Merkaz Anash, Beis Hamedrash L’shluchim and COLlive.com present The Chassidic Perspective with Rabbi Yoel Kahn, a weekly short webcast on topics that are timely and relevant.
Rabbi Kahn, often referred to as “Reb Yoel,” is the most preeminent authority on Chabad-chassidic teachings and was the chief reviewer and transcriber of the discourses of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.
Rabbi Kahn is also the lead editor of Sefer Ha’erechim, a multi-volume encyclopedia of abstruse chassidic and mystical concepts and the head Mashpia at the Central Yeshiva Tomchei Tmimim Lubavitch at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn, NY.
This webcast is delivered in Yiddish and a transcription in English appears below or can be printed in a PDF format.
Seder Olam states that the Korach episode took place after the meraglim incident. Which raises the question: why specifically then? Korach’s complaint was that all the power was being concentrated within Moshe’s family, like Aharon receiving the position of kohen gadol, but Moshe had made that appointment much earlier! He also complained that Eltzafan had been declared nasi of Kehas, but that too had happened at an earlier point! So why did he begin this dispute when he did?
Aside from the question of when this occurred, his entire argument seems flawed. He claimed that everyone was equal and that Moshe and Aharon’s positions of power were without merit, yet his supporters included 250 nesiyim who never offered to relinquish their positions! Their opposition to Moshe and Aharon’s power yet not to leadership in general, as well as the link to the meraglim, need to be explained.
Who Needs Spirituality?
We’ve explained that it was the meraglim’s contention that only spirituality mattered. Although Eretz Yisroel offered more possibilities for doing mitzvos, focusing their minds and hearts on Hashem would be easier in the desert, and they felt it was worth sacrificing mitzvos for the sake of spiritual accomplishments.
It was in the wake of that debacle that Korach demanded to know: If only practical mitzvos mattered, wasn’t everyone equal then? Moshe and Aharon’s superiority lay only in the field of spiritual accomplishments! He argued that everyone was holy, “u’b’socham Hashem,” that Hashem’s essence is found wherever mitzvos are performed. He hadn’t previously offered resistance, since it was assumed that spirituality was paramount, and Moshe and Aharon’s advantage in this area was undisputed; but if action was most important, and kavanos without the actual mitzvah were worthless, then “madua tisnas’u,” who did Moshe and Aharon think they were?
More specifically, there are various forms of “hisnas’us,” literally “lifting oneself above others.” In contemporary terms: There must always be a knowledgeable Rov who can issue rulings, because even if maaseh is predominant, there’s always a need for some sort of leadership just in terms of dictating how to behave. But this is not equivalent to the role and position of a tzadik. This is why they wished to preserve their own leadership, and they felt that the kehuna gedola should be a technical position which could alternate between different qualified leaders. Why the need for a single kohen gadol who’s above the rest, with a special connection to kedusha? Any one of the 250 nesiyim could do the avoda, but Aharon’s kehuna was another form of hisnas’us altogether!
There’s an even deeper meaning to their question: It’s said that when Aharon lit the lamps of the menorah he was simultaneously lifting the neshama of every Jew, bringing them to a level of yearning for higher levels, for Hashem. So they asked: “Madua tisnas’u,” why are you lifting others? Why is it important that they be connected with spirituality when all that matters is action? Why the “hisnas’us?” Why would a Jew wish to be lifted to a higher level?!
Structure and Radiance
Moshe responded to their claims by saying: “Let morning come, and Hashem will notify who belongs to Him and who is holy, and He’ll bring him closer to Him.” It appears as if Moshe was simply responding to their suspicion that his and Aharon’s power were his own idea, proving it untrue through the test of ketores, a simple competition of who Hashem found holier. But what was the actual flaw in Korach’s reasoning?
The Rebbe explains that the clue can be found in Moshe’s reference to “boker,” the morning. We know that Hashem desires a dira, a dwelling, which consists of two things: A human king must appear beautiful before crowds, suiting their taste, but only when he’s alone in his abode is when he can just be himself. Additionally, the dira must be bright. Being oneself in the dark is not much of a dwelling; there must be light.
Similarly, Hashem’s desire for a dwelling consists of both elements: We must create a dira for Hashem Himself, which is specifically through practical mitzvos. Every spiritual act is limited by the person experiencing it, whereas mitzvos are where Hashem placed Himself, allowing Himself to be reached, and those are his quarters.
But additionally, there must be brightness. It’s true that we can access Hashem through wearing kosher tefillin, but does our mitzvah shine? Only if it’s done lishmah, for Hashem’s sake. A mitzvah without kavana is like a body without a neshama; without the right intentions, the mitzvah is soulless, and doesn’t shine. This is true for mitzvos but especially for Torah where there are three options as the Alter Rebbe writes: If learned lishmah – the Torah shines, for no particular reason – it lacks brightness, for ulterior motives – it’s exiled among the kelipos.
The Perfect Balance
When Moshe mentioned “boker” he was alluding to the need for brightness; It’s true that physical mitzvos performed in the most meticulous manner are crucial, and are the way we access Hashem’s essence, but we also need hisnas’us, being elevated to spiritual levels, and that’s when it’s “boker,” Hashem’s dira is bright.
The Rebbe said that shlach and korach together teach us the proper balance in avoda: Some might contend that only feelings are important, and even if mitzvos matter, the physical particulars don’t need too much emphasis; but shlach teaches us not to make the meraglim’s mistake, and that it’s Hashem’s desire that He be found in the physical.
Conversely, some might argue that only our actions matter, and that there’s no need for chassidus and avoda; but in truth, davening physically from a siddur must be complemented by avoda, and combined, we create a dira that’s both fit for Hashem’s essence and bathed in light.
For further learning see לקוטי שיחות חלק ד’ פרשת קרח.