I had the privilege this week to speak to a fifth grade girls class upon their siyum of Chumash Shemos. The question I posed is, why do we celebrate the completion of a Chumash or Mesechta? Furthermore, what is the connection between Korach and a siyum?
I was once standing on Har Hazeisim, the Mount of Olives, and I contemplated its name. The verse in Koheles (7:1) entered my mind, where it is said טוֹב שֵׁם מִשֶּׁמֶן טוֹב, a good name is better than good oil. Clearly the name הר הזיתים is a euphemism for the idea that a good name is preferred to good oil. The Medrash (Koheles Rabbah 7:1) states that we find that people who were saturated with oil, i.e. Nadav and Avihu were anointed as Kohanim, entered into a place of life, i.e. the Kodesh HaKodashim, and died, whereas people with a stellar name, i.e. Chananya, Mishael and Azaryah, entered into a place of death,. i.e. they were cast into the fire, and they emerged alive. It is noteworthy that the Rokeach (based on Bamidbar Rabbah 18:16) in this week’s parasha writes that Korach said, “Aharon was anointed with a drop of oil, whereas I am the son of יצהר, who is completely oil.” Clearly Korach did not subscribe to the idea that a good name is better than good oil.
When the Nazis entered the city of Krakow, they led the Jews to the cemetery and demanded the destruction of the tombstones. One Jew was having difficulty destroying a tombstone, and the Nazi supervising him grabbed the ax, yelling, “dirty Jew, I’ll show you how to get the job done!’ The Nazi swung at the tombstone and the metal of the ax went flying off, almost killing the Nazi. Of course, in the perverted world of the Nazis, the Jew would have been dead on the spot, but somehow, somewhere, in the recesses of the Nazi’s sewer mind, he was able to acknowledge that something supernatural was taking place here. The Nazi left the Jew alone and wandered off to cause mischief with the other hapless Jews. The Jew, in the meantime, was curious whose tombstone this was that merited such protection. He bent down and scraped off the dirt encrusted on the stone, and lo and behold, he discovered the identity of the person buried there. No, it was not the famous Rema, Rabbi Moshe Isserles, who wrote glosses on the Shulchan Aruch. Nor was it the legendary Rebbe Reb Heschel of Krakow. In fact, it was not the grave of any of the leading sages of Krakow from past centuries. It was the grave of a woman, named Sara Schenirer, founder of the Bais Yaakov movement!
Sara Schenirer started a movement that has been perpetuated until this very day, and we can see the fruits of her labor. When we make a siyum, we are acknowledging our accomplishments of the past and we then continue on to even greater accomplishments. Korach, on the other hand, sought to bring an end to the Jewish People. How did he wish to accomplish this? By declaring that everyone is holy, and Hashem’s appointment of Moshe and Aharon as leaders was false. When one does not trust HaShem’s judgment, there is no hope for continuity.
Yaakov requested that his name not be mentioned regarding the quarrel of Korach and his entourage. What was Yaakov concerned about? The Gemara (Taanis 5b) teaches us that Yaakov never died. The Gemara explains that this means that Yaakov’s life was perpetuated through his descendants. When Yaakov foresaw Korach’s’ evil plan, he expressed his wish not to be associated with any plan that would bring an end to the Jewish People,. How fitting, then, was the punishment of Korach and his group, that they descended alive into the earth. For eternity, Korach and his followers are forced to acknowledge the continuity of the Jewish People.
HaShem should give us the awareness of how fortunate we are to be His Chosen People and that we are a part of eternity.
Have an Everlasting Shabbos!