Hair

Rabbi Wagensberg
Parshas Korach
Hair

The verse traces Korach's ancestry all the way back, but it stops with Levi and it never mentions Ya'akov Avinu (Nu. 16:1). This is because Ya'akov prayed that he would not be mentioned in association with Korach and his rebellion (Rashi citing Tanchumah 4).

On a deeper level, we must ask what benefit there was by leaving Ya'akov's name out of the story? What did Ya'akov gain by having his name deleted?

The Chassam Sofer says that Korach lost all his holiness because his parents named him Korach. The name Korach belonged to one of Eisav's wicked grandchildren who became a chief in command in Eisav's army (Gn. 36:15-16).

Since Korach's parents gave their son a name which belonged to a rasha (wicked person), it affected him in a negative way and it brought him all the way down to Gehinnom (purgatory; Yoma, chap. 3, "Amar Lahem Hamemuneh", pg. 38b).

This is extremely troubling. Korach's parents and grandparents were very righteous people. How could they have agreed to give this child such an unholy name?

The story of Korach also shows us the power that women have in deciding the fate of their husbands. A kosher wife can lift her husband to the highest spiritual peaks, whereas an unkosher wife can encourage her husband to engage in activities he should have never participated in, schlepping him all the way down to the pits of Gehinnom.

On Ben Peles agreed to join Korach's revolt. On's wife saved his life. She said to him, "Why are you entering the fray? No matter who wins, you remain a disciple. What's in it for you?" On said, "What should I do? I already swore to Korach that I would join forces with him if he needed me." She said, "I'll save you." She got On drunk and brought him inside the house. She knew that Korach and his followers were all Torah observant people. So, she sat outside her home and removed her hair covering. When Korach and his followers came to collect On, they noticed that Mrs. On's hair was uncovered. They would never dream of looking at the hair of a married woman. As a result, they all ran away and left On alone. By the time that On woke up, Korach and his followers had already been swallowed alive.

Korach's wife was different. She said to her husband, "Look what Moshe did. He appointed himself as king of the Jews. He appointed his brother as the High Priest. He appointed Aharon's two sons as second in command for priesthood. And you were left without a high-ranking position. Besides, look at you! You look like a plucked chicken after Moshe had all your hair removed during the inauguration ceremony for the Levites (Nu. 8:5-7). He also played with you like a piece of dung when he waved you in the air" (Nu. 8:11). This type of talk agitated Korach and instigated him to campaign against Moshe (Sanhedrin, chap. 11, "Cheilek", pg. 109b, Rav).

It is true. A wise woman builds the house, whereas a foolish one tears it down (Pro. 14:1).

One who examines the historical backdrop surrounding Korach's rebellion will realize that hair takes up a decent part of the story. As such, what is the deeper connection between hair and Korach's rebellion? What does the removal of Levite hair have to do with Korach's agitation? How does Mrs. On's hair play into the story?

To understand all of this, we will explore the episode of Ya'akov receiving the blessings from his father, Yitzchak, because hair occupies a prominent position in that story as well.

Ya'akov says to his mother, "Eisav is a hairy man, whereas I am a smooth skinned man. If Yitzchak will feel me, he will think I am a mocker and curse me" (Gn. 27:11-12). Rivka responded by telling her son to dress himself in Eisav's furry clothing (Gn. 27:15).

Neither Ya'akov nor Rivka seemed to be concerned about the other difference between Ya'akov and Eisav, their voices. We know that their voices were different. Yitzchak implied as much when he said, "The voice is Ya'akov's voice, but the hands are Eisav's hands" (Gn. 27:22). Obviously, Ya'akov had a different voice than Eisav. If so, why were they only concerned about the hair vs. smooth skin difference? What about the voice difference?

Besides, why didn't Yitzchak want to bless Ya'akov? Yitzchak knew that Ya'akov was a good boy who studied Torah constantly. Why not bless him also?

The Tiferes Shlomo (Toldos) says that Yitzchak did not want to bless Ya'akov because his blessings were about physical success in the materialistic world. If Ya'akov were to become wealthy due to the blessings, it might distract him from his one hundred percent unadulterated Avodas Hashem (service to God).

However, Rivka disagreed with Yitzchak. She maintained that since Ya'akov is the Ben Torah (Torah student), that is why he must receive those blessings. In order to serve God properly, one must have some money.

If you want to send your children to Talmud Torah, you have to pay tuition. In some places, tuition is astronomical. A nice pair of Tefillin are expensive. Buying new pairs of Tzitzis throughout the year is costly. If you want special Matzos, you have to pay the price. If you want to host Shabbos guests regularly, it is costly. Besides, how can a person concentrate properly on his Torah study if he is always running around borrowing more money to pay back his other lenders? How can he absorb Torah in a relaxed way if he is nervous about all the bills he cannot afford to pay?

Rivka maintained that since Ya'akov is the Eved Hashem (servant of God), it is imperative that he receive the physical blessings from the dews of the heavens to the fatness of the land.

The Arvei Nachal (Behar, Rabbi Dovid Shlomo Eibeshitz, b. Ukraine 1755 - d. Tzefat 1813) points out that hair represents the excessive unnecessary over indulgence in the physicality of this world. This is because external hair is not necessary for a person to lead a healthy and happy life. Since hair is unnecessary, it represents unnecessary materialistic wealth.

The Shvilei Pinchas adds that although Jewish men traditionally kept their hair short to show that we must minimize our pleasure seeking for its own sake, we are still commanded to leave Peyos (side locks; Lv. 19:27) and let them grow long to demonstrate that we need some finances to serve Hashem better.

The reason why Peyos are basically the hair which surrounds the ear (Shulchan Aruch, Yora Deah, 181:9) is because all Jewish ears heard the first two of the Ten Commandments from God directly at Mount Sinai (Makkos, chap. 3, "Eilu Hein Halokin", pg. 24a). The first commandment is, "I am Hashem your God" (Ex. 20:2) which teaches us to use all our wealth only to serve Hashem our God.

The second commandment is, "There may not be any foreign gods before Me" (Ex. 20:3). This teaches us that we should not turn ourselves into gods by pampering ourselves with the pursuit of money just to enjoy the pleasures that money can buy.

This explains why Peyos surround the ear. The long Peyos represent overflowing wealth, but the ears next to the Peyos remind us to direct that wealth to the service of God as we heard with our ears at Sinai (Shvilei Pinchas).

This explains Ya'akov's concern. He told his mother that Eisav is hairy. Ya'akov meant to say that Eisav's hair represents his personality. Eisav is constantly in pursuit of hair - money so that he can enjoy the pleasures of this world.

However, Ya'akov claimed that he himself was smooth skinned which represented that he had no desire to chase the fleeting pleasures of this world. Rather, all he ever wanted to do was study Torah and serve God.

Ya'akov argued that if he goes to Yitzchak requesting the materialistic blessings, Yitzchak will touch his smooth skinned-ness and be reminded that Ya'akov's purpose in life is to let go of physicality and pursue spirituality. Yitzchak will think that Ya'akov no longer wants to sit and learn. Yitzchak will think that Ya'akov decided that he wants a career change. Maybe Ya'akov is abandoning his mission in life for something so trivial. This will bring a curse rather that a blessing.

Rivka's response to this was that Ya'akov should wear Eisav's hairy clothing. There was a message in the clothing to both Ya'akov and Yitzchak. The first message was to Ya'akov. Although Ya'akov was right to make Avodas Hashem his goal of life, nevertheless, he must never negate materialism completely. If Ya'akov truly wants to serve Hashem properly, he is going to need some hair - money. Ya'akov must digest this lesson and march into Yitzchak's room with confidence.

Rivka also wanted Yitzchak to feel that hair because she was sending that same message to her husband. Neither Ya'akov or Rivka wanted to conceal Ya'akov's identity from Yitzchak. That is why they did not address the voice difference. Rather, they were just concerned that Yitzchak would get the wrong idea about Ya'akov's intentions by requesting physical blessings. They did address that concern. The hairy clothing sent the message to Yitzchak that Ya'akov is not abandoning ship. It's just that Ya'akov needs some hair - money in order to serve Hashem in the best way possible (Shvilei Pinchas).

Now, Korach was a very wealthy man. He discovered one of the three treasures that Yosef Hatzaddik had buried. It is reported that Korach needed three hundred white mules just to carry all the keys of the store houses, banks, and vaults in which he kept his money (Pesachim, chap. 10, "Arvei Pesachim", pg. 119a, Rebbi Chama b'Rebbi Chaninah).

At one time, Korach was an extremely holy and pure person (Ohr Hachayim Hakadosh, Nu. 16:1). It was because of his righteousness that God tested him. Such is the way of Hashem. He tests His righteous ones because He knows that they can take it and because He knows that they will even grow from it.

For instance, Hashem also tested Yosef with wealth. Yosef was wealthier than Korach. Korach only possessed one of Yosef's treasures whereas Yosef owned all three of them. The test of wealth is having the wealth. Hashem wants to see what such a person is going to do with his life and with all that wealth. How will he spend his time? What are his values going to be?

Yosef passed this test by burying it all with the intention that Hashem would give it to whom He sees fit. How many people would completely refuse to benefit from one's wealth?

Perhaps we could add that this explains the Midrash (Bereishis Rabba 84:7) which says that Yosef acted like a child by curling his hair. Maybe the Midrash is teaching us that Yosef knew, with his Divine Inspiration, that he was going to be tested with the test of wealth. Therefore, he would always curl his hair, meaning his Peyos, to constantly remind himself that overflowing money must be directed to the service of Hashem as the Jews were going to hear with their own ears from God directly at Mount Sinai.

Rebbi Yehudah Hanasi was also tested with wealth (Gittin, chap. 5, "Hanizkin", pg. 59a). He overcame that obstacle as he testified about himself on his deathbed. Right before he died, he lifted his two hands towards the heavens and said, "Master of the Universe, it is revealed and known before You that I only used my ten fingers to study Your Torah, and I did not allow even my pinky to receive pleasure from this world for its own sake" (Kesuvos, chap. 12, "Hanosei Es Ha-isha", pg. 104a).

Had Korach passed his test of wealth, he would have been propelled even higher, going down in history as one of the greatest tzaddikim of all time. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Korach liked money and he liked what money could buy.

Before Moshe passed the razor over Korach's skin, Korach had a nice amount of hair on his body. This demonstrated that Korach loved his hair and he loved what hair represented.

Maybe we could add a hint showing that hair represents wealth. The Hebrew word for hair is "sa'aros." When the letters of this word are rearranged, it spells the Hebrew word for wealth, "ashirus."

When Moshe cut Korach's hair, it was a message to him. Everybody knew that Korach was very wealthy. Moshe was communicating to Korach to let go. Moshe conveyed to Korach that he was a Levite who is supposed to be dedicated to the service of God in the Sanctuary. Therefore, Korach must learn to let go of hair and all that it represents.

This explains why the Levites were waved before God. This was meant to teach them that they were supposed to be lifted and elevated for a higher purpose, distancing themselves from the physicality of this earth (Shvilei Pinchas).

Korach understood the message, but Korach was agitated by it. Korach took it personally. During the haircut ceremony, Korach thought that it meant that Moshe wanted to take away all his money. Since Korach already fell in the test of wealth, he was upset by this message. Korach became defensive. The haircut pressed Korach's buttons. This is what triggered him to rebel against Moshe (Shvilei Pinchas).

It turns out that the haircut ceremony during the inauguration of the Levites was meant to sift out those who were not up to the task of unadulterated Avodas Hashem. One Levite was sifted out. His name was Korach.

The Shvilei Pinchas says that this explains why his parents named him Korach. It is because they were so righteous that they possessed Divine Inspiration and foresaw that this child was destined to be tested with wealth. Therefore, they specifically named him Korach in order to help him withstand his test. When the vowels are rearranged, the name "Korach" turns into the word "kayrai-ach" (bald). Their intention was to give him a name that would empower him to let go of hair (wealth) and overcome his test.

However, since the name Korach already belonged to the wicked descendant of Eisav, it backfired and instead of Korach letting go of hair, he pursued it like an Eisav type of person (See Berachos, chap. 1, "M'eimasai", pg. 7b, Rebbi Yochanan, Rebbi Elazar, Psa. 46:9).

This is why Ya'akov did not want his name mentioned in connection to Korach. Ya'akov also foresaw that Korach would fail his test of wealth. Worse than that, Ya'akov foresaw that Korach would present himself to the masses as a tzaddik, claiming that he was righteous. Korach would try to prove this point by telling people that his name was from the word "kayrei-ach." Korach claimed that he passed his test and was not addicted to money.

Therefore, by having his name deleted, Ya'akov the man of truth, conveyed a message throughout all generations to come that Korach is not a smooth skinned Ya'akov type of person who is only interested in using money to serve Hashem better, but rather, he is a hairy Eisav type of person who constantly runs after the pleasures of this world for its own sake (Shvilei Pinchas).

Mrs. On also saw through Korach's facade. By revealing her hair, she conveyed to Korach that she knew that he was interested in money for its own sake. When Korach spotted Mrs. On from the distance, he picked up on her message. Korach was concerned that Mrs. On might start talking and blow his cover. Therefore, to protect his image, Korach said to his followers, "Let's leave On alone. Let's try to get other people to join us" (Shvilei Pinchas).

On a final note of positivity, the Arizal (Sha'ar Hapesukim", Psa. Mizmor 92) says that eventually, Korach will emerge as a tzaddik. This is hinted to by the words, "Tzaddik Katamar Yifrach" (a righteous person will flourish like a date palm; Psa. 92:13). The last letter of each word spells Korach. This teaches us that at the end of days, Korach will emerge as a tzaddik. The tikkun in Gehinnom that he is going through, coupled with the intentions behind his parents, who named him Korach, meaning, "kayrei-ach", will override the connection to the old Korach ben Eisav.

Then, Ya'akov will be proud to have his name mentioned in association with Korach, as it is mentioned in Chronicles 1 (6:23).

Practically speaking, each weekday we should make the following declaration, "I am going to try and use whatever money I earn today, or whatever money I already have, to serve God better. Whether that means giving to the poor, spending money to improve my mitzvah observance, or to educate my children better. By doing so, I hereby have in mind to fulfill the verse that says, "V'lo Yihiyeh K'Korach Va'adaso" (Do not be like Korach and his assembly; Nu. 17:5).

So, may we and our spouses be blessed to become "holy skinheads" by shaving away hairy situations which lead to money grubbing, and instead, may we hear with our ears God's calling to use the resources that we do have to serve Hashem better, and thus make our father Ya'akov even prouder.