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Inspired Action - Korach

Inspired Action

Korach, the cousin of Moses, ignited a rebellion against Moses. He gathered a group of disgruntled men and they sought to undermine the leadership of Moses. As the Torah describes: 

They assembled against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, "You take too much upon yourselves, for the entire congregation are all holy, and the Lord is in their midst. So why do you raise yourselves above the Lord's assembly?" (Numbers 16:3)

Moses had been leading the Jewish people for a number of years at this point, why did Korach wait until this point to rebel against Moses? The classic interpretation is that Korach was upset at the appointment of his younger cousin as the leader of the tribe of Levi, and that was the grievance that inspired the rebellion. But that interpretation is insufficient because the rebellion occurred a few months after the appointment. 

The Chassidic interpretation is that the rebellion of Korach could only have happened after the sin of the spies. The Chassidic writings explain that the spies did not want to enter the land of Israel and preferred to remain in the desert because they did not want to engage in action. They preferred to live a life of study and meditation, and they felt that entering the land, working its soil, engaging in positive actions to create a just society, would distract them from their spiritual enlightenment. 

They, however, were terribly mistaken. Because the purpose of creation, explains Judaism, is action. Before the soul descends upon this earth the soul lived a spiritual existence, the purpose of the descent is to impact the world through tangible action. 

The takeaway of the story of the spies is, the superiority of action over thought, emotion, and spiritual enlightenment. And here is where Korach stepped in with his rebellion. 

Korach understood that in the arena of wisdom, prophecy, spirituality, character refinement, and holiness, Moses and Aaron were far superior to the rest of the people. Korach argued that in the arena of action, which, as we have learned from the error of the spies, is primary, everyone is equal. True that Moses was a greater scholar, prophet, and was far more in touch with  Divine reality, but in the realm of action, Moses was just like everyone else. All Jewish people, including Moses, do the same actions, they eat the same Matzah, light the same candles, and put on the same Tefillin.

Just like the spies, Korach too was deeply mistaken. 

For while Judaism highlights the supremacy of action, Judaism calls for inspired action. It is not enough to act, our actions must also be imbued with understanding and feeling. While it is certainly true that the act of helping the poor is supreme, nevertheless Judaism teaches that the act of kindness must be imbued with compassion and empathy, wisdom, and a feeling of closeness to G-d. And because Judaism requires inspired action, we, therefore, need the leadership of Moses and Aaron, spiritual giants who teach us how to find the treasures of spirituality embedded within our heart and soul.  

The spies sought spirituality alone. 

Korach sought action alone. 

Moses and Aaron embody the truth of Judaism: action is superior, but the goal is to inspire the action. 

(Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos, Korach vol. 4)

Two Types of Spies - שלח

Two Types of Spies

The spies that Moses sent to scout out the land returned with a devastating report and convinced the Jewish people that conquering the land would be an impossible task. In the story, there are two words used for the act of spying. In the book of Deuteronomy Moses recounts how the people approached him and requested that he dispatch spies: 

And all of you approached me and said, "Let us send men ahead of us so that they will search out the land for us and bring us back word by which route we shall go up, and to which cities we shall come." (Deuteronomy 1:22)

The Hebrew word for spying employed by the people was “Veyachperu”, which is related to the word “to dig” (“Lachpor”) and “shame” (“Cherpah”). The Jewish people asked Moses to send spies whose mandate would be to “dig” and uncover the vulnerabilities of the defenses of the land which would allow them to conquer it. Yet, the word also means “shame”, which implies that, perhaps subconsciously, the Jewish people hoped that the spies would look for the weakness of the land to discover its faults and undesirable traits.  

Yet, when G-d told Moses to send spies, G-d used a different word for spying. In our portion the Torah tells us: 

The Lord spoke to Moses saying: "Send out for yourself men who will scout the Land of Canaan, which I am giving to the children of Israel. You shall send one man each for his father's tribe; each one shall be a chieftain in their midst." (Numbers 13:1-2)

The Hebrew word for spies used by G-d is “veyaturu”, which means to look for something positive. G-d agreed to send spies, but only once the mandate of their mission would be defined. G-d said, in order for the mission to be successful, it must be defined, the key word is not “veyachperu”, the spies must not look for the “shame” and negativity of the land, but rather “veyaturu” they must look for the positive. 

This lesson applies to each of us as well. When we look at any circumstance, relationship, or opportunity, it's up to us to determine what we will see. If we look for the negative we will find it. If we look for the positive we will find it. 

What we see depends on what we look for.   

(Based on the commentary of Rabbi S.R. Hirsh)

Advantage of the Second Chance - בהעלותך

Advantage of the Second Chance

One of the few commandments in the Torah that were initiated not by G-d but by the Jewish people is the commandment of the second Passover. There were people who were ritually impure during the appointed time for bringing the Passover offering, on the 14th of Nissan, which disqualified them from bringing it. They approached Moses and demanded “why should we be excluded so as not to bring the offering of the Lord in its appointed time, with all the children of Israel?”. G-d then instructed the laws of the Second Passover, if someone was unable to bring the Passover offering he would have a second chance to bring it exactly one month later. 

Chassidic philosophy explains that the broader theme of the second Passover is that G-d grants us a second chance to correct anything we have missed or done wrong initially. The first Passover represents the service of the righteous. Because at the time of the exodus from Egypt, which is the birthday of our people, we were spiritually pure as a newborn child. The Second Passover, by contrast, represents the service of Teshuvah, the service of returning to G-d after the experience of separation. 

When we examine the laws of the second Passover we see that there are profound advantages to the second Passover. In some ways, the second Passover is more spiritually powerful than the first.      

During the entire seven days (or, outside of Israel, eight days) of the holiday of Passover it is prohibited to eat and even to own any bread. The second passover differs from the first one in two important ways: 1. It is permitted to own bread and have it in the home while eating the Passover offering. 2. The second Passover lasted for only one day. 

The difference between the service of the righteous person and the service of the returnee, is that the righteous person does not interact with negativity. His effort is devoted to the realm of holiness: he studies Torah and fulfills the commandments with a steady pace of growth. The lifestyle of the righteous is represented by the laws of the first Passover: bread, which represents the negativity that stems from the inflated ego, is prohibited, because the righteous person does not succumb to the negativity. The holiday lasts for a complete cycle of seven days which represents that the righteous person gradually fills all of his seven emotional characteristics with holiness.

The second Passover, By contrast, represents the person returning to G-d after experiencing sin and unholiness. Unlike the righteous person who has no contact with negativity at all, the one returning to G-d transforms the negative experience to holiness, the negative experience itself has been transformed to intensify his relationship with G-d. Therefore, during the second Passover, both Matzah and bread can be in the home simultaneously, because the bread, the negativity itself, has been transformed to be able to be incorporated into the life of the Jew. While the influence of the righteous person is limited to the realm of holiness, the returnee can elevate every experience, vastly expanding the reach of holiness.     

Having experienced the pain of separation, the returnee returns to G-d with far greater passion than the commitment of the righteous. The returnee’s connection stems from a deeper place within his soul, a place that transcends calculation and limitation, the transformation that comes through his connection to G-d transcends the orderly process of growth. As the Zohar states: “returning to G-d occurs in one moment”, therefore the second Passover is one day. Because when one reaches the deep recesses of his soul the transformation occurs instantaneously.

(Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos 18 Behaaloscha 3)  

Your Unique Offering - נשא

Your Unique Offering 

The portion of Naso, which concludes with the description of the offerings of the leaders of the tribes on the day of the inauguration of the temple, is the longest portion of the Torah. The Torah describes how each of the twelve leaders brought an offering on the day of the inauguration, a total of six covered wagons and twelve oxen, and G-d then instructed Moses that each leader should offer his individual offering for the dedication of the altar on the subsequent days, one offering per day. 

The chieftains brought [offerings for] the dedication of the altar on the day it was anointed; the chieftains presented their offerings in front of the altar.

The Lord said to Moses: One chieftain each day, one chieftain each day, shall present his offering for the dedication of the altar. (Numbers 7:10-11)

The Torah is written in concise language, many laws of the Torah are derived from a single letter in the Torah. Why then does the Torah devote so many verses to reiterate each of the twelve identical offerings? 

A Jew may feel that his effort to serve G-d and to create a relationship with G-d is not significant in the eyes of G-d. After all, there are so many other Jews practicing the same Mitzvah. One may wonder about what value there is in his listening to the sound of the Shofar, eating Matzah on Passover or lighting Shabbat candles, when there are millions of other people doing the same thing.

The repetition of the specifics of each of the identical offerings teaches us a profound lesson: to G-d, no two offerings are the same. While two people may do the same deed, the intention, the emotion, the struggle, is unique to each person. While the leaders wanted to offer their offerings on the day of inauguration, G-d told Moses that each leader should offer his offering on his own day. Because to G-d every offering, every action, is unique. 

You are unique. No other person does the Mitzvah with the identical intention as you do. No other person experiences life exactly the way you do. Your contribution, your offering is of crucial importance in the eyes of G-d. The Torah reminds you, that no one can offer the universe what you can.   

(Adapted from the teachings of the Rebbe, Lekutei Sichos 8 Naso Sicha 2 p. 43)

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