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Wednesday
Jun172015

CONNECTING TO MOSHE

 

KORACH’S TRICK QUESTIONS
Korach started a rebellion against his cousin Moshe. He argued that Moshe had arrogated to himself and his brother Aaron the twin powers of leader and high-priest, respectively. Korach claimed that was unjustified as all Jews were equal and each one had G-d in them. “Why do you exalt yourselves above all of them?”

 

The Midrash relates that Korach then posed two “trick questions” to Moshe hoping to elicit a response that would force Moshe to accept the premise of his argument.

The first challenge was: Does a Tallis made entirely out of t’cheiles-blue dyed wool need tzitzis, the fringes that are required on a four cornered garment, also made of t’cheiles? Korach anticipated Moshe would answer “absolutely not;” it would be redundant to insert fringes made of t’cheiles in a garment made entirely out of t’cheiles. At that point, Korach planned to tell Moshe: “You are the superfluous tzitzis. The entire nation is holy, why do they need a representative who is merely a small fringe of the nation?”

Moshe, unexpectedly, answered that a Tallis made entirely out of t’cheiles did indeed need to have fringes of t’cheiles inserted in it!

Korach then fell back on Plan B. “Does a house filled with Torah scrolls need a Mezuzah?” Here too, Korach anticipated Moshe would answer that it obviously does not need a Mezuzah. As before, Korach hoped to use this to establish that a holy people, likened to a house filled with Torah scrolls, did not need a leader. Here too, Moshe surprised Korach by stating that it, indeed, needed a Mezuzah.

Commentators raise the question: didn’t Moshe’s response to the first challenge suggest that Moshe would not go along with Korach’s argument that the leaders were superfluous? Why then did Korach raise the second challenge after he already heard Moshe’s response to the first? Aren’t both examples—the garment made entirely out of t’cheiles and the house filled with Torah scrolls—identical metaphors?

TWO ARGUMENTS

In truth, the two arguments posed by Korach were intended for Aaron and Moshe, respectively. Korach’s challenge was directed at the two distinct forms of leadership they represented.

Korach’s first disagreement was about the promotion of Aaron to the High Priesthood. The High Priest can be likened to t’cheiles. The root of this word is connected to another Hebrew word which denotes the most passionate love for G-d and for others. When Aaron lit the Menorah of seven branches, his heart was aflame with love. With his unbridled passion he also kindled the souls of all seven emotional classes of Jews, leading them to a state of t’cheiles, passion for G-d.  

Korach’s argument was that each and every Jew possesses a holy soul, which is naturally drawn to G-d, and did not need an Aaron to ignite their spark.

AARON DID NOT CHANGE!

Korach was wrong. Aaron’s distinction was not only that his passion for G-d was far more intense than the rest of the nation, but his passion was unwavering. While most people experience ups and downs in their spiritual life, Aaron’s passion for G-d was consistently intense.

In an earlier parsha, where the Torah relates the command to Aaron that he light the Menorah, the Torah states: “Aaron did so.” Rashi comments that “this tells the praise of Aaron that he did not deviate [from G-d’s command.]” Commentators are puzzled by this statement. Who would have thought that Aaron, of all people, would consider deviating from G-d’s command?

However, the literal reading of that phrase is that “he did not change.” This suggests that his greatness was not that he followed the command, but that his level of passion for G-d, represented by the lighting of the flames of the Menorah, was constant. He did not change. He did not experience periods when his love was suppressed.

Thus, Aaron, who did not experience the normal emotional fluctuations in terms of his love for G-d, was the only one eminently qualified to kindle the flames of all other Jews.

WHOSE TORAH IS IT?

After Korach heard Moshe’s justification for choosing Aaron as a High Priest, he tried to delegitimize Moshe’s role as leader. Moshe’s leadership derived primarily from his role in transmitting the Torah to the Jewish people. Korach, therefore, contended that knowledge does not belong to the teacher. The teacher is merely the conduit through whom the knowledge—which is G-d’s—flows to the people. No one has a right to claim that Torah is his more than anyone else’s.

Indeed, according to the Midrash, one of the reasons the Torah was given in a desert was to impress upon us the lesson that Torah belongs to no one in particular. Everyone is capable of receiving the Torah.

Korach therefore argued that the Jewish people are a nation imbued with the knowledge of Torah; every Jew could be likened to a house filled with Torah scrolls. What then gives Moshe the right to place himself as a Mezuzah on their doorposts, implying that the Torah was his private domain? What gave Moshe the right, Korach argued, to place his imprimatur on the nation’s Torah?

Korach’s argument was that even if we conclude that we must depend on Aaron to arouse our passion for G-d, we do not need a Moshe to expose us to the wisdom of Torah. There is a qualitative difference between igniting the passion of a deadened soul or awakening a hitherto dormant emotion and using our intellect for learning. While we might need a fringe of t’cheiles on our garments, we do not need a Mezuzah on our doorposts, Korach contended.  

While Korach certainly acknowledged that Moshe was superior in knowledge to all others, Moshe still had no right to consider the Torah his own. He also had no right to withhold any of it because it is G-d’s gift to the entire Jewish nation. Korach might even have been willing to concede that Moshe deserved great respect for his job of teaching Torah to the Jewish nation and for his superior intellect and spirituality; but that is a far cry from implying that he was the proprietor of the Torah. Would a mailman who delivers important documents consider the mail to be his own and take credit for it? His job is exclusively to deliver it from the sender to the recipient.

G-D’S TORAH AND MOSHE’S TORAH

Of course, Korach was wrong in regard to Moshe as well. The Torah makes it clear that it is named after Moshe, as it says: “The Torah Moshe commanded us is an inheritance for the assembly of Jacob.” The prophet also states: “Remember the Torah of My servant Moshe.” While every Jew is an heir to the Torah, Moshe is associated with it to an unparalleled degree.

To understand Moshe’s unique relationship to the Torah, we must first understand the difference between Torah and all other forms of wisdom. Torah is not just wisdom; it is an otherworldly wisdom. Torah is not a product of human intelligence. Torah is G-d’s wisdom. As Maimonides writes, “G-d and His wisdom are one.” It is impossible to separate G-d from His wisdom, Maimonides argues, for that would suggest that G-d is a composite of Himself and His wisdom. This would contradict the most fundamental belief in G-d’s absolute unity.

How does a mortal being master the Divine wisdom of Torah? If Torah is Divine it is, by definition, infinite and beyond the finite capacity of a human mind, no matter how great and brilliant.

The answer is that it can happen only when a person is self-effacing and has no ego; only then can one become receptive to the Divine element of Torah. And since there are differing degrees of humility and ego, our ability to genuinely master the Divinity of Torah is in inverse proportion to the state of our egos.

Moshe, the Torah testifies, was the most humble person ever to inhabit the earth. His humility permeated every fiber of his being and was constant. There were no fluctuations in his humble demeanor. Moshe, therefore, was the only one who was able to acquire total and unequivocal mastery of the Torah in all its Divine grandeur. Moshe was the ultimate Mezuzah-symbol of Torah mastery.

And when we attach the Moshe-Mezuzah to our homes, and recognize that he instills within us the power of receptivity to the Torah, we too become Torah personalities. When we unearth the spark of Moshe within us and the power of self-abnegation it possesses we too can call the Torah our own. Without our connection to Moshe, our connection to Torah will be inherently deficient.

THE RETURN OF MOSHE AND AARON

Our Sages tell us (Talmud, Yoma 5b) that with the coming of Moshiach, Moshe and Aaron will also return. In addition to the literal meaning of “return” (they will be resurrected even before the general period of Resurrection of the Dead occurs), it also suggests that our preparation for the Messianic Era requires us to connect to the ideals of Moshe and Aaron.

In the spirit of Aaron, we must ignite our souls’ passion for G-d and the souls of other Jews, especially those who are unaware that they have a Divine soul.

We must also approach Torah as Divine wisdom and master it by connecting to the self-effacing and egoless approach of Moshe and the Moshiach of our generation!

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