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The Torah's Weekly Portions
Numbers / Bamidbar - Korach
Moshe's Desire
June 2008, Contributed by Asher ben Shimon
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This week's Torah portion is named Korach. We all know the story of Korach who was a cousin of Moshe. He blamed Moshe for taking all the high positions for himself (as king) and his brother (as high priest). When Moshe appointed a younger cousin as leader of the family, Korach became very upset and started rebelling. He convinced 250 men -all high-ranking leaders of the Jewish people- to team up against Moshe. Moshe proposed to have Hashem decide who would get which position. All the rebels were invited to come the next morning to bring the ketoret (incense) offering. Hashem would decide then who was the real Kohen Gadol. The catch was that whoever wasn't the chosen one, would perish. So it happened. The earth opened up and swallowed the rebels and their entire families.

The rebels were smart men and held important positions. What was going through their minds when they spoke out against Moshe?

Why were they ready to accept Moshe's proposal when they knew from experience that bringing the ketoret without permission would lead to a certain death? After all, it had happened to Nadav and Avihu, two of Aharon's sons!

When Moshe was approached by Korach and friends, this is what he said. "We are different from other people who have many `g-d's' and many priests. We have only one G-d and one high priest. Yet you come with 250 men and all want to be the Kohen Gadol. I also want!"

How could Moshe have said that?! It makes it look like he was trying to join the very people who were opposing him and his brother. Obviously he wasn't trying to take away Aharon's position. Then what was the purpose of saying that he wanted to be Kohen Gadol? What was Moshe trying to accomplish by saying that? How would that convince the rebels to change their mind?

The Halacha is that when a prophet appears to us and tells us to change something in the Torah, we are not allowed to believe him. This law applies even when this person performs miracles and tells us the future. The reason for this is that we never believed in Moshe because of the miracles that Hashem performed through him, but because WE heard and WE SAW Hashem calling Moshe onto the mountain and giving him the Torah.

If we, living 3300 plus change years after this event, who only saw and heard Hashem with our SOULS, believe in the Torah taught by Moshe; why didn't those people who saw and heard Hashem with their physical EYES and ears believe in him?

Even more: Hashem promised Moshe: "They will believe in you forever". What happened to Hashem's PROMISE to Moshe that the Jewish nation would forever trust him?

As we said before, Korach and his men were smart people. They knew that Moshe and Aharon had been appointed by Hashem. They didn't argue on that. They ALSO wanted to be high priests. History had shown that Hashem's decrees could be changed under certain circumstances. There had been several times that Moshe had managed to `change Hashem's mind' through prayer. After the sin of the Golden calf and after the sin of the spies, just to name a few instances that this happened. Hashem had notified Moshe that he had negative plans for the future of the Jewish people and they had been nullified. Korach and his men also remembered very well how priesthood had belonged to the firstborn up to the time of the sin of the golden calf, when it had been transferred to the Kohanim and Levi'im.

Korach figured that by speaking up he would have a chance by Hashem to be appointed Kohen Gadol. He had a good argument why he would deserve it more then Aharon. The sin of the golden calf is in the Torah attributed, to a certain extent, to Aharon. Korach who was from the tribe of Levi had been totally uninvolved.

[Moshe, on the other hand, thought that Korach was arguing against him personally; saying that Hashem had not instructed him to appoint his relatives. Since he was `the most humble of men on earth' he thought that Hashem's promise that people WOULD trust him hadn't come true, because of a sin he may have done. We find this concept also by Yakov who prays to Hashem for protection even after Hashem had promised him he would be protected. There as well, Yakov was afraid sins had taken away his merits.]

During the period of the second Beit Hamikdash, the holy temple in Jerusalem, the Holy Land was under Roman rule. Because of the oppressor's involvement, in those days high priesthood was given to the highest bidder. Hashem didn't approve unwanted visitors in the Kodesh Hakodashim, the holy of holiest, so every year on Yom Kippur, when the high priest had to enter that room, another Kohen Gadol would perish.

Here too we can ask the question we asked before concerning Korach and his men. Why were these `high priests' ready to pay large amounts of money to the Roman rulers only to go to a certain death within a year?! Honor may be worth all the gold and silver in the world, but not life.

The explanation is as follows:
The Kohen Gadol is the holiest man among the Jewish people. He has first right when it comes to any service in the holy temple. He is closest to Hashem. Korach and his friends were not looking for power or money. Neither were the people who would pay large amounts of money to get the position of Kohen Gadol. All they wanted was to be as close as can be to Hashem. In itself that is a beautiful goal. Moshe agreed with that. He said I also WANT this. However, there shouldn't be more than a desire. Hashem commanded us that only one man gets the actual position of high priest. That is were Moshe differed from all the other would-be high priests. He also had the DESIRE to be close to Hashem but he knew that trying to actually become Kohen Gadol was against Hashem's will.

Where did (and does) this desire come from? When the torah was given, Hashem called us `a nation of priests'. Our sages tell us that at that time all Jews were on the level of Kohen Gadol. Ever since, we have a desire deep inside us to regain that level of purity.

We can find this back in the words of Korach. "We are all holy. We all heard and saw Hashem on Mt. Sinai. Why do you, Moshe and Aharon, try to make yourself higher than us?" They figured that once they had been on that level, they could be on it at all times. That was their mistake.

When we look through the list of 613 mitzvot, we find that many of them don't apply to our day to day life. Many mitzvot only apply to the service of the Kohanim in the temple. Then there are certain mitzvot that only apply to the king or to the Kohen Gadol. Nevertheless we always talk about OUR 613 mitzvot.

It is explained, that by the king fulfilling the mitzvot that apply to him only, the entire nation gets affected, because he represents the souls of the entire nation. The same applies to the service limited to the Kohen Gadol. By him entering the Kodesh Hakodashim on Yom Kippur and doing what had to be done, he would bring atonement to the entire Jewish nation.

In other words, there is no need for everyone to be a Kohen Gadol. One represents all of us. At the same time we all have to have the desire to be as holy and as close to Hashem as the high priest on Yom Kippur when he enters the Kodesh Hakodashim.

Why, if we have to have this desire, aren't we all actually ON that level?

Our souls were sent down to this world to deal WITH it. Our purpose is not to create an environment similar to the higher worlds were our souls came from, void of physical matter. Our goal is to take the physical world and ELEVATE it by using it for good things. In order to remain focused on our goal, we are given the potential to have a desire to be close to Hashem like a high priest, at all times. Korach's mistake was to try to actually live on the level of Kohen Gadol, separated from the physical world. Moshe tried to explain to him that it is Hashem's will to be involved with earthly matters, constantly reminding oneself to remain focused on the spiritual side of it by keeping the desire to be like a Kohen Gadol alive.

Now we also understand why the Torah named an entire portion after someone who apparently wasn't a good person. If the name would have been: "vayikach korach" Korach took (himself from one place and placed himself somewhere else, away from the rest of the people I.E. a dispute) it would have been inappropriate. Now that it is only `Korach' the negative aspect doesn't come to mind. It reminds us to have his positive aspect, the desire to be close to Hashem.

May we soon merit the coming of Moshiach when we will once again all be on the level of Kohen Gadol with the final and complete redemption NOW! This week's Torah portion is named Korach. We all know the story of Korach who was a cousin of Moshe. He blamed Moshe for taking all the high positions for himself (as king) and his brother (as high priest). When Moshe appointed a younger cousin as leader of the family, Korach became very upset and started rebelling. He convinced 250 men -all high-ranking leaders of the Jewish people- to team up against Moshe. Moshe proposed to have Hashem decide who would get which position. All the rebels were invited to come the next morning to bring the ketoret (incense) offering. Hashem would decide then who was the real Kohen Gadol. The catch was that whoever wasn't the chosen one, would perish. So it happened. The earth opened up and swallowed the rebels and their entire families.

The rebels were smart men and held important positions. What was going through their minds when they spoke out against Moshe?

Why were they ready to accept Moshe's proposal when they knew from experience that bringing the ketoret without permission would lead to a certain death? After all, it had happened to Nadav and Avihu, two of Aharon's sons!

When Moshe was approached by Korach and friends, this is what he said. "We are different from other people who have many `g-d's' and many priests. We have only one G-d and one high priest. Yet you come with 250 men and all want to be the Kohen Gadol. I also want!"

How could Moshe have said that?! It makes it look like he was trying to join the very people who were opposing him and his brother. Obviously he wasn't trying to take away Aharon's position. Then what was the purpose of saying that he wanted to be Kohen Gadol? What was Moshe trying to accomplish by saying that? How would that convince the rebels to change their mind?

The Halacha is that when a prophet appears to us and tells us to change something in the Torah, we are not allowed to believe him. This law applies even when this person performs miracles and tells us the future. The reason for this is that we never believed in Moshe because of the miracles that Hashem performed through him, but because WE heard and WE SAW Hashem calling Moshe onto the mountain and giving him the Torah.

If we, living 3300 plus change years after this event, who only saw and heard Hashem with our SOULS, believe in the Torah taught by Moshe; why didn't those people who saw and heard Hashem with their physical EYES and ears believe in him?

Even more: Hashem promised Moshe: "They will believe in you forever". What happened to Hashem's PROMISE to Moshe that the Jewish nation would forever trust him?

As we said before, Korach and his men were smart people. They knew that Moshe and Aharon had been appointed by Hashem. They didn't argue on that. They ALSO wanted to be high priests. History had shown that Hashem's decrees could be changed under certain circumstances. There had been several times that Moshe had managed to `change Hashem's mind' through prayer. After the sin of the Golden calf and after the sin of the spies, just to name a few instances that this happened. Hashem had notified Moshe that he had negative plans for the future of the Jewish people and they had been nullified. Korach and his men also remembered very well how priesthood had belonged to the firstborn up to the time of the sin of the golden calf, when it had been transferred to the Kohanim and Levi'im.

Korach figured that by speaking up he would have a chance by Hashem to be appointed Kohen Gadol. He had a good argument why he would deserve it more then Aharon. The sin of the golden calf is in the Torah attributed, to a certain extent, to Aharon. Korach who was from the tribe of Levi had been totally uninvolved.

[Moshe, on the other hand, thought that Korach was arguing against him personally; saying that Hashem had not instructed him to appoint his relatives. Since he was `the most humble of men on earth' he thought that Hashem's promise that people WOULD trust him hadn't come true, because of a sin he may have done. We find this concept also by Yakov who prays to Hashem for protection even after Hashem had promised him he would be protected. There as well, Yakov was afraid sins had taken away his merits.]

During the period of the second Beit Hamikdash, the holy temple in Jerusalem, the Holy Land was under Roman rule. Because of the oppressor's involvement, in those days high priesthood was given to the highest bidder. Hashem didn't approve unwanted visitors in the Kodesh Hakodashim, the holy of holiest, so every year on Yom Kippur, when the high priest had to enter that room, another Kohen Gadol would perish.

Here too we can ask the question we asked before concerning Korach and his men. Why were these `high priests' ready to pay large amounts of money to the Roman rulers only to go to a certain death within a year?! Honor may be worth all the gold and silver in the world, but not life.

The explanation is as follows:
The Kohen Gadol is the holiest man among the Jewish people. He has first right when it comes to any service in the holy temple. He is closest to Hashem. Korach and his friends were not looking for power or money. Neither were the people who would pay large amounts of money to get the position of Kohen Gadol. All they wanted was to be as close as can be to Hashem. In itself that is a beautiful goal. Moshe agreed with that. He said I also WANT this. However, there shouldn't be more than a desire. Hashem commanded us that only one man gets the actual position of high priest. That is were Moshe differed from all the other would-be high priests. He also had the DESIRE to be close to Hashem but he knew that trying to actually become Kohen Gadol was against Hashem's will.

Where did (and does) this desire come from?
When the torah was given, Hashem called us `a nation of priests'. Our sages tell us that at that time all Jews were on the level of Kohen Gadol. Ever since, we have a desire deep inside us to regain that level of purity.

We can find this back in the words of Korach. "We are all holy. We all heard and saw Hashem on Mt. Sinai. Why do you, Moshe and Aharon, try to make yourself higher than us?" They figured that once they had been on that level, they could be on it at all times. That was their mistake.

When we look through the list of 613 mitzvot, we find that many of them don't apply to our day to day life. Many mitzvot only apply to the service of the Kohanim in the temple. Then there are certain mitzvot that only apply to the king or to the Kohen Gadol. Nevertheless we always talk about OUR 613 mitzvot.

It is explained, that by the king fulfilling the mitzvot that apply to him only, the entire nation gets affected, because he represents the souls of the entire nation. The same applies to the service limited to the Kohen Gadol. By him entering the Kodesh Hakodashim on Yom Kippur and doing what had to be done, he would bring atonement to the entire Jewish nation.

In other words, there is no need for everyone to be a Kohen Gadol. One represents all of us. At the same time we all have to have the desire to be as holy and as close to Hashem as the high priest on Yom Kippur when he enters the Kodesh Hakodashim.

Why, if we have to have this desire, aren't we all actually ON that level?

Our souls were sent down to this world to deal WITH it. Our purpose is not to create an environment similar to the higher worlds were our souls came from, void of physical matter. Our goal is to take the physical world and ELEVATE it by using it for good things. In order to remain focused on our goal, we are given the potential to have a desire to be close to Hashem like a high priest, at all times. Korach's mistake was to try to actually live on the level of Kohen Gadol, separated from the physical world. Moshe tried to explain to him that it is Hashem's will to be involved with earthly matters, constantly reminding oneself to remain focused on the spiritual side of it by keeping the desire to be like a Kohen Gadol alive.

Now we also understand why the Torah named an entire portion after someone who apparently wasn't a good person. If the name would have been: "vayikach korach" Korach took (himself from one place and placed himself somewhere else, away from the rest of the people I.E. a dispute) it would have been inappropriate. Now that it is only `Korach' the negative aspect doesn't come to mind. It reminds us to have his positive aspect, the desire to be close to Hashem.

May we soon merit the coming of Moshiach when we will once again all be on the level of Kohen Gadol with the final and complete redemption NOW!

________

Translations in Torah Portions of the week are partially taken from the ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash and from Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Chumash

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