Thursday, June 26, 2008

Korach 5635 First Ma'amar

The Zohar on this week’s parsha states that the world can only exist when there is peace in the Creation. What is “peace in the Creation?” What is so important about peace that the world’s very existence is contingent upon it?

To answer these questions we first need to define peace. According to the Sfas Emes peace and unity are synonymous. The opposite of peace is separation and disparateness. Before the Creation, there was only the unity of God. In fact, the Sfas Emes defines creation as disparateness. It is what God created. But how can this be? As some Rishonim have asked, How is the existence of disparateness – implying outside of God – possible?

The answer, the Sfas Emes teaches, is that disparateness only implies “outside of God” if each creation has an autonomous existence. Each creation, though, is just a manifestation of God’s will. There is unity – and therefore peace – in the Creation when each component of it is fulfilling God’s will with no ulterior personal motives. The Sfas Emes understands this from Chazal’s explanation of the pasuk in Iyov (25:2) “... עֹשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם בִּמְרוֹמָיו/… He makes peace in His high places.” Chazal explain that the spiritual entity governing water and that governing fire make peace and work together in order to fulfill the will of God. Even though fire and water are opposites, they are united in fulfilling God’s will. Paradoxically, they are at peace with each other.

The very first time the entire Creation worked as one to fulfill God’s will, was at the completion of the Creation on the first Shabbos. In this sense, the system that we call Creation was at peace. We learn this concept from the Zohar in this week’s parsha which states that in order for the Creation to continue to exist, God introduced peace into it. How? By creating Shabbos.

The righteous as well, by subordinating their personal desires in favor of God’s, are proliferating peace in the world thereby sustaining it. Shabbos represents the ultimate tool for subordinating our desires in favor of God’s since the essence of Shabbos is refraining from physically creative activity. We thus subordinate ourselves to God. As we’ve said, this is the very definition of peace.

This concept gives us a deep understanding of a Midrash in this week’s parsha that explains Korach’s sin. The Midrash cites a pasuk in Mishlei (18:19) “אָח נִפְשָׁע מִקִּרְיַת־עֹז .../A criminal brother (who destroys) a city of strength …”[1] The criminal brother is Korach. The word עֹז/strength, the Midrash tells us, refers to the Torah as in the pasuk from Tehillim (29:11), “ה' עֹז לְעַמּוֹ יִתֵּן ה' יְבָרֵךְ אֶת־עַמּוֹ בַשָּׁלוֹם/God will give strength to His nation; God will bless His nation with peace.” The Targum as well, translates the pasuk as, “God will give the Torah to His nation …”. The Midrash says that Korach committed a crime against the Torah.

Korach wanted to be the high priest. He wanted the opportunity to serve God as best he thought he could. Korach, however, was not completely altruistic. It is true that he wanted to serve God better, and that’s commendable and noble. But since his motives were selfish as well, he was not promoting peace; he was fighting it. This is why the Zohar tells us that Korach fought against peace.

What crime did Korach commit against the Torah, though? From what we’ve seen, his crime was against peace. The Sfas Emes learns the answer from the pasuk in Mishlei that the Midrash cites. In order to understand the pasuk though, we first need to know that the Torah is the embodiment of God’s will in the Creation and through it the world exists. Chazal teach that God created the world with the Torah. It is the source of the Creation and as the source, represents the unity of the Creation.

When we express our subordination to God’s will by keeping Shabbos, thus spreading peace in the world, the entire Creation is elevated towards the source, the Torah. Shabbos and peace, then, lead towards the Torah.

The pasuk is very exact. עֹז/Strength refers to the Torah. קִרְיַת־עֹז/City of strength, the Sfas Emes explains, refers to Shabbos and peace. Just as the city is the mechanism for cultivating and projecting strength, so too, Shabbos and peace are the mechanisms for cultivating and projecting the Torah. They are the preparations for the Torah, the projection of God’s will in this world. By fighting peace, Korach was ultimately against the Torah as well.

Korach’s argument with Moshe Rabbeinu, noble as it was in terms of his wanting to serve God better, was doomed because his motives were selfish. In Avos we learn that an argument whose motives are completely altruistic will survive. This is because each side of the argument is a pure expression of God’s will, just as each disparate component of the Creation is a pure manifestation of God’s will. This is why we still mention Shamai’s views in his arguments with Hillel. Shamai was totally altruistic. As such, his views are a pure manifestation of God’s will to the same extent as Hillel’s views. Even though they argued, they were united and brought peace to the world.

We learn from this some very practical advice. When there is an argument, unless it is completely altruistic, it is doomed. If it is completely altruistic, it is an expression of God’s will and will always lead to peace and unity. If we want to grow in serving God and our motives are not totally altruistic, we cannot be involved in argument.

If Korach were completely altruistic, he would have realized his mistake and he would have changed his tune. Since his motives were selfish, he did not realize his mistake and did not change his mind. His fate was sealed and he lost everything.

[1] Translation according to Rashi ad loc. The simple translation though is, “(Better) a criminal brother than a city of strength.”

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