In this week's Parsha, Korach and his followers create an uprising which challenges Moshes right to be the leader and Aharon’s right to be the High Priest. In an attempt to show that it was Hashem who appointed the leader and the High Priest, Moshe says there will be a ‘trial by ordeal’; Korach, all of his followers, and Aharon himself are to each take a firepan and attempt to offer the Ketores (incense)...the person whose offering is accepted by Hashem is the rightful High Priest. Moses gathers the people and explains what is about to take place. Additionally, tells the people that the 'proof' he is speaking the words dictated to him by Hashem is that the ground will open up and swallow Korach. As a child, this story was always one of my favorite parts of the Torah. I imagined the final moments of Korach’s life as the ground opens up beneath him, a final cry “Noooooooooo!!!!!” as he plummeted down into the bowels of the Earth fading out as the Earth closed upon itself once more. It was certainly a powerful argument in favor of proper behavior.
However, all pageantry aside, why was it necessary for the ground to open up and swallow him alive? After all, all we need do is to turn our attention back to Nadav and Avihu-the two sons of Aharon who died at the dedication ceremony of the Mishkan. The Torah tells us that they, too, took firepans and offered incense. Since they were not commanded to do this, their deed was called an “aish zarah” (lit. ‘strange fire) and they died. Fast-forward to Korach. He will be taking a firepan and he will be offering incense. If he dies the way Nadav and Avihu died, it will be clear that his deed is an “aish zarah”. The point would be made with his death-no ‘earth-shattering’ miracles necessary.
In order to understand the necessity of the earth opening up, I believe it is essential to look at things from Moshe’s perspective. He knows that Korach will die if he goes through with the trial. Unfortunately, the death of Korah may have a negative effect. Perhaps the people will see Korach die and accuse Moshe of picking a trial that could result in someone’s death; they will wonder why Moshe did not choose a less lethal form of selection. For example, he could have asked everyone to put a staff next to the Ark-whoever’s staff sprouts flowers should be the High Priest…a trial which is done later in the Parsha! Such a doubt would undermine everything Moshe does; each time he says that Hashem commanded him to tell the people something, they would wonder if the command was really Divine or just Moshe putting one over on them. Hashem understood how important it was for the people to be able to trust Moshe, so He used the additional miracle of the ground opening up and swallowing Korach to prove that the “trial method” was chosen by Hashem, not by Moshe.
Sometimes a tragedy causes us to question people’s motives. The recent COVID-19 pandemic is no exception. I cannot tell you how many times I heard people say that there is no reason to wear masks-our leaders just made the rule because they are getting kickbacks from manufacturers. I have even heard people say that the only reason the Government wants us to get the vaccine is because they get money from the drug companies for each dose administered! This type of undermining does not only make it extremely difficult to lead, it can have dire-even fatal-consequences. May it be G-d’s Will that He not only bless us with trustworthy leadership, but that there be no doubt as to their trustworthiness.
"And Moshe said: 'By this you shall know that Hashem has sent me; none of this [the choosing of Aharon] is not from me.” (Num. 16:28)
In this section of the Torah, we learn about “Pesach Sheini (lit. Second Passover), a very special commandment. Right before giving this commandment, G-d had commanded Moshe to instruct Bnai Yisroel to bring the second Korban Pesach (one year after the Exodus). Some people from the camp came to Moshe and complained that, because they were impure, they were unable to bring the Korban Pesach along with everyone else. The Talmud, quoting a Midrash, tells us that these men had had become impure due to a Mais Mitzvah (a dead body with nobody to perform the burial rites), and there had not been sufficient time to go through the purification rites required. Therefore, their complaint was a perfectly valid one. Moshe told them that he did not know the law for such a case and needed to speak directly with G-d. The response from G-d is the commandment which allows a “make-up date” for people who were not able to bring the Korban Pesach on the 14th of Nissan (the correct date) due to extenuating circumstances.
I believe that this mitzvah is not just trying to give a second chance to someone who was unable to bring the Korban Pesach on time. In my opinion this mitzvah is a reminder to Mankind of how much G-d really loves us. In order to better understand this idea, think of a small child who makes a trinket for his parents. The child is not trying to bribe his parents-he is merely offering the trinket as a physical, tangible sign of his love. Even if the parent has no actual use for the gift, they still accept it (and hopefully treasure it), simply because it was from their child. The ritual offerings work in much the same way. Even though the Torah calls them a “reyach nichoach laHashem (pleasing aroma to G-d) that is really an attempt at anthropomorphic description-we all know that God does not really have a nose (or any other physical features, for that matter). Like the parent in our example, He takes something which He cannot use, simply because we gave it to him. If we examine the mitzvah of Pesach Sheini through this lens, we can see that it (and all other mitzvot) are just like the trinkets a child makes for his parents. G-d treasures every mitzvah that we do because they are a sign of the love we have for Him. May it be G-d’s Will that every mitzvah we do be an additional example of our love of G-d and that He reciprocate that love to us.
“And G-d spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Children of Israel, saying: “If any man of you or in your [future] generations shall be unclean from a dead body, or be in a journey far away, he shall keep the Passover to G-d; in the second month, on the fourteenth day, in the dusk shall they keep it- they shall eat it with matzah and with bitter herbs.” (Num. 9:9-9:11)
This section of the Torah deals with the laws surrounding a person who wishes to become a Nazirite. Such a person would take the Nazirite's vow for a specific amount of time; he would then be forbidden to drink wine (or any other intoxicating drink) or any liquid that is made from grapes or has had grapes soaking in it (for example, wine vinegar). He is also forbidden to eat grapes, cut his hair, or come in contact with the dead (even for his parents and family). Our Rabbis explain that this abstinence from certain physical things increases the person's spiritual awareness by deepening his connection with G-d.
When the preset 'term' of the vow is up, the person is required to go to the Mishkan (or, in later times, the Holy Temple) and bring certain offerings. One of the commanded offerings is called the 'Korban Chatas' or 'Sin Offering'. This was an offering brought as part of the atonement process for various sins a person commits. This seems to be an inherit contradiction; if taking the vow of the Nazirite is a positive thing (after all, deepening one's connection with G-d is an integral part of Judaism) why should this person bring a Sin Offering, and if taking the vow of the Nazirite is not appropriate (as the necessity of the Sin Offering would indicate), why does the Torah call this person 'Holy'? Better yet, why does the Torah allow this practice at all? In his commentary of Parshas Nasso, Ramban (Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman 1194-1270, also known as Nachmanides) explains that the sin offering is to atone for a Nazir who ends his period of intensified spirituality by choosing to return to a more 'physical' way of life; if the person chooses to remain a Nazir, he does not bring any sacrifices since the Torah specifies that they be brought "at the end of his vow" (Num. 6:13).
I would like to suggest another way of looking at this. A person who becomes a Nazir realizes that he must abstain from certain things in order to maintain his holiness. This realization of his own shortcomings is a positive thing (hence why he is called 'holy'). However, shutting ourselves off from the rest of the world is not the correct attitude. The mission of the Jewish people is to be a spiritual light for the other nations. We are supposed to engage with the world and reveal the holiness that is within the things G-d created. Therefore, the Sin Offering brought by the person is as atonement for needing to become a Nazir in order to maintain his connection with spirituality…in other words, the sin is allowing his life to become so out of control that the only way to maintain his connection to G-d is to shut himself off from the world.
All too often, the Jewish people are told to shelter themselves. They live in these small enclaves in Boro Park, Williamsburg, or the ghettoes of Europe, shunning anything from the outside. They are afraid to interact with anything that does not come from their own little world, fearing it will corrupt them. Perhaps it is time to take off the blinders. May it be G-d's Will that we learn from the Nazir's sin offering and that we be the "Nation of Priests and a Holy Nation” without shunning all of the wonderful thing which the World has to offer.
“And he [the Nazirite] shall bring his offering to G-d: one unblemished sheep in its first year as an elevation-offering, and one unblemished ewe as a sin offering, and one unblemished ram as a peace-offering.” Num. 6:14)
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