Divrei Azriel: The Jewish Spring

This week's dvar Torah is by Yosef Gottesman. Divrei Azriel is edited by Yoni Miller and Danny Shulman.

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YU RIETS Israel Kollel,

Reminiscent of modern events, Korach's rebellion was attacking a perceived autocratic regime. They decried tyranny, and demanded reform-"for the entire nation is Holy, and G-d is among them. Why do you exalt yourselves over the nation of G-d? (Bamidbar 16:3)" Every individual was at Har Sinai and encountered G-d; we all have the capacity to serve Hashem directly[1], and we demand the right to do so[2]. They wanted equal rights and opportunity for all; no one should be suppressed and disallowed from approaching G-d in the most intimate and direct way possible. They wanted it to be fair.

Why were they wrong? Why can't we all serve G-d directly? Why do we scoff and cringe at their actions, belittling them as complainers and troublemakers, when at face value they seem to be right and praiseworthy? Moshe was thrilled when others became Neviim[3], and was devastated and pained when the Jewish people preferred indirect contact with G-d rather than hearing His words personally at Har Sinai[4]. What was wrong with wanting to be able to serve G-d without any intermediary? What was their mistake?

But more perplexing than the question is the lack of an answer. The Torah doesn't mention any debate or response from Moshe. All Moshe says is that their roles are sufficient-"You have a lot... it is sufficient for you... (Bamidbar 16:7-9)" Where is the justification? Why is it that some are regulated to the back, to a lower form of service, while some get to attain tremendous spiritual heights?

Famously, Chazal describe the essence of the rebellion's claim. A garment which is made of techeiles, does it really need another string of the same color? A house full of sifrei Torah, does it really need two more paragraphs in a mezuzah? The Medrash concludes with Moshe saying to Korach "you were not commanded this-in your heart you created it."

Moshe doesn't give an answer explaining why their logic was incorrect; Moshe doesn't address the issue at all. All he says is that they made it up; G-d didn't say to do it that way. G-d commanded that we wear a blue string on a four-cornered garment, and we don't question the details; G-d instructed us to affix a small piece of parchment to our doorposts no matter what is contained in the house, and we don't claim it doesn't make sense. When Hashem gives us a mitzvah, we may find it illogical or superfluous, or we may be philosophically challenged by it-but we do it anyway. We don't keep G-d's Torah because we understand it, although we strive to do so. We listen to Hashem because He said so.

Perhaps this is the reason the response to the rebellion is blatantly omitted: because the fundamental premise was wrong. They felt slighted and suppressed, and they therefore concluded that Moshe must be lying to them; they felt the Torah was wrong and unjust, and they decided to throw it away and rebel.

There is no answer to people who impose their own will on the world, and refuse to acknowledge that their values may be wrong; we accept G-d's will, and we don't impose our own will on G-d.

There is nothing wrong with asking why things are the way they are; we are encouraged to be thinking, rational, innovative people, dynamic in our religion-living it and not just acting. We should ask questions and try to understand the world around us, but we have to be willing to live with questions which don't seem to have answers. G-d is G-d and we are human, and we won't always understand the values the Torah sets out for us. If we start off assuming that the Torah will bend to our own convictions and values, there will be no satisfaction or resolution, only a perversion of the will of G-d.

Korach and his rebellion wanted to be close to G-d, something tremendously commendable and admirable. But they assumed that this desire and value was objective and unquestionable-something that G-d Himself also wants. But apparently G-d doesn't want that. He doesn't want every single person to serve Him in the same way[5].

Children are different than adults, men are different than women, and yisraelim are different from leviim who are different from kohanim who are different from the kohein gadol. Does it seem fair-emphatically NO. Do we fully understand it-probably not. But no matter how much we question and are angered by it, it won't change a thing. We worship G-d not because it makes sense to us, or it makes us feel good and fulfills us, or because our values are aligned with it. We worship and serve G-d, and listen to His every word without any reservation-because He said so.

This is what G-d wants; He wants our own individual service, and not to be jealous or feel inadequate by comparing ourselves to others. Whether I am told to wear a tallis or not, whether I am told to offer the korban in the Mikdash or told to watch as the kohein does it instead, whether I am meant to learn Torah all day or work the field or in an office-G-d tells me what my role is and I listen to Him, and not to myself.

"Make His will your will, and you will make your will His will (Avos 2:4)." The more we try to make His will into our will, the more we try to imprint our own values on the Torah-the more we will be distancing ourselves from G-d and distorting His values. We must make our will into His will; we must ultimately abandon our own desires and values in place of His-only through this will we find fulfillment in life, and have our desires and needs fulfilled. If we embrace Hashem fully and unreservedly, in the capacities which He sets for us-He will embrace us back.


[1] See the end of Ramban 16:21 for this interpretation based on pshat. Chazal however understand that the demand was only that the firstborn should have the right to serve; this doesn't change the underlying issue, but only refines the question.

[2] See Rashi

[3] Bamidbar 11:29. See Chizkuni

[4] Rashi Devarim 5:23

[5] See Netziv for a similar approach.