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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Korach 5772 "Tradition!"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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President Woodrow Wilson was the son of a minister. His father, who was tall and very thin, would often take young Woodrow with him on his parish calls, which he made by horse and buggy.

One day, while on one such call, a parishioner asked Mr. Wilson, “Reverend, how is it that you are so thin and gaunt while your horse looks so healthy and sleek.” Without missing a beat Woodrow replied, “Because my father feeds the horse and the congregation feeds my father.”

Moshe Rabbeinu was the quintessential leader, the humblest of men, worthy to transmit G-d’s Torah to Klal Yisroel, and a lover of his people above all else. Yet throughout their forty years in the desert, Klal Yisroel repeatedly tested Moshe’s patience and questioned him.

The Torah[1] states, “Whenever Moshe would go out to the tent, the entire people would stand up and remain standing, everyone at the entrance of his tent, and they would gaze after Moshe until he arrived at the tent.” Yerushalmi[2] offers two paradoxical explanations for their “leader-gazing”. The first is that they gazed at Moshe out of admiration and respect. The second is that they would watch him and comment, “Look at his thighs, look at his knees, see how corpulent they are; it’s all from assets that he took from the Jews”. The greatest leader of all time was not spared the audacious disrespect of the nation he so lovingly and selflessly devoted himself to.

During their sojourns in the desert, time and again the nation provoked G-d, as it were. More than once G-d told Moshe that He was poised and ready to destroy the whole nation. Each time, Moshe prayed before G-d until he was able to elicit G-d’s forgiveness. It became a tragic cycle: The people sinned, G-d’s wrath was ignited, Moshe interceded on their behalf, and G-d relented. However, there was one notable exception. There was one occasion when Moshe, not only did not intercede on behalf of sinners, but uncharacteristically implored G-d to turn away from the sinners and to deal with them harshly. This was at the debacle of the rebellion of Korach.

When Korach and his assembly challenged the validity of the leadership of Moshe and Aharon, Moshe turned to G-d and pleaded, “Do not turn toward their mincha offerings.” What happened to the great defender of the Jews? It is difficult to say that the man about whom the Torah[3] states that he was the humblest of men was defending his own honor. Even in the face of such egregious sins as the golden calf, the slanderous report of the spies about Eretz Yisroel, the complaints against the manna, etc. Moshe sought the defense of Klal Yisroel. Yet in the face of a rebellion by a collection of rabble rousers Moshe was so shaken that he made an about-face and demanded that G-d decimate Korach and his cause.

Furthermore, why did he call on G-d to exact retribution against Korach in a supernatural manner? (16:28-30) “And Moshe said with this you will know that Hashem has sent me to perform everything that I have done, and that it was not from my own heart. If these men will die like all other men and what transpires to all men transpires to them, then G-d has not sent me. But if G-d will create a new creation and the earth will open its mouth and swallow them and all that is theirs and they will go down to their grave alive then you will know that these men have ignited the fury of G-d.” Why did Moshe not only not defend them but also seek supernatural intervention in their downfall?

The Malbim explains that the rebellion of Korach presented a more insidious threat to the posterity of Klal Yisroel as a nation than any other sin in the desert. Korach posed a challenge to the foundation of belief and compliance to Torah and mitzvos of that generation and all of their descendants. “The foundation of our belief in the veracity of Torah and its fulfillment for all generations is based on the fact that G-d descended on Sinai with signs and wonders and that the entire nation heard from the Mouth of the Holy One, Face to face that He appointed Moshe to be His emissary to transmit the Torah and mitzvos so that we fulfill them for all of eternity. He also commanded us to believe in all of the mitzvos that were commanded via Moshe from the Mouth of G-d, that they are all mitzvos of the Living G-d and not mitzvos created by mortals in their hearts. This all transpired in the candid presence of 600,000 men who saw this with their own eyes and heard it with their own ears, and there was absolutely no one who could deny or argue about these events. Based on that every Jew conveyed the experience he witnessed to his children, until it is as if every succeeding generation has a feeling that it was present at the revelation when the nation was chosen and witnessed these events.”

The Malbim continues that when Korach challenged the leadership of Moshe, he was not merely challenging Moshe as the regulator of the affairs of Klal Yisroel, but he was challenging the very transmission of Torah and Klal Yisroel’s entire connection to the event which is the basis of our belief. “Once they stated that the appointment of Kohanim and Leviim was done based on Moshe’s own volition, they could just have easily have also said that the entire Torah was also Moshe’s own doing. Thus would collapse the basis of belief in the generation of Moshe, and surely for the succeeding generations.” Therefore, Moshe demanded that Korach’s rebellion be upended in a supernatural fashion in the presence of the entire nation because that would serve to re-strengthen the belief of the nation and to repair the damage that Korach had done. Moshe cared little for his own honor and reputation. But he immediately realized the spiritual peril that Korach had placed the nation in. Challenging Moshe is akin to challenging the revelation of Sinai and the entire belief system of Klal Yisroel fro all time. The Torah that we observe is eternally known as the Torah of Moshe. “Moshe emes v’Toraso emes- Moshe is truth and his Torah is truth”; they are forever inextricably bound.

During the Mussaf prayer on Shabbos we state, “You established Shabbos and found favor in its offerings…Then at Sinai we were commanded about it…” Chazal state that the Jews were commanded about the observance of Shabbos while they were camped at Marah, before they even arrived at Sinai. If so, how can we state that we were commanded to observe Shabbos at Sinai, if we were already commanded about Shabbos prior?

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky shlita[4] explained the prayer based on a passage of the Rambam. The Rambam[5] states that we observe all mitzvos simply because they were transmitted and commanded to Moshe Rabbeinu at Sinai. Thus, even though historically the Jews were commanded about certain mitzvos at various times prior and after Sinai, we observe them because they were taught at Sinai.[6] Rambam writes that this is a fundamental principle.

Based on this Rabbi Kanievsky explains that although technically Shabbos had already been taught in Marah, our contemporary observance of Shabbos is based simply on the fact that, “Then at Sinai we were commanded about it”.

By seeking to undermine Moshe Rabbeinu’s legitimacy as leader, Korach was essentially undermining the whole transmission of Torah. Hardly anything could be more pernicious to undermining our existence as a nation.

“Do not turn toward their mincha offerings”

“Moshe is truth and his Torah is truth”

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[1] Shemos 33:8

[2] Bikurim 3:3

[3] Bamidbar 12:3

[4] Derech Sichah

[5] Pairush Hamishna - Chullin, end of perek 7

[6] The mitzvos taught prior were re-taught and the mitzvos taught later had already been taught to Moshe at Sinai.

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