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KORAH – 2012


Some of the most important things in life – we overlook. Not because they are not important to us, but because it is so obvious that they are important that we think that there is no importance in thinking about them! There are parents who know that spending ten minutes a day with each child is the only way to build a healthy relationship, with good communication to survive the teenage years. It is so important and so simple that it just gets forgotten. It is ironic that, many times, parents involved in education forget to keep to the guidelines with their own children.

There is importance in making a specific reminder for these significant but overly obvious things, so that unbidden and undesirable failures will not occur. If a person just says, I know that it is wrong to gossip, so I do not have to take out time for learning the halachot of sh’mirat halashon in my schedule, inevitably, he will gossip. If a person says that he knows that anger is such a bad thing and there is no point in his trying to internalize it by reading the Iggeret Haramban (reminder not to get angry) or making some other effort to avoid it, then he will get angry.

This was one of the mistakes of Korach. Korach approached Moshe with the following two questions:
* How can it be that an all blue (tchelet), four-cornered garment still needs to have tzitzit (tchelet strings)?
* How can a room filled with Torah scrolls need a mezuzah on the door, if the Torah scrolls themselves contain the parshiot of the mezuzah?

A simple answer to this is exactly what we said before: The strings are there to stick out, as an extra reminder, no matter how small it may be, that we have to keep to the mitzvoth. The Mezuza on the door reminds us that G-d is with us in the innermost rooms of our homes and our souls. It is a reminder on the door post. Korach believed that if a person is great, and Korach himself was, he does not need a reminder. He does not need to do introspection. Let us learn that although we may be great people, we are all still human. We all make mistakes. We all forget. Without introspection, we can end up making mistakes in what may be the most important things in our lives.





I recently met a man of ninety-five who looked much younger than his age. I was so impressed by his physical and emotional energy that I could not resist asking him to reveal the secret of his longevity. Happy to oblige, the vigorous nonagenarian jumped out of his chair and excitedly started telling me his life principles. One of them had to do with jealousy and envy – highly appropriate for the story of Korach in this week’s parashah. The man declared that he would never look enviously at those who had more than he did, but kept focused on those who had less. He explained that this kept him in good shape.

It turns out that the old man’s approach is hardly new. King Solomon wrote רקב עצמות קנאה – Envy causes rotting of the bones (Mishlei 14:30). The Talmud explains: If one has jealousy or competitiveness in his heart, his bones will “disintegrate”; that is, he will die before his time. This does not refer only to physical death, but to such expressions of emotional malaise as nervous breakdowns and heart conditions, as well.

There is another way of looking at the term עצמות which can offer us additional help in dealing with jealousy. עצמות also hints at עצמיות – independent and original character. When we are jealous, we are investing our emotional and intellectual energy in thoughts of what the other person has that we are lacking. By doing so, however, we lose out on improving our own original and independent character. As long as we are busy trying to write our own unique life story of success, thoughts of jealousy will not have room to dance in our brain. But, if we see ourselves as merely part of a group, without a unique identity, we will start measuring our success against that of others. Indeed, the Mishnah in Avot (4:21) says:הקנאה התאווה והכבוד מוציאין את האדם מן העולם – jealousy, materialistic desires, and the pursuit of honor all take a person out of the world. A common understanding of this Mishna is that these negative traits can cause one to lose one’s footing in the “social world” in which he finds himself. The Alter of Kelm explains this quite differently. He says that this mishna is referring to a person’s own unique world and identity. By being busy with what others have or by constantly pursuing honor and pleasure, a person loses out on his own successes and ignores the goals and ambitions that are important to him.  He trades something for nothing: instead of expending his efforts on matters within his reach, he squanders his energy on thoughts that can bear no fruit.

There is yet another source of jealousy, one with which we can deal more effectively once we are aware of it. As one insightful rabbi put it: Jealousy often stems from a feeling that something belonging to me was taken away. Hence the word קנאה (jealousy) is very similar to the word קנין (ownership). This feeling is common among siblings. One factor that can make sibling jealousy unusually strong is their perceiving  themselves as having started off in more or less the same situation or circumstances. Jealousy is much stronger when someone who started off in a similar situation to ours gets “ahead of the game” or receives easily things that took us great effort to achieve. As long as we feel that we are in the same boat as the object of our jealousy, we will not be able to free ourselves from jealousy.

There is another mishnah in Pirkei Avos (5:5) that can help us defuse feelings of jealousy. There we learn that in the Beit Hamikdash:עומדים צפופים ומשתחוים רווחים – When the people stood in the courtyard of the Beit Mikdash, they stood crowded together. Amazingly, when they bowed down on their hands and knees, they all had plenty of room. Rabbi Chaim Volozhiner explains that if one believes that his attainments result from his own power and strength – depicted here as standing – he will feel that he should be getting much more for his actions and efforts. This haughtiness prevents him from fully recognizing anyone else’s rights to the world in which he lives. Ultimately, this causes him to feel encroached upon by the other person, whom he perceives as interfering in his world. Furthermore, he comes to feel that what he lacks, but sees in the possession of others, has somehow been taken from him. But when he bows down in the Beit Hamikdash and acknowledges that what he gets is ultimately from G-d, he does not feel that the world is his, but rather that there is room for everyone and their successes – and that no-one is taking anything away from him.

Still another method for defusing jealousy is to meditate on the special way in which the Torah prohibits it in the Ten Commandments .

לא תחמוד בית רעיך וכו’ אשת רעך ועבדו ואמתו ושורו וחמרו וכל אשר לרעך( שמות כ:יד).
“You shall not covet your friend’s house ,wife, servant, maidservant, ox, donkey and all that your friend has.” If the Torah already spelled out a whole list of things belonging to others that we are not to covet, why then does it need to add a seemingly unnecessary repetition: all that your friend has?                                                           .

The “all” includes their hardships and problems as well. If each person were to put his lot (his burden) in one corner of the room, including all the good things they have in life as well as all their hardships and problems – everyone would retrieve his own pekel (lot), even if he had the opportunity to choose a smaller, lighter one . No-one has it all good. If you are jealous of the good things someone else has in life, keep in mind that you are overlooking the difficulties that go along with them. Indeed, we are sometimes jealous of the other person’s spiritual or monetary wealth, and ask ourselves why we, also, do not have their success. But we fail to take into account all the hours of work, tension, risks, sacrifices etc. that the one we are jealous of went through.




There is a common question that serious yeshiva students ponder. Concerning Torah learning, the Sages actually praise “jealousy.” They tell us that jealousy of other scholars’ knowledge will aid us in gaining wisdom:קנאת סופרים תרבה חכמה (Bava B. 21a). Unfortunately, though, some students misuse this motivational tool. When they see others more successful than themselves in learning, it gives them feelings of failure and negative jealousy. How can a student know that his jealousy is proper, and that he is growing from it? Must he learn with this motivation until he discovers if his jealousy is indeed the positive קנאת סופרים recommended by the Sages? And how can any jealousy even קנאת סופרים be positive to the degree that it is a recommended motivation technique?

The answer here is twofold. The prohibition against jealously and coveting something belonging to another person applies only if you want the item itself – as opposed to wanting something similar. It is therefore prohibited, for example, to want another person’s house, but not a house like his.                 .
(See רבינו אברהם בן הרמב”ם עה”ת – יתרו) The student who is jealous of his friend’s wisdom is acting properly only if he wants wisdom that is attainable. If, however, he is jealous of his friend’s stature, which the friend attained through labor and constant study – this is forbidden. Another condition of forbidden jealousy that is absent in קנאת סופרים is is the pain a jealous person feels when regarding the possession of the one he is jealous of. By proper and effective ,קנאת סופרים the student that is “jealous” of his fellow scholar is actually happy that his fellow has knowledge that he himself is anxious to gain. Knowing that his friend or colleague has excelled in Torah learning inspires him to reach for that knowledge, in fact, giving him extra inspiration and motivation to put more into his own learning.

Ultimately, there is a clear litmus test: The “jealousy of the scholars” imbues me not only with a desire to have what the other person has, but also with happiness that he has already achieved what I still lack.




Of course, having differences of opinion with a spouse is not necessarily a bad thing. Rabbi Akiva Eiger, for example, would have long discussions – even disagreements – with his beloved wife about life values and principles. Through them, he benefited by sharpening and clarifying his own views. After her passing, he mourned her greatly.

If disagreements and disputes can have a positive role to play in Jewish life, how are we to know which ones are productive, and which ones to stay away from? Indeed, how can we turn our differences of opinion and opposite points of view into something that is actually positive and productive? The secret of serenity is to be found in Pirkei Avot:

Any disagreement that is לשם שמים (for the sake of Heaven) will endure – but if it is not לשם שמים , it will not. What is a disagreement that is לשם שמים? – one like that of Hillel and Shamai. What is a disagreement that is not לשם שמים ? – one like that of Korach and all his followers. (5:17)

As the Bartenurah explains, the disagreement between Hillel and Shamai was for the purpose of gaining knowledge of the truth – which they ultimately achieved. In contrast, Korach’s dispute with Moshe was an attempt to attain honor and power. In the end, it backfired, causing the opposite of the desired effect. Awareness of these two very different motives can help us when we analyze any dispute, as we shall soon see.

Korach approached Moshe with the following two questions:
* How can it be that an all blue (tchelet), four cornered garment still needs to have tzitzit (tchelet strings)?
* How can a room filled with Torah scrolls need a mezuzah on the door, if the Torah scrolls themselves contain the parshiot of the mezuzah?

Korach tried to use the power of these two questions to undermine Moshe’s credibility in the eyes of the nation. Let us try to appreciate why Moshe did not feel that he should answer these questions. Moshe understood that they were not really intended as questions, but rather as a re-statement and paraphrasing of Korach’s basic argument: ” ‘כל העם כולם קדושים ולמה תתנשאו על קהל ה ” – all of G-d’s Nation are holy, so why are you (Moshe and Aharon) behaving self-importantly over G-d’s Nation? The questions about the tzizit and the mezuzah are expressions of the same perspective: Does a nation where everyone is so high and close to G-d on a personal level need a representative of G-d?

As noted above, there are two types of disagreements. One type of disagreement is where the two parties are arguing to clarify a subject, all the while showing mutual respect and not allowing self-pride to get in the way. This type of disagreement has great value, because it helps us clarify things that are important to us. The more important the subject, the more synergy is created. This is how Shamai and Hillel, who loved each other very much, would argue heatedly over Torah subjects that they valued more than anything on earth. Today, yeshiva study partners attempt to re-enact these disagreements while in the Beit Medrash – without mixing in any self-pride or personal element. But if the ego is unleashed by one chevruta, the other one may quickly become defensive – and sometimes even offensive.

Korach’s questions were more about the validity of Moshe than about the matters Korach was ostensibly addressing. Moshe felt the ulterior motives behind the questions, and realized that if he answered them, other questions would quickly surface in their place. When ego is at stake in a disagreement, the matter being discussed does not endure, because clarification can not be achieved.

Instead of arguing back, Moshe fell on his face. He did not want to be part of this disagreement. Hence, the mishnah we are discussing does not even mention Moshe, but speaks rather about the disagreement (לא לשם שמים) of Korach and his followers. Moshe responded to Korach only from a perspective that was purely ”לשם שמים” .


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