela-tives." (Bamidbar 10:29-30)
However, explains Rashi, Yisro already learned that a ger does not have a
portion in the land of Israel, and therefore he decided to return back to
Midian, though he had the assurance of the Gadol HaDor that his life would
be great in Eretz Yisroel.
Ironically, while Aharon remained independent he sought to be part of the
Klal, while Yisro who was being invited to be part of the Klal, chose
independence. It is a theme that recurs in the parshah (BeHa'alotecha) on
different levels of understanding, as we shall see, b"H.
He said, "Listen to Me. To the prophets amongst you, when I appear, I
reveal Myself only in a vision, and speak in a dream. Not so with My
servant Moshe, who is the most trusted in all My house. (Bamidbar 12:6-
What does this mean? The commentators say that it means that even though
he possessed great abilities to change the situation, for example, by
splitting the sea using the Shem HaMeforesh (the Ineffable Name of G-d
that he used to kill the Egyptian), and by solving the troubles of the
Jewish people in the desert, he did not use them. Rather, he "did
everything as G-d commanded him."
Another example of this point is Yitzchak Avinu. Of course Yitzchak knew
that Ya'akov was more fitting to receive the brochot. However, there was a
law that the brochot went to the firstborn, which was Eisav. Therefore, in
spite of the fact that all of us would have rationalized why it was a
mitzvah to by-pass Eisav for Ya'akov, Yitzchak stuck to the rules of G-d,
and let Hashgochah Pratit take care of the rest.
From a Torah perspective, this is what it means to be "ne'eman." Ne'eman
means loyal to G-d and His will, in the most basic way possible. Nadav and
Avinu had only wanted to serve G-d more deeply, but in doing so they
veered from the path set out by Torah, and in the end, undid all the good
they tried to accomplish. They took advantage of their independence and
went too far, and the very love they desired to express became an
expression instead of rebellion against G-d, and thus they were killed.
Even this is alluded to in this week's parshah, but on the level of Sod.
The posuk says:
This is what is written, "There were men who were unclean by the dead body
of man (nefesh Adam)" (Bamidbar 9:6) - literally (nefesh Adam), for it is
talking about Nadav and Avihu, as Chazal write, and they were on the level
of the Nefesh of Adam HaRishon. (Sha'ar Hagilgulim, Ch. 31)
Obviously, the Nefesh of Adam HaRishon went into Nadav and Avihu for the
sake of tikun. And what had been his mistake? He acted overly independent
by taking from the forbidden fruit without G-d's permission, albeit with
the best of intentions. Thus, the same drive that pushed the first man to
try and bring rectification to the world was the same drive that pushed
Nadav and Avihu to bring their "unauthorized fire," albeit, again, for the
right reason, but the wrong "fire."
Miriam and Aharon complained about Moshe regarding the Cushite woman he
married. They said, "Does G-d speak only to Moshe? Has He not spoken also
to us?" (Bamidbar 12:1-2)
Another example was the loshon hara Miriam spoke about her brother, Moshe
Rabbeinu. Being the sister of the Gadol HaDor, the sister-in-law of his
wife, and a prophetess in her own right, she had plenty to be independent
All sin, whether well-intentioned or as the result of just plain
selfishness is really the measure of a person's willingness to live
outside the will of G-d, to depend upon himself as oppose to being
dependent on the Creator. In Miriam's case, she was only interested in the
well-being of her brother and sister-in-law, even if he happened to be the
greatest prophet that ever lived. That is why she mentioned her own level
of prophecy, as if to say, "We talk to G-d, but He does not require us to
live away from our spouses. So why then, does Moshe feel compelled to?"
Hence, G-d's answer:
"With him I speak face-to-face, while he is con-scious, and not in
riddles; he has a true vision of G-d." (Bamidbar 12:8)
In other words, G-d answered them, "As true as it is that you are both
prophets of great standing, your level of prophecy does not match that of
Moshe's, the most trusted in My house, who must be ready for prophecy at a
moment's notice. As great as you are, you have overstepped your
It is essentially the same problem that man has always struggled with, THE
man, as in Adam HaRishon: how great am I really, and what is within my
limits of serving G-d to do? Adam HaRishon had tried to subdue the K'lipos
associated with the Aitz HaDa'as, but found himself incapable, and far
more vulnerable to their attack than he was to theirs.
Much later on in history, Nadav and Avihu, in a position to truly rectify
that mistake since they had inherited the soul of Adam HaRishon, instead
carried on with the same mistake. And, Shlomo HaMelech married the
daughter of Pharaoh the very night he had presided over the inauguration
of the First Temple. At such a spiritually climactic moment, the wisest
man in history, felt capable of subduing all evil in the world and
ushering in Yemot HaMoshiach. Once again, man had been wrong.
How many times in history have great people arisen and tried to accomplish
too much, only to fall and push off the redemption for a much later time?
But not Moshe Rabbeinu, and not Aharon HaKohen. They were different, and
that is what G-d was trying to tell Aharon HaKohen in the parshah about
the Menorah. It was also the message inherent in the flame's need to
burn "independently," yet facing the middle branch that pointed towards G-
d, as if to say to Aharon HaKohen, "Don't feel left out. What the princes
brought was of their own doing, amd as a result of their own independence,
which in this case is certainly praiseworthy.
However, it can also result in a service of G-d like that of Nadav and
Avihu, or that of Korach, which is not praiseworthy, but highly
destructive. "But yours, Aharon HaKohen," the Torah says, "like the
Menorah itself, is an independence that can only exist in the framework of
what I would want," G-d says, "also like that of your brother, Moshe."
Each Jew must take a close, personal look at himself or herself, and
ask, "Am I independent enough, or am I too independent when it comes to
serving G-d?" For, the moment independence plays too much of a role from a
Torah perspective, then the service of G-d becomes, the service of oneself
Have a great Shabbos,
Text Copyright © 2006 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.