שבת טעם החיים קרח תשע”א
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Korach 5771
It’s Either up or Down
וירדו הם וכל אשר להם חיים שאלה ותכס עליהם הארץ ויאבדו מתוך הקהל, they and all that was theirs descended alive to the pit; the earth covered them over and they were lost from among the congregation. (Bamidbar 16:33).
A friend of mine asked me this week if I have an inspirational insight on the parasha that I could share with him so that he could give it over to a group of boys. My initial response was, “Parashas Korach, inspirational?! Korach seems to me so uninspiring. Here was a man who was from the tribe of Levi, carried the Holy Ark in the Wilderness, and was the wealthiest Jew in his time. Yet, despite all his virtues and grandeur, Korach chose to engage Moshe in what appears to be a petty dispute, and his actions caused him to forfeit his life in this world and in the next world. How, then, can I offer words of inspiration from such a dismal episode?” Later, however, I reflected on my response and realized that this week’s parasha is, in essence, the ultimate inspiration for a Jew who is looking to connect to Hashem. In order to gain a better understanding of how someone as great as Korach could succumb to the temptation of fleeting glory while simultaneously ignoring the dire consequences of his actions, it is worthwhile to turn back a page to last week’s parasha.
In last week’s parasha, Shelach, the spies slandered Eretz Yisroel, resulting in their deaths and in the Jewish People having to wander in the Wilderness for forty years. What motivated the spies to speak ill of and not enter the land that HaShem had promised to His Chosen People? The Zohar states that the reason the spies did not want to enter into Eretz Yisroel is because they all had leadership positions and they knew that upon entering the Land, they would lose their leadership status. The Sfas Emes wonders what was wrong with their rationale. After all, the spies were chosen as messengers of the Jewish People, and it would appear that all their words were for the benefit of the nation. How is it possible, then, that the spies spoke about the Land with their own benefit in mind? The Sfas Emes answers that the generation that journeyed in the Wilderness were deemed to be the head and the first of all future generations. Entering into Eretz Yisroel would result in a descent in spirituality, similar to the soul that must descend from on high into this lowly world. It was certainly difficult for the spies to lower themselves in stature. Nonetheless, writes the Sfas Emes, the spies should have nullified their own desires to perform HaShem’s will.
In a similar vein, we can suggest that Korach was also mistaken in thinking that he should be the leader of the Jewish People. The Torah Temima, in his Sefer Tosefes Bracha, writes that initially Korach bided his time, hoping that the Jewish People would enter Eretz Yisroel, and then he would become the leader. When HaShem informed the Jewish People that they would have to sojourn in the Wilderness for forty years, Korach could no longer tolerate his inferior status, and he quarreled with Moshe and Aharon about their leadership roles. According to the Sfas Emes, Korach should have swallowed his pride and submitted himself to HaShem’s will.
OK, you might say, this all sounds good, but don’t we all have pride? Is it so simple to negate one’s self while all the other family members are being awarded honor and glory? Moshe was the leader and Aharon was the Kohen Gadol. Korach felt that as a member of the Kehas family, he should also be a leader. The Sfas Emes points out in this week’s parasha that ironically, Korach should have negated his desire for glory just like Aharon did, as Moshe told Korach (Bamidbar 16:11) ואהרן מה הוא כי תלינו עליו, and as for Aharon –what is he that you protest against him? Korach’s mistake was that he was focused on his own pride and strength, instead of realizing that he should have negated himself to the Jewish People. While Korach was correct that the entire nation was holy, he did not understand that the nation’s holiness stemmed from Aharon, who was deemed to beקדש קדשים, holy of holies. A person is thus mistaken if he thinks that he can achieve closeness to HaShem on his own. Rather, one must cleave to the צדיק, the righteous leader, and in that manner he can be considered holy and worthy of serving HaShem properly.
Is negating one’s self an easy task? I would venture to say that it is very difficult to forgo honor and glory. However, Korach made a tragic error, and he and his entourage were lost from the Jewish People. Perhaps it is not easy to forfeit fame and honor, but we can learn from Korach that we really do not have a choice in this matter. One is prohibited in engaging in a dispute that is not for the sake of Heaven, as ultimately, the only result for strife is under the ground, as occurred to Korach and his followers. One who wishes to “ascend” in life must “descend” by negating one’s self top HaShem’s will.
Shabbos in Action
The Zohar states that Korach argued on the concept of Shabbos. Shabbos is a time of peace, and we should do everything possible to avoid strife and discord on Shabbos.
Please submit your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will print them in next week’s issue of Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim. I wish you a wonderful Shabbos. Good Shabbos.
Charity Saves from Death
Rabbi Myer Schwab is the founder and dean of the Bais Yaakov High School of Denver, Colorado. He’s also responsible for the financial stability of the school, and in this role he often meets with philanthropists, to enlist their support.
In the early 1970’s there was a millionaire in Denver, an elderly gentleman named Max Rabinowitz (not his real name) who had remained Jewishly observant even though most of his friends and family were not. He gave charity, but his parameters for giving were not in proportion to his wealth. He considered $500 a large donation, when in reality he could easily have given 10 times that amount. His children were independently wealthy, he owned factories and real estate, but he could not part with large sums of money except for business investments. Indeed the most Max ever donated to the Jewish schools in Denver was $500.
One morning as Rabbi Schwab was teaching a class, he was interrupted by his secretary. “I am sorry to disturb you,” she said with urgency, “but you have an extremely important phone call.”
Reluctant to stop the lesson, Rabbi Schwab asked the Secretary if the call could possibly wait till later. “No,” she said, “they are calling from the hospital.”
Rabbi Schwab rushed to his office and picked up the phone. It was Max Rabinowitz. “Rabbi,” he said, “I must see you right away.”
Six months earlier, Max had asked Rabbi Schwab to get him a prayer book that contained the Viduy confessional prayer recited on a death bed. Now, on the phone, Max pleaded with Rabbi Schwab to come immediately. “By this afternoon, it will be too late,” Max said softly.
When Rabbi Schwab came to Max’s room, family was gathered at his bedside. After Rabbi Schwab greeted all those present, Max asked everyone to leave the room. Slowly and carefully, Rabbi Schwab recited with Max the poignant words of Viduy. When they finished, silence enveloped in the room. Then Max said softly, “I remember when I was a little boy and there was a rabbi who came to our town. He spoke of the importance of giving charity, and mentioned over and over the expression, ‘Charity rescues from death.’ Before my end, I would like to fulfill that mitzvah and be clear with God. I have prepared two checks: one for the Jewish girls’ school and one for the boys’ school in Denver. Please take them out of the drawer and deliver them.”
Rabbi Schwab thought hopefully that perhaps his budgetary problems for the year might be over. He opened the top drawer of the cabinet and took out the two checks. He could not believe his eyes. Each check was for $500.
Rabbi Schwab stared at the checks and was incredulous. “Max,” he exclaimed, “you have the opportunity to acquire a share in the World to Come as you never did before. Our girls’ school is now housed in trailers. We need a building. Max, give us $50,000 and we’ll put your name on the building as an everlasting testimony to your charity. You’ll be helping hundreds of girls who are the future mothers of our people. This is your last chance.”
Max thought for a long moment and then said, “Believe me, my heart wants to give, and my head understands that it’s the right thing to do — but my hand refuses to let itself be opened.”
Max died that night, forever bereft of the opportunity of magnanimous eternal reward.
Days later Rabbi Schwab defined this episode. He said, “In discussing a person’s a reluctance to give charity, the Torah warns, ‘You shall not harden your heart or close your hand’ (Deut. 15:7). The Torah says that there two parts to the mitzvah of charity, the heart and hand. A person can understand that his financial help is needed and that the situation is dire, but if he is not trained from his earliest years to open his hand to benefit others, he will find it all but impossible to part with his money.”
Rabbi Schwab’s son-in-law, Rabbi Jonathan Aryeh Seidemann, told this story to a group of his congregants in Baltimore, Maryland. When he finished the story, he said: “A person has to have a special merit to give charity. Max could have earned eternal reward for his philanthropy, but he passed up the chance. We, while we are in this world, should not lose the opportunity when it presents itself.”
After the class, one of the attendees, Mrs. Gretta Golden, said to Rabbi Seidemann, “Rabbi, you told this story in the past. You mentioned it in a class three years ago!”
“And you remember it from then?” asked Rabbi Seidemann, surprised and complemented that someone would remember something he said years ago.
“Oh yes,” she said, “I remember that story so well. It made such an impression on me. And Rabbi,” she added, “I should really tell you a story about that story.”
Mrs. Golden was employed by the world-renowned Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where she was a marketing representative of international services. She headed the Israeli unit. Since Johns Hopkins is one of the finest hospitals in the world, it attracts patients from around the globe.
Just two weeks after Mrs. Golden first heard the story from Rabbi Seidemann, an Israeli family came to Johns Hopkins with their 8-year-old son who needed major surgery. They brought along all the boy’s medical files and explained to Mrs. Golden that they could not afford to pay for the operation the child so desperately needed. As she leafed through the boys’ files, his father said that a few months earlier a relative of theirs had suggested that they write a letter to a certain Jewish philanthropist who had been written up in The New York Times.
“You have nothing to lose,” said the relative, and indeed they found someone to write a letter in English, explaining their child’s desperate situation. A few weeks later the family received a reply from the philanthropist — wishing their son a complete recovery but adding that he could not help financially. This letter was in the file along with the medical records.
Mrs. Goldman read and reread the letter and thought of the story she had heard from the rabbi. That night she composed a letter to this philanthropist, explained the nature of her work, and detailed the situation of the little Israeli boy. She finished the letter with the story about Max Rabinowitz and his inability to give charity even at the end of his life.
Mrs. Golden’s final sentence in the letter was, “Don’t let that man be you.”
Two weeks later, Johns Hopkins received a check of over $40,000 from that philanthropist… to cover the entire cost of the operation! (www.innernet.org.il)
Shabbos: Ta’am HaChaim Korach 5771
Is sponsored by Mr. and Mrs. Brian Herschfus of Southfield, MI in honor of the engagement of their daughter Brittany to Dovid Ray of Chicago. May the chassan and kallah be zoche to build a Bayis Neeman BiYisroel.
Have a wonderful and delightful Shabbos
Prepared by Rabbi Binyomin Adler
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