Right Makes Might

RABBI WAGENSBERG
PARSHA KORACH
“Right Makes Might”

One of the motivating factors which stirred Korach to rebel against Moshe and Aharon was that Korach foresaw that one of his own descendants was going to be Shmuel Hanavi (Samuel the Prophet; Rashi, Parshas Korach, 16:7, citing Midrash Tanchuma, 5). Since Shmuel was on equal standing as Moshe and Aharon, (Tehillim, 99:6, Berachos, chap. 5, "Ain Omdin", the opinion of Rebbi Yochanan) Korach reasoned that this indicated that he himself was the righteous one. This gave Korach the confidence to go against the authority of Aharon Hakohen.

This Midrash begs us to ask how Korach could have come to such a conclusion. There are many personalities who were righteous and yet their ancestors left much to be desired. For example, Avraham came from a Terach who spent the majority of his life as an idolater. Rachel and Leah came from a Lavan who was a trickster and a gangster.

The same pattern could apply to Shmuel and Korach. Shmuel was a righteous person, but that does not necessarily mean that Korach was righteous. Perhaps the righteous Shmuel came from the wicked Korach. How then, did Korach conclude that he must have been the righteous one just because Shmuel would descend from him?

The Arizal (Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, 1534 Jerusalem-1572 Tzfas; Sha’ar Hagilgulim, Preface, 33) says that, kabbalistically speaking, Aharon was reincarnated into Shmuel. Based on this, the Migaleh Amukos (Rabbi Nasan Nata Shapira, 1585-1633, Cracow, Poland, Vaeschanan 33) explains that Korach did not just see that Shmuel would come from his loins, but Korach also saw that Shmuel was a reincarnation of Aharon.

Since Shmuel was a Levi (see Radak, Shmuel Aleph, 1:1), Korach asked himself, “How could it be that a Kohen could wind up as a Levite?” Of the three classes of Jews, a Kohen is the highest, Levites are second, and Israelites are third, and we have a rule of thumb which states, "We always ascend in matters of holiness and we do not descend" (Meggilah, chap. 1, "Meggilah Nikreis", pg.9b). So, Korach asked himself, “How could it be that Aharon the Kohen Gadol became a gilgul into Shmuel who was a just a Levite?”

Korach concluded that if Aharon Hakohen would become a Levite, it must be an indication that he was being demoted because he never deserved to be the High Priest to begin with.

Moreover, the Divrei Emes (Rabbi Ya’akov Yitzchak, the Chozeh {Seer} of Lublin, 1745-1815, Poland) quotes a Midrash which says that Korach thought of himself to be greater than Aharon because Korach, as a Levite, never participated in the Sin of the Golden Calf (Parshas Ki Sisa, 32:26). However, not only did Aharon participate in that sin, he orchestrated it (Parshas Ki Sisa, 32:2-5).

Korach thought that this served as another reason as to why it was necessary for Aharon to become a Levite. This demotion would be part of Aharon's tikkun (fixing). Aharon, who orchestrated the sin of the Golden Calf, would need to spend time inside of a Levite, who never sinned with the Golden Calf, so that the Levites’ positive energy would rub off on Aharon.

Because of all this, Korach argued that he himself, as a Levite, should occupy the highest level of authority; not Aharon. However, Korach did not just want to be a Kohen. Rather, Korach wanted to change which class occupied the highest level of authority. Traditionally, the three classes of Jews, in descending order, are: 1) Kohen, 2) Levi, and 3) Yisrael.

The Zohar (Parshas Korach, pg. 176a) says that Korach attempted to introduce a system where the highest-class Jew would not be a Kohen, but rather, a Levite. Korach wanted that Leviim should be in first place (maybe he would be called the Levi HaGadol), whereas the Kohen would be in second place.

In other words, Korach did not want to be a Kohen. Korach was already a Levite. Instead, Korach wanted to switch the order around so that Korach the Levite would be the gold medalist, as it were, and Aharon the Kohen would be the silver medalist, so to speak.

By wanting to set this in motion, Korach threatened the existence of the world. This is because a Kohen comes from the right side of God (so to speak) which is the side of Chesed (kindness), whereas a Levite comes from the left side of God (so to speak) which is the side of Din (strict justice) (Zohar, Korach, pg. 176a).

It is imperative for the left to be subservient to the right and for the Levite (who stems from God’s left side) to be humbled before the Kohen (who stems from God’s right side), so that Din is inferior and so that Chesed remains superior. Only in a world dominated by Chesed can we exist because then, Hashem judges us through the lenses of compassion, and when the characteristic of compassion is superior, we stand a chance of surviving.

However, in a world where Din is dominant, there is no tolerance for sin, and subsequently punishment for misconduct is fast and harsh. In a world governed by Din, it would not take long for the human race to disappear altogether (See Rashi Parshas Bereishis, 1:1 citing Bereishis Rabba, Parshas Bereishis, 12:15).

Since Korach wanted to reverse the order by making Levi (Din) superior, and by making the Kehunaship (Chesed) inferior, he endangered all of the people on the planet because then, Hashem would judge people through the lens of Din, and very few people can emerge from Din as being worthy of life and deserving of existence. This is why Korach had to be stopped. Korach was taken out before he could do any further damage to the inhabitants of this world.

Besides, Korach was mistaken about the reason why Aharon the Kohen, was reincarnated into Shmuel the Levite. This was not a demotion. On the contrary, it was to assist Shmuel in protecting the Kehunaship (Priesthood) of Eli who was the High Priest in Shmuel's generation (Shevilei Pinchas). In a few moments, we will see just how Shmuel tried to protect the Kehunaship.

Now, Shmuel did, after all, descend from Korach. As such, there was a real concern that Shmuel would follow in the mistaken footsteps of his great grandfather, Korach, and try to place the Levite/Din above the Kohen/Chesed.

This suspicion was magnified when Shmuel paskined (decided) a matter of Jewish Law in front of Eli (see Berachos, chap. 5, “Ein Omdin”, pg. 31b, Rebbi Elazar). Eli took this as a sign that Shmuel (the Levite) wanted to promote his own authority (that of a Levite) over the authority of Eli the Kohen. Accomplishing this goal would place Din over Chesed thus endangering the life of every single person on earth.

Eli reasoned that just as Korach and his Din had to be killed so that the Kehunaship and its Chesed would remain superior thereby resulting in saving humanity, similarly, Eli thought that Shmuel the Levi with his Din should be killed in order that Eli HaKohen HaGadol and his Chesed should remain in power so that humanity would survive. To ensure that Shmuel not commit a repeat performance of Korach, Eli wanted Shmuel to be executed.

However, Korach was mistaken to think that Aharon’s soul entered into Shmuel as a demotion for sinning with the Golden Calf. As we mentioned above, Aharon’s soul came back into Shmuel in order to help him preserve the holiness of the Kohen and his essence of Chesed. The explanation of this is as follows.

The Gemara in Meseches Berachos (chap. 5, “Ein Omdin”, pg. 31b) reports to us that Eli would customarily require a Kohen to shecht (slaughter) an animal that was brought as an offering in the Mishkan (Sanctuary). When Shmuel heard about that, he (Shmuel) ruled that even a non-Kohen may shecht the animal because only from the stage of receiving the blood of the animal in a vessel, and on, must it be performed by a Kohen (based upon Parshas Vayikra, 1:5). However, before the blood comes out of the animal, such as the stage of shechita (which is done a split second before the blood comes out), it may be performed by a non-Kohen.

In his Ya’aros D’vash (vol. 1, Drush 16), Reb Yonasan Eibeshitz (1690-1764, Prague) says that Shmuel was not trying to take over the position of authority by issuing such a psak (decision) about a non-Kohen shechting, but rather Shmuel was trying to protect the Kohanim. This is because although halachikally a Kohen may shecht the animals; nevertheless, kabbalistically, they should try to avoid doing so because shechting is an act of cruelty which could potentially damage the characteristic of Chesed possessed by Kohanim.

After Chana (Shmuel’s mother) explained to Eli that she had prayed for a son who would protect the sanctity of Kahunaship, Eli understood that Shmuel was not trying to reverse the order of authority. Therefore, Eli intervened and had the execution cancelled.

There is a Jewish practice that we perform many times daily which supports this idea that Chesed must prevail over Din and that practice is Netilas Yadayim (ritually washing our hands).

It is important that the left hand pours the water over the right hand first. This demonstrates that the left hand is the servant and the right hand is the master, which means that Din is subordinate to Chesed, and Chesed remains primary (Reikanti, Levush, Eikev, 199a).

Perhaps we could suggest an exercise that we can implement every single day that will enhance kindness in the world. When we wash our hands ritually, let us think about the deeper meaning behind those washings even just once a day.

Let us be reminded that we wash in this way in order to place the emphasis on Chesed. Let us use this idea as a springboard to go out there and do a Chesed for somebody that we would not have done otherwise. This will continue to emphasize Chesed as the primary frequency that we operate on so that the world which we so desperately need will continue to exist, because Hashem will look at us through the lenses of compassion as well.

So, may we all be blessed to place the emphasis on Chesed which will transform this world of ours from a harsh place into a sweet paradise, with Moshe, Aharon, and Shmuel at the helm of the third and final Bais HaMikdash, speedily in our days, Amen!