Korach (Numbers 16-18 )
GOOD MORNING! I received a fascinating and bewildering response from a Shabbat Shalom supporter when I asked for $1,800 -- he good-naturedly laughed! In my experience as a fundraiser, I evoked many emotional reactions to requests for support -- derisive laughing, stunned disbelief, anger, irritation ... even welcomed appreciation. However, this was a first. So, I asked, "Why are you laughing?"
The man replied, "A few weeks ago I made a deal with the Almighty that if my business deal went through, I would give $1,800 to the first person who asked for $1,800 and you're the first!"
I appreciate this open manifestation of Divine Providence and love from the Almighty. I even look forward to more people laughing -- and giving! Then ... I began to think -- "What a wonderful topic for the Shabbat Shalom Weekly !-- Are you allowed to test the Almighty?" And as always, the Torah deals with the question.
The Talmud (Taanis 9a) tells us that Rabbi Yochanan met the young son of Reish Lakish (his study partner). Rabbi Yochanan says to the boy, "Tell me the verse in the Torah that you are studying." The lad replies, "Tithe, you shall certainly tithe" (Deuteronomy 14:22).
The boy then asked Rabbi Yochanan, "What is the meaning of 'Tithe, you shall certainly tithe'?" Rabbi Yochanan responds, "Tithe in order that you will be come wealthy" (This is an alternate translation of the verse.) The precocious lad then asks, "How do you know this?" Rabbi Yochanan answers, "Go and test it; take tithes and see if you become wealthy."
Reish Lakish's son was a bright boy. He then respectfully asked Rabbi Yochanan an excellent question, "Is it permitted to test the Holy One, blessed be He? Isn't it written (Deuteronomy 6:16), 'Do not test the Almighty?' "
Rabbi Yochanan probably smiled at the precocious youth. "Rabbi Hoshaya taught that the case of separating tithes is an exception to the prohibition against testing the Almighty. He gave proof from the verse: 'Bring all the tithes to the storehouse, so that there may be food in My House (for those who serve in the Holy Temple) and you may test Me now through this, says the Almighty, Master of Legions, if I will not open for you windows of the sky and pour out blessing for you without limit' (Malachi 3:10)."
The Sefer HaChinuch -- a book written about 800 years ago detailing the what, how and understandings of the Torah's commandments --teaches: It is usually forbidden to test the Almighty by performing a mitzvah (commandment) with the intent of seeing whether or not one is rewarded because the place for receiving reward is the World to Come; one cannot expect to see a reward in this world. However, because of the verse in Malachi (a prophet), there is an exception made regarding tithes and one can expect to see financial reward in this world.
Years ago, Harry Fischel, a wealthy Jewish man dealing in New York real estate, was asked for the secret of his success. He gladly shared the advice that the great sage, the Chofetz Chaim, gave him before he came to America: "If you want to succeed in business, you must take God Himself as your partner in every endeavor. Before you enter into any investment or project, try to make an accurate estimate of how much profit you stand to make in the undertaking. Then calculate how much the tithe of your projected profit will be and write a check for that amount to be eventually deposited in your tzedakah (charity) account.
"Turn to the Almighty in fervent prayer and say: 'Master of the Universe, it is my privilege to invite You to be my partner in this endeavor. If, heaven forbid, I fail to realize a profit, I will have nothing to share with You, my partner. However, if I successfully realize my anticipated profit, then the ten percent I have set aside for tzedakah is Yours.' When one takes God as his partner from the outset, he is guaranteed success!"
(with thanks to Artscroll and Rabbi Avrohom Chaim Feuer, The Tzedakah Treasury for source material)
Korach, Numbers 16:1 - 18:32
There are two rebellions this week. First, Korach, a Levite, was passed over for the leadership of his tribe and then challenges Moshe over the position of High Priest. No good rebellion can be "sold" as a means for personal gain, so Korach convinces 250 men of renown that they must stand up for a matter of principle -- that each and every one of them has the right to the office of High Priest (which Moshe had announced that God had already designated his brother, Aharon, to serve).
Fascinatingly, all 250 followers of Korach accept Moshe's challenge to bring an offering of incense to see who God will choose to fill the one position. This meant that every man figured he would be the one out of 250 to not only be chosen, but to survive the ordeal. Moshe announces that if the earth splits and swallows up the rebels it is a sign that he (Moshe) is acting on God's authority. And thus it happened!
The next day the entire Israelite community rises in a second rebellion and complains to Moshe, "You have killed God's people!" The Almighty brings a plague which kills 14,700 people and only stops when Aharon offers an incense offering.
To settle the question once and for all, Moshe has the head of each tribe bring a staff with his name on it. The next morning only Aharon's staff had blossomed and brought forth almonds. The people were shown this sign. Aharon's staff was placed in front of the curtain of the ark as testimony for all time.
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from Twerski on Chumash by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.
When one reads the account of Korach's rebellion (Numbers 16:1-35), one is astounded by the incident. Not only was Moses the one who led the Jews from Egypt, but all the Israelites were eyewitnesses to the many miracles that were wrought though him. They saw him wave his staff over the Reed Sea, causing the waters to divide. There could be no doubt that he was commissioned by God to be the leader. How could anyone question the authenticity of Moses' leadership? It simply defies all logic.
Rashi quotes the Midrash which raises this question: How could Korach, a wise and learned person, act so foolishly? The Midrash answers that Moses had appointed another Levite to be leader of the tribe of Levi, and Korach was envious of this.
Can envy so deprive a person of logical thinking that one would deny the evidence of one's own eyes?
Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz (Sichos Mussar 5731:21) explains citing the Talmudic statement, "Envy, lust and pursuit of acclaim remove a person from the world" (Ethics of the Fathers 4:28). The expression "remove a person from the world" is rather strange. Rabbi Shmulevitz elucidates that the usual deviation from proper behavior is a very gradual one. The Talmud says that the tactic of one's desires (yetzer hara) is to seduce a person to commit a very minor infraction, then lead him on to progressively more serious transgressions (Shabbos 108b). That is the nature and order of the world. One's desires will not entice a person into doing something patently absurd.
However, if a person is overtaken by envy, one escapes the natural order of the world. One is no longer bound by logic. The passion of envy can be so great that it can overwhelm all rational thought, and leave one vulnerable to behave in the most irrational manner. Envy indeed removes a person from the natural order of the world. This is why Moses delayed the trial until the next day -- to let Korach come back to his senses.
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