Friday, June 22, 2012

Korach 5636 First Ma'amar

This week's parsha relates the story of Korach's rebellion against Moshe Rabbeinu.  Korach felt that Moshe Rabbeinu was taking the leadership for himself and his family.  He also thought that the entire nation should serve in the Mishkan, not just the tribe of Levi.  He seems to have had valid points.  Why then was he and his cohorts destroyed?

Chazal[1] teach us that an argument – a machlokes – in which the sides have good intentions – for the sake of Heaven in the words of the Mishna – survives.  An argument that is not for the sake of Heaven does not survive.  The arguments of Hillel and Shamai are considered to have been for the sake of Heaven whereas Korach's argument is considered to have been not for the sake Heaven.

What exactly was Korach's mistake?  The Sfas Emes explains that there are two approaches to serving the Creator.  One approach is to serve God through justice – din.  A person can commit to rectifying all his deeds so that, on his own merits, he deserves closeness to God.  Another approach relies on the Creator's benevolence – chessed.  The one who relies on God's kindness is also held accountable for his actions.  He cannot do whatever he wants and expect God's kindness.  He also must rectify his deeds.  However, he has to rectify his deeds to the point at which he merits God's kindness even if he would not merit that closeness based on din.  He also must be able to accept God's chessed properly.  Many receive God's kindnesses and are ungrateful, become arrogant and in general do not pay homage to God.

God will relate benevolently to a person who rectifies his actions to the extent that he can merit chessed and is able to receive the chessed without becoming haughty and ungrateful.

According to Chazal[2] the first approach – through din – is only theoretical.  In practice, Chazal teach us that this world cannot exist with the pure justice approach.  "עולם חסד יבנה/The world is build upon kindness." (Tehillim 89:3)  The reason is that God created this world incomplete.  It needs outside help – help from God.

God completes the world.  That God completes the world is clearly seen through the institution of Shabbos.  Chazal[3] teach us that on Erev Shabbos at twilight the demons were created.  The demons represent the incompleteness of the world.  The demons wanted to rule the world.  Shabbos made that impossible.  Shabbos represents the spiritual aspect that completes the world.  The world is complete only by elevating all its components to their spiritual roots.  The completeness of the world made it impossible for the demons, representing incompleteness, to rule.

We see this idea in the last Mishna[4] in Shas.  The last Mishna states that the only vessel God found that would hold bracha is peace – shalom.  The Zohar tells us that Shabbos is called ShalomShalom has the same root as the word for complete – shalem.  The Sfas Emes understands that the vessel the Mishna is referring to is the world itself.  The world being incomplete cannot hold bracha.  Shabbos/Shalom completes the world and brings bracha into it.

We can now understand Korach's mistake.  Korach wanted to approach God through din.  He objected to Aharon's priesthood, which the Zohar tells us represents chessed.  He wanted the priesthood to be available to whoever merited it.  This cannot be.  Even the work of the Levites which he did merit through an aspect of din still needs chessed to survive.  The earth swallowed him up showing that din without chessed cannot exist in this world.

The arguments of Hillel and Shammai also relate to din and chessed.  Chazal[5] tell us that we rule in favor of Hillel because Shammai's rulings were based more on din whereas Hillel and his following showed more lenience.  Why then are the arguments of Shammai cited at all?  They should not survive either.  Chazal[6] teach us that even though the school of Shammai prohibited certain marriages, they permitted their children to marry the children of the school of Hillel.  This was an incredible concession and shows that Shammai, too, recognized the need to include chessed in their behavior and rulings.  This is the reason we still quote Shammai's rulings.

The Sfas Emes teaches that we must rely on the Creator's benevolence in order to approach and experience Him.  Still, we need to earn, in a manner of speaking, that benevolence through our actions and by knowing to appreciate it.

[1] Avos 5:17
[2] Cited in Rashi, Breishis 1:1 sv Bara E-lohim, also viz. Breishis R. 12:15
[3] Zohar 1:14a Introduction, 1:178a
[4] Uktzin 3:12
[5] Eiruvin 13b
[6] Yevamos 13b

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