In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Prov.3;6 ב”ה
Parasha Korach: Sifting and Self Nullification 5777
Week after week we have been reading about “Great” people…falling. These are not ordinary “sinners”, these are great people who ‘fail’. Indeed this series of Parashiot have been directly aligned with current events and personal situations. The Torah is new every cycle because we read it again and again as we grow, as we ourselves fall, as we gain new understanding as we feel in an intimate way Hashem’s ‘taps on the shoulder’ through these alignments. Remember- in the wilderness we learn about how to fall and get back up. Success isn’t measured by perfection, but how much you are willing to put into the mission. This is the book of Mistakes.
בירור Birur- clarification, separation, choosing, refinement, “sifting”.
בירור Birur is type of tikun in which one must separate good from evil in any given entity, and then reject evil and accept the good. This בירור birur is, over and over again, what is taking place within Bnei Israel (the Children of Israel). Every time something happens, the result is a consequence which “sifts” more of the community on a deepening level. This must happen before they enter the Land. We must understand that this process takes place in our own lives. People come in, events take place and there is constant sifting. If these people, places, circumstances are able to be elevated for good…for growth of their own and within each other then refinement is reached. If this growth and connection (positivity) is not accomplished then often Hashem will “sift” these people, places, situations for us. It may look on the surface like “loss” but in the end one might find clarification- that there is a greater good arrived at. This is God’s ultimate goal for all His people. (Good in the end).
אֲנַחְנוּ Anaknu Nikra סֵ֫פֶר Sefer עָמוֹס Amos פָּ֫רֶך Perek ט tet:(note parallels-> Bemidbar contexts!)
- Amos 9; 2 …“Though they dig into Sheol, From there will My hand take them; And though they ascend to heaven, From there will I bring them down. 3 “Though they hide on the summit of Carmel, I will search them out and take them from there; And though they conceal themselves from My sight on the floor of the sea, From there I will command the serpent and it will bite them….6 He who calls for the waters of the sea And pours them out on the face of the earth, The Lord is His name. 7 “Are you not as the sons of Ethiopia to Me, O sons of Israel?” declares the Lord. “Have I not brought up Israel from the land of Egypt, And the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir? 8 “Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are on the sinful kingdom, And I will destroy it from the face of the earth; Nevertheless, I will not totally destroy the house of Jacob,” Declares the Lord. 9 “For behold, I am commanding, And I will shake the house of Israel among all nations As grain is shaken in a sieve, But not a kernel will fall to the ground….14 “Also I will restore the captivity of My people Israel, And they will rebuild the ruined cities and live in them; They will also plant vineyards and drink their wine, & make gardens and eat their fruit.15“I will also plant them on their land,& they will not again be rooted out from their land Which I have given them,” Says the Lord your God.
In another context regarding בירור birur “sifting” Yeshua teaches about the very concept of humility, service, self nullification. This relates to elements of the lesson (challenge of Korach):
- Luke 22; 24 A dispute also arose among the disciples as to which of them would be considered the greatest. 25 So Yeshua declared, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in authority over them call themselves benefactors. 26 But you shall not be like them. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who leads like the one who serves. 27 For who is greater, the one who reclines at the table or the one who serves? Is not the one who reclines? But I am among you as the One who serves 28You are the ones who have stood by Me in My trials. 29 And I bestow on you a kingdom,… just as My Father has bestowed on Me, 30 so that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 31Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift each of you like wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith will not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”
Please read the following making notes of any connections between themes in these chapters and identifying “breaks” in the narrative where Laws are found or any linguistic structures you may find: Bemidbar 11-17
We shouldn’t be surprised in life when we are attacked by those closest to us.
Often, unfortunately, it is even those who are related to you who attack. In Beha’alotcha Moshe is “attacked” by Mirjam and Aaron, his brother and sister. Whatever Mirjam’s intent, however well she had reasoned it…we see God deliberately setting Moshe apart and saying, “No.
All revelation and prophecy is NOT created equally. The Torah I gave Moshe stands apart.” Mirjam’s exile was supposed to set an example for the people in case they too sought to challenge Moshe. Unfortunately that message wasn’t properly interpreted by some. In Shelach Lecha the “spies” misinterpret the Mission to fall in love with erets Yisrael as being a blind date- to see if it was to their liking. These are friends, leaders, handpicked men who were trusted. In Parasha Korach, Korach (a Levite of the family of Kohath- in charge of the transportation of the Holy vessels, a very important task; cousin of Moshe…) commits an all out frontal attack on Moshe but ‘wily’ points it at Aaron. Before we dig into Korach let’s look at some of the stunning similarities in all of these cases which are thematically related in several ways.
Moshe- is not a regular prophet
She came to the wrong conclusion
improper chain of command
Lashan Hara (tsara’at- urgency)
exile from the camp
“are we not prophet’s too”
The Meraglim’s audacity
Israel is not a regular land
reach the wrong conclusion
improper chain of command
Lashan Hara (evil report-panic)
exile in the desert (decree of 40)
“we can not do it…”
Priesthood is not= the Am (people)
wrong conclusion arrived at
improper chain of command
lashan hara (Direct Challenge)
exile into death (she’ol decent)
“The entire people is Holy…”
Going through life…
often we don’t see things as they really are.
We make decisions and valuations based upon our emotions.
Think about these three examples.
Were these decisions based upon logical reasoning?
Were these decisions based upon Spiritual prompting?
Were these decisions based in the flesh, in pride (self)?
The Meraglim say, “We can’t do it.” But do they propose a solution? They leave the people with this detrimental oversight and no plausible proposal for a solution. It is then the people who panic, despair and say, “Let’s go back!” Better to be slaves than to face an uncertain future. There are different “crimes” committed here. The slander of the spies induces this plague. The despair and weeping, the false claims against Hashem require the 40 year wandering and בירור birur of that generation. What could this teach us about how Hashem feels about giving up?
Bemidbar 14;1 Then all the congregation lifted up their voices and cried, and the people wept that night. 2 All the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron; and the whole congregation said to them, “Would that we had died in the land of Egypt! Or would that we had died in this wilderness! 3 Why is the Lord bringing us into this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will become plunder; would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?” 4 So they said to one another, “Let us appoint a leader and return to Egypt.”
Yirmeyahu 7;23 “But this is what I commanded them, saying, ‘Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you will be My people; and you will walk in all the way which I command you, that it may be well with you.’ 24“Yet they did not obey or incline their ear, but walked in their own counsels and in the stubbornness of their evil heart, and went backward and not forward.
We’ve all been on a road trip, it can begin with everyone bubbly, snacking, singing, excited. Weather, traffic, construction, getting lost…all these factors can contribute to an almost unbearable experience. How often develops an almost unstoppable barrage of blame shifting and disparagement? In the case of the Israelites on their journey, they had an extremely reliable guide (Driver= Hashem), they had a ‘state of the art’ Map (Torah), they had all the comfort and provision they required (cloud for shade, fire by night, quail, manna, water…*desires are another story.) They had the ultimate destination in their sights and were headed there with their entire family. Still… when we, as human beings, encounter detours frustration often manifests. Imagine how graciously you might deal with the 40 year sentence to wander the wilderness…. If you were one of the 20 year and up males who would never enter the Land (death sentence).
This thought leads us to Korach.
- Bemidbar 16; Now Korah the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took action, 2 and they rose up before Moses, together with some of the sons of Israel, two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, chosen in the assembly, men of renown. 3 They assembled together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, “You have gone far enough, for all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is in their midst; so why do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?”
- 1 Corinthians 15;30 Why are we also in danger every hour? 31 I affirm, brethren, by the boasting in you which I have in Yeshua the Messiah our Lord, I die daily. 32 If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. 33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” 34 Become sober-minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God.
As you can see from the diagram of the Israelite encampment, Kohath (Korach) is right near Reuven. We must be very discerning regarding the company we keep. We are called to go out with the Good News of Yeshua administered by the way that we walk out our own faith. We are obligated to live like him serving others (all others) and setting a good example. But we must avoid, where at all possible, the corruption and decay of “the world”. If we can avoid bad influences we might arrive with more beneficial company. That is not to say we do things (giving, sharing, loving) in order to get something for ourselves in return… but we must know that each one of us is like a sponge. It is nearly impossible not to allow at least some of the negative influences we come into contact with to be absorbed. Surround yourselves with good.
(Talmud Shabbat 127a) “These are the things for which a person enjoys the dividends in this world while the principal remains for the person to enjoy in the world to come. They are: honoring parents, loving deeds of kindness, and making peace between one person and another, but the study of the Torah is equal to them all” Because it leads to them all!
“The Korach Rebellion”- Instead of complaining about an issue (“we’re thirsty; we want meat; we’re frightened”) this is an outright rebellion against God. This group chooses for themselves leaders and confronts openly God’s appointed men. They bring accusations of abuse of power and in challenging Moshe (although pointing the attack “through” Aaron) they in fact attack Hashem. Despite what Korach SAYS, Moshe’s response tells us precisely what he was after. He wanted to be Kohen Gadol. He is already a Kohen, already in the service of the Mishkan. Korach plays the angles and appeals to his assembly; he is wealthy, respected and has a ‘silver tongue’: God’s laws are too imposing, I’m going to be an advocate for the people, we need a new leader, Moshe was unable to take us into the Land, many of us will die because of him.
The people were listening & the leaders who came with Korach gave credibility to his position.
Bemidbar 16; 8 Then Moses said to Korah, “Hear now, you sons of Levi, 9 is it not enough הַמְעַ֣ט for you that the God of Israel has separated you from the rest of the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to Himself, to do the service of the tabernacle of the Lord, and to stand before the congregation to minister to them; 10 and that He has brought you near, Korah, and all your brothers, sons of Levi, with you? And are you seeking for the priesthood also? 11 Therefore you and all your company are gathered together against the Lord; but as for Aaron, who is he that you grumble against him?”
How far back to you think this justified, haughty, entitled, competitive spirit goes?
The sin of vision of the spies is deeply rooted in the sin of eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Just as the outer appearance of the fruit made Eve lose faith in what God said about not eating it, so too the spies wanted to see things for themselves and make their own decisions — and they lost their faith. Korach’s sin of vision, is rooted in Cain’s jealousy of Abel, whose offering (the prototype Temple sacrifice of Aaron) found favor in God’s eyes. “Why is Abel the priest?” Cain wanted the whole world for himself — so he killed Abel. So too Korach was envious of Aaron’s eternal role as the high priest of God’s Temple, and he tried to destroy him.
The first place we find the phrase, “Is it not enough…”from the word #4592 m’at מְעַט – a little, shortly, a small thing, nearly, almost, quickly, suddenly, very little…is in the following context, Reuven is involved and we see this false accusation from Leah toward Rachel.
- B’reshit 30; 14 Now in the days of wheat harvest Reuben went and found mandrakes in the field, and brought them to his mother Leah. Then Rachel said to Leah, “Please give me some of your son’s mandrakes.” 15 But she said to her, “Is it a small matter הַמְעַט֙ for you to take my husband? And would you take my son’s mandrakes also?” So Rachel said, “Therefore he may lie with you tonight in return for your son’s mandrakes.”
The next context is that of the Meraglim:
- B’midbar 13; 17 When Moses sent them to spy out the land of Canaan, he said to them, “Go up there into the Negev; then go up into the hill country. 18 See what the land is like, and whether the people who live in it are strong or weak, whether they are few הַמְעַ֥ט or many.
We heard Moshe ask Korach the question and next we find Datan and Aviram mimicking Moshe disrespectfully, expressing the core reasoning behind their allegiance to Korach (“we’re dead men anyway, you didn’t take us up!” blame shifting, like in the garden- like with Leah. Jealousy and a lack of personal responsibility and accountability- like with Cayin, like with Leah.)
- B’midbar 16;12 Then Moses sent a summons to Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab; but they said, “We will not come up. 13 Is it not enough הַמְעַ֗ט that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey to have us die in the wilderness, but you would also lord it over us? 14 Indeed, you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor have you given us an inheritance of fields and vineyards. Would you put out the eyes of these men? We will not come up!”
“SEPARATE yourselves from this assembly and I will consume them.” (Numbers 16:21)
We have looked at this word previously, #914 (v) badal בָּדַל- to separate, disjoin, to distinguish, to depart…there was the separation between light and darkness, the separation between the Holy of Holies of the Mishkan and the rest of the “ohel”, there was the separation between clean and unclean food, between that which was holy and profane…and now God calls for Moshe and Aaron to “hi’badlu” הִבָּדְלוּ- separate themselves from the Congregation, to get up and depart…
On Mount Sinai, God says: Leave me and I will destroy- so Moshe stays and intercedes…
With Korach and the congregation: God says, Separate yourselves I will destroy- Moshe falls on his face and responds: “O God, God of the spirits of all flesh, when one man sins, will You be angry with the entire congregation?”
God instructs the congregation to “get back”
#5927 (v) alah עָלָה – to overcome, to be elevated, exalted, to be offered.
- Bemidbar 16; 23 Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 24 “Speak to the congregation, saying, ‘Get back from around the dwellings of Korah, Dathan and Abiram.’” 25 Then Moses arose וַיָּ֣קָם and went to Dathan and Abiram, with the elders of Israel following him, 26 and he spoke to the congregation, saying, “Depart now from the tents of these wicked men, and touch nothing that belongs to them, or you will be swept away in all their sin.” 27 So they got back from around the dwellings (Mishkan) of Korah, Dathan and Abiram; and Dathan and Abiram came out and stood at the doorway of their tents, along with their wives and their sons and their little ones.
The rising Moshe does is first found in the context of Cayin and Hevel, only this time the most “humble of all ” is rising to warn the people not to be swept away by the sin of these men, who are rising up against their brother…
- B’reshit 4; 6 Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? 7 If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.” 8 Cain told Abel his brother. And it came about when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him.
[ Aside from the tzara’at descriptions, the only other context for the term “lifted up” as seen in Bereshit 4;7 is the following: “Reuben, you are my firstborn; My might and the beginning of my strength, Preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power.Uncontrolled as water, you shall not have preeminence, because you went up to your father’s bed; Then you defiled it—he went up to my couch. Ber.49;3-4 This is not the first time Reuven oversteps boundaries.]
After the phenomenon of the ground opening its mouth to swallow Korah and his assembly, the people continue to despair and continue to blame Moshe and Aaron! God says, Rise and I will destroy….Moshe falls on his face but has no response…
This time God uses a different Hebrew word, found only here in the Torah:
- B’midbar 16; 41 But on the next day all the congregation of the sons of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron, saying, “You are the ones who have caused the death of the Lord’s people.” 42 It came about, however, when the congregation had assembled against Moses and Aaron, that they turned toward the tent of meeting, and behold, the cloud covered it and the glory of the Lord appeared. 43 Then Moses and Aaron came to the front of the tent of meeting, 44 and the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 45 “Get away from among this congregation, that I may consume them instantly.” Then they fell on their faces.
# 7426 (v) Ramam רָמַם – to exalt oneself, to rise up.
There is a time to separate yourself. There is a time to stay and intercede.
The truth is the truth, no matter how much the world likes to twist it. Being dependable, forthright, letting your yes be yes and no, no…showing faithfulness and trust, investing in cultivating genuine relationships which last and remain strong are what life is all about.
The rest can wait.
Moshe took the time and faithfully put in the effort to have relationship with this people. He took this to the highest level where he was willing to cast his lot with them when they were at their lowest. At the time of the golden calf he knew the people were traumatized and desensitized, they were in a way hypnotized in a slave mentality. But now, he knows there must be a sifting. To Korach and the accusation against him:
Moshe would have been happy if Hashem sent someone else…Proof:
- Shemot 3; 10“Therefore, come now, and I will send you to Pharaoh, so that you may bring My people, the sons of Israel, out of Egypt.” 11But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” 12And He said, “Certainly I will be with you, and this shall be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God at this mountain.”…4; 10Then Moses said to the LORD, “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since You have spoken to Your servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” 11The LORD said to him, “Who has made man’s mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD? 12“Now then go, and I, even I, will be with your mouth, and teach you what you are to say.” 13 But he said, “Please, Lord, now send by whomever You will.”
Moshe would have been content if the entire nation were elevated spiritually…Proof:
- Bemidbar 11; 24 So Moses went out and told the people the words of the LORD. Also, he gathered seventy men of the elders of the people, and stationed them around the tent. 25 Then the LORD came down in the cloud and spoke to him; and He took of the Spirit who was upon him and placed Him upon the seventy elders. And when the Spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do it again. 26 But two men had remained in the camp; the name of one was Eldad and the name of the other Medad. And the Spirit rested upon them (now they were among those who had been registered, but had not gone out to the tent), and they prophesied in the camp. 27 So a young man ran and told Moses and said, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.” 28Then Joshua the son of Nun, the attendant of Moses from his youth, said, “Moses, my lord, restrain them.” 29 But Moses said to him, “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the LORD’S people were prophets, that the LORD would put His Spirit upon them!”
We have discussed the aspects of misinterpreting the Mission, about reading into our situations preconceived conclusions. Moshe was the master of what is known as ביטול Bitul, “selflessness”. This is why he was properly able to face Hashem and in turn that Hashem was able to relate to him His will. He appropriately translated his mission into reality because he put himself last. Unlike the others who approach their circumstances with a sort of (in their minds- justified) audacity, Moshe humbles himself even when he is offended to the highest degree’s, never imagining or claiming he deserves respect or honor. His entire goal is that the people rise up to their potential for Hashem. ביטול Bitul is deference to God’s Will before our own plans and expectations. ביטול Bitul denotes more than mere deference but actual nullification, making oneself completely insignificant, as nothing, before God. When practicing ביטול bitul before we make decisions and investments (of time), when actualizing ביטול Bitul in times of conflict and choice we can obtain the ability to distinguish Good from Evil. This characteristic goes hand in hand with birur, the sifting of our situations. Sifting out the bad, harnessing the good.
Korach looks at Moshe and says, ‘How could someone be all these things? You’re all things. Prophet, Priest, King everything all together….
I know that were me I would be so full of my self I would explode.’ He looked at Moshe and saw this is wasn’t the case. God, to Korach: “This is why he is who he is and you are who you are he can understand this secret of self nullification, because he cares nothing about who HE is.”
Korach, who was not a plain “sinner”- he was a great man who fell…beleived holiness must happen, and it needs to be me who does it. I want to be High Priest. Even though I said “we’re all holy” I want to be on top. A true leader doesn’t care who it is who delivers the message, only that the message is delivered! Korach’s rebellion was against the authority of Moses (the rule of law), but he justified it with an appeal to people’s highest ideals: “Everyone is holy — so why do we need priests and rabbis?” Korach used his wealth and prestige to whip everyone up into a frenzy against Moses.Today, assimilation has become so universal that the Torah faithful have little option but to run after the assimilated and try to help them find their way back to God.While assimilation had its theorists and exponents (those who attempt to “kosher” that which is unclean, who mingle gay pride parades with temple mount ‘activism’), what gave it such power and influence was the fact that it was sponsored by a clique of extremely wealthy Jewish sponsors (= Korach) who were themselves in flight from the Torah of Moses. They used their influence in the countries in which they lived to establish synagogues, educational and cultural institutions that deviated from the traditional pathway. Indeed, they have been so effective that they have succeeded in making what is essentially a deviation appear mainstream, whereas the authentic Torah of Moses appears purely marginal. What could be more of a distortion of vision?
“When the wicked person turns from all his sins that he did and guards all My laws and practices justice and charity, he will surely live. All his sins that he did will not be remembered against him; through the righteousness that he practiced he will live” (Ezekiel 18:21-22).
With the consequences from these continued rebellions and mistakes, we are in effect coming into contact with death. In the next lesson we will, b’ezrat Hashem, take a look at the purification from this contact with the ‘ultimate separation’ and how the aspect of spiritual ‘resurrection’ can be applied in our own lives.
After Korach’s rebellion, God makes clear once and for all…who He has appointed as Kohen Gadol. The proof of this appointment is life from the dead. A dead stick becomes alive again. Just as the ground swallowing Korach’s assembly alive was a ‘beyond nature’ phenomenon…so too this staff’s resurrection went “beyond nature” to make God’s point, to transmit His Mission’s proper interpretation.
For a true “resurrection” there must be a death- to the self.
Bemidbar 17;8 Now on the next day Moses went into the tent of the testimony; and behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi had sprouted and put forth buds and produced blossoms, and it bore ripe almonds. 9 Moses then brought out all the rods from the presence of the Lord to all the sons of Israel; and they looked, and each man took his rod. 10 But the Lord said to Moses, “Put back the rod of Aaron before the testimony to be kept as a sign against the rebels, that you may put an end to their grumblings against Me, so that they will not die.” 11 Thus Moses did; just as the Lord had commanded him, so he did.
May you be surrounded with the wisdom of Hashem, the loving example of Yeshua and the spiritual maturity to choose your battles. May you be armed with strength and humility. May our humility become so genuine that we truly learn how to nullify the self in our lives, sifting out the bad and wielding the good. May we live to be servants this coming week and take with us the encouragement to know- even ‘the great’s’ fall down. Wherever you may stumble, may He raise you up. Give the gift of precious time this week and strengthen someone else. May Hashem transport you this week to be precisely where you are required and needed the most, and from there may you blossom forth and bear ripe fruit.
Resources: See homepage and My Resources entry for a complete list. Much of this lesson was from Bill Cloud, Rabbi Ari Kahn, Rabbi Greenbaum and Rabbi Shlomo Katz.
This and all our learning and lessons online and in the flesh are in honor of the memory of my dearest Mirjam. May your memory be blessed.
I miss you.
We will meet again.