Monday, June 3, 2013


Bamidbar, 16:5-7: He [Moses] spoke to Korach and to his entire assembly, saying, ‘In the morning, HaShem will make known who is His own and who is holy, and He will bring close to Him, and whom He will choose, He will bring close to Him. Do this: Take for yourselves fire-pans – Korach and his entire assembly – and put fire in them and place incense upon them before HaShem tomorrow. Then the man HaShem will choose, he is the holy one. This is much to you, sons of Levi!’ Rashi, 16:7: sv. This is much to you, sons of Levi: ‘I have told you a great [serious] matter. Were they not fools for Moses warned them in this manner and yet they still undertook to offer [the incense]?! But they sinned with their souls…’ Joining Korach in the rebellion against Moshe Rabbeinu were two hundred and fifty great men. Rashi, quoting the Midrash Tanchuma, questions the motivations of these men in undertaking the seemingly futile rebellion against Moshe Rabbeinu. He points out that they were not foolish people, and answers that they ‘sinned with their souls’. The commentaries point out that it very difficult to see how this answers the initial question of why they embarked on this rebellion. Indeed it is not clear at all what it means that ‘they sinned with their souls’. The Netsiv zt”l offers a fascinating explanation that answers these questions. He begins by pointing out that the two hundred and fifty men are always mentioned separately from Korach, Dasan and Aviram. Moreover, they were punished differently from those three evildoers. They were punished by being burnt by a fire from the Holy of Holies whilst Korach and his cohorts suffered the far greater punishment of being swallowed alive into the ground. The Netsiv explains that the reason for these differences is because the intentions of the two hundred and fifty men were totally different from those of Korach, Dasan and Aviram. The latter were motivated by jealousy and desire for power. However, the two hundred and fifty men had essentially pure motives. They desired to attain greater closeness to HaShem by partaking in the service of the Kohanim. They realized that they would die for doing this yet they were willing to give up their lives in order to attain this perceived ‘closeness’ to HaShem. The Netsiv writes even further that they had no real claims against Moshe and Aaron, rather they knew that the only way that they could perform the priestly service was by joining Korach’s rebellion. Because their intentions, though clearly misguided, were leshem Shamayim (pure), they were killed in a more elevated fashion, by a holy fire. This explains why they embarked on this seemingly foolish endeavor and answers what Rashi means by the words, ‘they sinned with their souls’. It means that they willingly went against HaShem’s will to get closer to him with the awareness that they would die as a result. It is clear from the Netsiv that despite their pure motives, the two hundred and fifty men clearly made a terrible mistake in their desire for closeness to HaShem. Their error was that the only way to truly cleave to HaShem is by doing His Will, not by performing actions that one thinks will bring him closer to HaShem despite the fact that He commanded us not to do so. The Netsiv in Parshas Shelach writes that the approach of the two hundred and fifty men constituted a transgression of the Mitzvo of ‘do not go after your heart and eyes’. He explains that this includes not creating new ‘Mitzvos’ or ways of connecting to HaShem because one feels it will bring him closer to HaShem, when that course of action actually constitutes a sin. How does this lesson apply to our lives? There may be times when we perceive that other people have attained positions where they can attain higher levels of spiritual achievement than ourselves. In such situations it is important to realize that whilst one should make the maximum effort in the realm of ruchnius, if Providence deems that he not attain certain positions then that means he does not need to do so in order to attain closeness to HaShem. On a more general level it reminds us of the principle that each person’s relationship to HaShem is unique and his situation and abilities are perfectly suited to enable him to maximize that relationship. This idea is demonstrated by the following story involving two of the great Baalei Mussar: Rav Naftali Amsterdam zt”l, once told his Rebbe, Rav Yisroel Salanter zt”l, “If only I had the head of the “Shaagas Aryeh”- a famous Torah genius, the heart of the “Yesod Veshoresh Ha’avodah - who was famous for his fiery, emotional avodah (service to Hashem), and the middos [characteristic traits] of the Rebbi - Rav Yisroel Salanter’s middos were legendary, then I could be a good oved Hashem (server of Hashem).” Rav Yisroel responded, “Naftali, Naftali, with your head, with your heart, and with your middos you can also a be a true oved Hashem. May we all merit to heed Rav Yisrael’s lesson and serve HaShem in the best way that each of us can.

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