Thursday, June 22, 2017



Rabbi Shlomke of Zvhill was walking home from shul one morning flanked by his gabbai (sexton), when a man approached him and began berating the Rebbe with a barrage of insults. The Rebbe patiently stuck his hand into his pocket and handed the man a few coins. The man took the money and left.
The gabbai was dumbstruck by what had occurred. The Rebbe explained, “One must be able to understand what a person is really saying, even beyond their words. I realized that when this man was really nervous because he needs money. So, I handed him a few coins, and he was content.”

The Mishna[1] contrasts a dispute which is “for the sake of heaven” (i.e. with pure motives) with one that is not for the sake of heaven (i.e. with ulterior motives). The former is epitomized by the disputes between the academies of Hillel and Shamai, whose variant views in halacha were legendary. Yet, despite their numerous disputes, the disciples had the greatest respect for each other. It is for that reason that we continue to study their disputes.
The latter is epitomized by Korach and his assembly, who waged a feud against the authority of Moshe and Aharon. They had an ignominious end, punished with eternal dishonor. In fact, there is a Torah prohibition[2], “that he not be like Korach and his assembly.”
The Chofetz Chaim explains that to a Jew, intellectual disagreement is an integral part of life. As a spiritual, thinking people, we are always involved in the discussion and exchange of ideas. The peril of such interactions is that a philosophical debate can easily morph into a personal debate, which can easily spiral into bickering, animosity, jealousy, and competition.
Jews are always passionate and ideological[3]. But that can often cause deep rifts and contention. This is essentially what occurred with Korach. Korach countered that all Jews are holy and, therefore, Moshe and Aharon had no right to ‘usurp’ the leadership.
Korach’s arguments were rooted in personal feelings of envy that he did not merit a position of leadership.
Rabbi Henoch Leibowitz zt’l notes that perhaps the most frightening aspect of what occurred is that Korach himself was convinced that he was acting with purely altruistic motives.  If one would have asked Korach if he felt any envy towards Moshe and Aharon, he would have vehemently denied it.
When Moshe tells Korach that he and his followers were to offer ketores (incense) on the Altar as a means of determining who is truly the chosen one of G-d, Korach accedes. Offering the ketores was only permitted by one designated by G-d. It is punishable by death if brought by anyone else. What’s more, the entire nation was well aware of the tragic end of Nadav and Avihu when they sought to offer ketores without being instructed to do so.
Korach was so convinced of the veracity of his mission that he was prepared to proceed. His two hundred and fifty followers indeed offered the ketores and were instantly killed.
The Chofetz Chaim warns that before we embark on any ideological campaign we must carefully analyze and ponder our motives. If this is where the great Korach erred, we must pay heed to that painful lesson!
The tragic story of Korach is a mere historical tale. Many live the mistake of Korach constantly. There is no dearth of disputes and feuds. The wise person will be painfully meticulous to probe his true motivation before he allows himself to become involved in any such schism.

On his album “Me’umka d’Lipa”, Lipa Schmeltzer sings a song (in Yiddish) about a fellow who arrives in shul as a guest one Friday night and is convinced that he will be asked to be the chazzan. When he is not asked to do so, he reasons that he will surely be asked to be chazzan for shachris the following morning. When that too doesn’t occur, he reassures himself that he will surely be called to the Torah for one of the seven aliyos, or at least asked to lead Mussaf. By the time they begin Mussaf and he has not been given any recognition at all, he is very upset.
Just prior to the Mussaf Shemoneh Esrei the miffed guest realizes that the gabbai forgot to announce that a certain prayer must be added. The guest wastes no time, and he bangs on the table and calls out repeatedly the ubiquitous, “Nu! Nu! Nu! Nu!”
The narrator wisely explains that upon further introspection, it becomes clear that the guest’s overt passion in sending the gabbai a reminder, was not because he was afraid that the congregation would be remiss in their prayers. Rather, in his feelings of annoyance with the gabbai whom he perceives has slighted him, he had found a way to make the gabbai feel badly as well, and so he jumped on the opportunity!

“That he not be like Korach and his assembly”
“For the sake of heaven”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – ASHAR
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] Avos 5:20
[2] Bamidbar 17:5
[3] On one occasion a rabbi related the old quip “Two Jews; three opinions”. Someone immediately called out, “No Rabbi, it’s three Jews; four opinions!”


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