Thursday, June 14, 2007

Korach and the Rebbe Reb Zusha: Opposite Ends of the Spectrum

Rabino Yissocher Frand

Korach and his followers met a most tragic and unique fate following their abortive attempt to overthrow the leadership of Moshe Rabbeinu: "...the ground that was under them split open. The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households, and all the people who were withKorach, and all their possessions." [Bamidbar 16:31-32]

The general rule or presumption is that the Almighty administers punishment in a "measure for measure" fashion. What significance is there to the fact that the earth swallowed up the people who sided with Korach? Where is the "measure for measure" aspect of that punishment?
At the very beginning of the Parsha, Rashi comments on a point that bothers all commentaries: What is the meaning of the opening words: "And Korach took" (vaYikach Korach)? What did Korach take? Rashi's approach is that Korach took himself off to one side, to be separate from the assemblyof Israel by raising objections regarding the priesthood.
Rashi is pointing out that the first step in any communal dispute is when one party literally "takes himself to one side" -– he separates himself from the rest of the community. He denies the unity of the "tzibur" [community]. As a result of this "striking out on one's own", everything else follows naturally. Inevitably, the next step will be something akin to "he was jealous regarding the fact that Elizaphon was appointed the Prince of the Tribe of Levi."
Korach was bothered by the fact that he -– the eldest of the second son of Kehas (Yitzhar) -– was passed over for this prestigious job. He reasoned that the oldest son of Kehas (Amram) had two sons (Moshe and Aharon) who played major leadership roles in Klal Yisrael. It was only fair that Korach was next in line for the third leadership position in the tribe -– that of being prince. Instead, the role of Prince of Levi was given to the son of Kehas' third son (Uziel) – Elizaphan.
Once one fails to see himself as part of the tzibur, one becomes bothered by other people's roles. If there is a sense of unity and community, it really does not make a difference "which role I perform and which role you perform", as long as the job gets done.
Once, however, a person "takes himself to one side", stepping out of the tzibur, it bothers him who is going to be the key player. If I'm NOT a team player, then MY role takes on extreme importance.
To appreciate the contrast between the two ends of the spectrum we should contrast Korach's attitude with that of the Rebbe Reb Zusha. The Rebbe Reb Zusha was once asked if he would have liked to trade places with Avraham Avinu. He responded: "What difference would it make? The bottom line is that the Almighty would still only have one Avraham Avinu and one Reb Zusha? In the final analysis, the world would have been no better or worse. Things would be exactly the same whether I was Avraham and he was Zusha or I am Zusha and he is Avraham."
This is a far cry from Korach. For Korach, it was vital that HE be the star. He wanted to be the Prince because he did not have a sense of community.
Rabbi Zev Leff explains that if this is the understanding of Korach's sin, it makes perfect sense why his punishment was that the ground split apart.
What would happen to the earth if every grain of sand was not together, but separate? We would all sink into the earth. What makes the earth Terra Firma is that the ground sticks together. The fact that the sand and earth all combine together gives the earth its strength. If every grain of sand would separate, we would be left with one big sinkhole.
Korach's "measure for measure" punishment was the lesson of what happens when individuals separate from one another when they should be joined together. Together there is strength. Separated, we are all just bits of sand.

The Need To Preserve The Staff of Aharon

The Torah says that after the dispute of Korach, the symbol that the Almighty established to prove that Aharon and his descendants were His choice to be the priests was the Staff of Aharon. G-d made a miracle such that this staff sprouted almonds. This finally concluded the rebellion of Korach and allowed peace to be restored to Israel.
The Rambam writes: "There was a stone in the western side of the Holy of Holies upon which the Aron [Ark] rested. In front of it was the (memorial) jug of Mann and the Staff of Aharon. At the time King Solomon built the Bais HaMikdash [Temple], he knew that eventually the Bais HaMikdash would be destroyed, so he built a secret compartment in deep underground chambers. King Yoshiyahu commanded that the Aron be hid in the place that Shlomo prepared, as it is written... and they hid together with it the staff of Aharon, the jug of Mann, and the oil of anointing. None of thesethings returned at the time of the second temple..." [Hilchos Beis HaBechira 4:1]
The four things (the Aron, the Mann, the oil, and Aharon's staff) are preserved until this very day.
These are items that the nation of Israel needs for all eternity. If we were to take a poll and ask "What should be saved from the First Bais HaMikdash for all eternity -– The Staff of Moshe or the Staff of Aharon," I'm sure the response would be "The Staff of Moshe."
Moshe's staff was used to split the sea and to perform the miracles and plagues in Egypt. This is the staff that gave Klal Yisrael their freedom! Why is it that the staff that did all the miracles was not preserved, and yet the Staff of Aharon with which just one significant event occurred was preserved for all eternity?
The Mikdash Mordechai suggests that the Staff of Moshe was the staff of miracles. Miracles are significant but not crucial for the future of the Jewish people. The Staff of Aharon is the staff that brought peace to the Jewish people (following the Korach rebellion). Peace is needed until the end of time. Somehow or another, we will be able to exist without the Staff of Moshe and the miracles it represented. But there is something that Klal Yisrael cannot do without. It cannot do without Shalom [peace]. The instrument that brings Shalom must be preserved for all eternity.