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August 28, 2015 / 13 Elul, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Korach’

Korach and the Three-Fingered Salute

Friday, June 20th, 2014

Jewish thought is filled with examples of opposites. We can either listen to the good or evil inclination, a tzadik (righteous person) or rasha (evil person), etc… there are no shortage of examples. But it appears that we now have one more.

If arabs have made a three finger salute to celebrate the kidnapping of three precious Jewish boys, then with the intention of counteracting the evil of this salute, we should promote the opposite. Since the three fingered salute is being used as a sign for evil – as the Primordial Snake was in years past – our work now is to invest ourselves in publicizing the opposite.

We should learn to “live with the times,” to live life in the light of the weekly Torah portion. Thus we would expect to find some allusion (and rectification) to this recent headline in the timeless teachings of the Torah.

But before we discuss the Torah portion of Korach that we are now in, let’s first quote something from the sages related to our present Hebrew month of Sivan.

Blessing Threes

When beginning the Hebrew calendar from Nisan, Sivan is the third month. But this isn’t the only three for Sivan. As the sages state:

“Blessed is the Merciful one who gave a threefold Torah to a threefold people, by the third, on the third day, in the third month.”

In this quote, God is referred to as the “Merciful One.” God’s attribute of mercy is itself related to the number three, for it is the third of the seven emotive attributes of the soul.

Thus this is our first prayer for this post is that our three — Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali — should immediately be blessed and redeemed by the Merciful One.

One People United

Now we turn to our present Torah portion of Korach.

Korach’s claim was that “The entire congregation are all holy,” but why isn’t this claim considered just?” On Mt. Sinai it says, “And you shall be for Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation,” and in the Torah Portion of Kedoshim the entire congregation were told, “Be holy”!

The truth is that each member of the Jewish people does have something in common. Each and every one of us is a part of the “holy nation,” and everyone has a Divine soul that is “an actual part of God above.” Nonetheless, holiness comes at various levels: there is the special holiness of every Jew; there is the special holiness of the kohanim (priests) that ordinary Jews and Levites don’t have; and there is the holiness of Aaron, the High Priest, which is referred to as “holy of holies.”

But while Korach’s egalitarian approach may seem more considerate of the “individual rights” of every Jew, it promotes the opposite. Korach could only see individuals that live individual lives. From his perspective, we live in a divided world in which there are only individuals and countless details.

This week, however, we witnessed true unity. Not from the arabs who claimed to have become “united” together, but from the true unity of the Jewish people rallying around, and praying for, these three boys.

Thus how would we envision a rectified, holy version of the three finger salute? That it should serve as a reminder as to true Jewish “salute” of unity. While there are some Jews who serve as the heads (i.e., leaders) of the Jewish people, and others as the feet to carry out the directives of these heads, we all share the same body. Whereas the ‘unity’ of the arabs is the height of disunity, the unity of the Jewish people remains always an essential part of our being.

Korach: Can We Influence God?

Thursday, June 19th, 2014

Description: In this week’s parsha video, Rabbi Fohrman points to two fascinating stories which seem to have contradictory lessons about the way we interact with God.

These stories force us to ask a theological question: what impact, if any, can we have on God? Is it possible for us to influence God?

Visit AlephBeta.  /  Rabbi David Fohrman

Korach: The Danger Of Quarreling

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

Aharon HaKohen is distinguished for his love of peace. Korach earned distinction for failing in this area; his name has become synonymous with dispute and divisiveness. Rabbi Avigdor Miller, zt”l, found in this story a striking lesson about the danger of argumentativeness and its application to every Jew.

“And he shall not be like Korach and his congregation” (17:5). This verse speaks of two principles. The first is that the memorial created by coating the Mizbeach with the metal from the censers of the dissidents who perished is intended as “a sign for the sons of Israel” (17:3) so that never again should anyone challenge the prerogative of the sons of Aharon as the kohanim of Hashem. The second principle is not to engage in quarrels – not to “be like Korach and his congregation,” allowing ourselves to be motivated by envy or desire for glory or power and thereby cause dissension among the people of Israel.

Thus one purpose of the episode was to serve as a model to warn against quarrels of every kind, domestic or business, between private persons or groups in the community. One should not say that only against Moshe and Aharon it was wrong – but that against others we may quarrel. Or that at least the sin would not be of equal gravity as in the case of Korach. The Torah declares that in every generation all Israelites are held as responsible as was Korach for any form of jealous dissension.

Although this admonition is specifically directed against future claimants to the priesthood, it is actually a general admonition against disharmony and divisiveness, as all admonitions to the nation are also intended for individuals and their private behavior.

All events in the Torah are intended as models and lessons for guidance to individuals in their personal conduct. Rambam writes, “One should hearken to his neighbor’s words and not be obstinate.… Thus the Torah commands (Devarim 10:16): ‘Circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and no longer stiffen your neck’ ” (Moreh Nevuchim 3:33). Although this admonition was said to the nation in reference to certain national misdeeds, it is intended for everyone at all times.

Similar directives for personal behavior are cited by Rambam (ibid.) from various pronouncements concerning the nation. Following this principle, whenever Hashem Speaks to any person in Scripture, or whatever Scripture says concerning an individual or the entire nation, is to be considered as a lesson for the individual behavior of every person and a requirement Hashem demands of all.

Similarly, Rabbeinu Yonah (Shaare Teshuvah 3:17) cites the commandment to “remember the kindnesses of Hashem and to meditate on them, as is said: ‘And you shall remember all the journey’ (Devarim 8:2).” This was said specifically to Israel in general so that the nation would remember the journeys in the wilderness for 40 years (ibid.), yet it is considered an obligation for every person to remember his own journey in life and always to look back with gratitude on Hashem’s many kindnesses to him.

Similarly, the admonition that the king should not become arrogant over his brother-Israelites (Devarim 17:20) is understood (R. Yonah, Shaare Teshuvah 3:34) as an admonition for everyone to follow.

“You have killed the people of Hashem” (17:7). Here the people vouch for Korach and his associates as being as fully accredited as all other sons of Israel. Even though the miraculous destruction of Korach had clearly demonstrated that this was Hashem’s will, they blamed Moshe for proposing (16:18) this punishment. By this statement the people testified that Korach and his company were truly observant and fully loyal Israelites. Had Korach and his associates openly transgressed the least commandment, they would not have been the generous encomium “the people of Hashem.”

In any previous dissension – such as the meraglim or Miriam (17:1) or the complainers (11:1) – Korach had never been named as a participant and it is certain that when Moshe called out “Who is for Hashem, to me!” (Shemos 32:26) and “all the sons of Levi gathered themselves to him” (ibid.), Korach had been among them. Moshe’s prayer to Hashem – “Turn not to their offering” (16:58) – is sufficient evidence of the worth of these opponents.

What We Can Learn From Chazal About Dating

Thursday, July 7th, 2011
A recent piece posted on Matzav.com signed by “A Crying Bas Yisroel” chillingly lamented the plight of a young single woman, with fine personal qualities but without any family money or yichus, who sits forlornly waiting for her phone to ring with calls from shadchanim. Alas, the phone never rings, and for her, the shidduch system is an ongoing nightmare.
Not coincidentally, but perhaps surprising to some, almost all the weddings I attended this past month were those of couples who had “long-term” relationships. They either met in high school or when high school age, or in Israel or their early college years, and almost all of them met on their own. They did not use shadchanim, but met the old-fashioned way: in healthy social settings where young men and women mingle naturally, without the pressure of “potential spouse” hovering over every encounter. That is not the norm in Jewish life these days, but perhaps it should be.
That is not to say that the shidduch system is failed, or failing, or broken. Too many people work too hard on setting up unmarrieds that it would be incorrect and insulting to say that it is broken. So it is not broken – but perhaps it should be a b’diavad (post facto) and not a l’chatchila (ab initio) system.
L’chatchila, it would seem, Chazal emphasized that we should find our own mates.
The Gemara (Kiddushin 2b) cites the pasuk “When a man takes a woman [in marriage]” and explains “darko shel ish l’chazer al ha-isha,” it is the way of men to pursue women [in marriage]. It is not the way of men, or shouldn’t be, to enlist a band of agents, intermediaries, and attorneys to do the work for them. By infantilizing and emasculating our males, we have complicated a process that should be simpler and made a joyous time into one of relentless anguish and hardship for many women.
This is reminiscent of the life story of a pathetic man we recently encountered in the weekly Torah reading – Ohn ben Pelet. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 109b) states that “ishto hitzilato” – his wife saved him from the clutches of Korach. Ohn was an original co-conspirator who is not mentioned again after the first verse, because his wife explained to him the foolishness of his conduct (Ohn loses if Moshe wins and gains nothing if Korach prevails), prevented him from joining his fellow conspirators, and, as the Midrash adds, held onto his bed to prevent the ground from swallowing Ohn and then dragged him to Moshe to beg forgiveness. Ohn was a sad excuse of a man.
Mrs. Ohn, in effect, saved her husband not only from Korach but also from himself. The problem with Ohn is that he perceived himself as an object, and not a subject or an actor. Ohn wasn’t a leader – he was a born follower, an object for others to use. He just allowed himself to be yanked along by anyone – for evil and for good. He was just part of the crowd, the personification of the personality of weakness, dependence and self-abnegation. He took no responsibility for his own destiny.
An object is a tool of others; a subject is the master of his destiny. In the realm of dating and marriage, we are breeding Ohns by the thousands by freeing men from their obligation to pursue their potential spouses, and thereby relegating women to the dependent role of passively waiting to be the chosen one. Why do we do that, and is there a better option?
Some will argue that the shidduch system spares our children the pain of rejection – but part of life, and a huge part of parenting, is preparing our children for a world in which they will experience rejection at some point. That is called maturity.
Others will argue, with greater cogency, that we prevent young men and women from sinning. Relationships that begin when couples are younger, or friendships that start outside the framework of parental supervision, can induce or lead to inappropriate behavior. That possibility is undoubtedly true, but can be rectified by applying a novel concept called “self-control,” which in any event is the hallmark of the Torah Jew.
We do not tell people to avoid The Home Depot even if one wants to buy a hammer lest he shoplift some nails, nor do we admonish others not to shop in Pathmark because one might be led to sin by the aroma of non-kosher foods. Self-control and discipline are routine components of the life of a Jew. And, even granting that “there is no guardian for promiscuity,” it should still be feasible for a young man to talk to or display his personal charms to a woman without assaulting her.
Sad to say, there is a promiscuity problem, even among some of our high school youth and certainly in college, that cannot be swept away. It can be resolved if parents take responsibility and sit down with their sons and teach them how to respect women – and sit down with their daughters and teach them how to respect themselves.
Something is not normal, and against human nature as Chazal perceived it, for men to be so diffident, so timid, so Ohn-like, and sit back comfortably relying on others to procure them dates. Young men who would not allow others to choose for them a lulav and etrog do not hesitate to delegate others to find them a spouse. This also unduly delays their fulfillment of the commandment of pru u’rvu (procreation). And something is not normal, and frankly, unfair, when young women have to sit by the phone for weeks and months waiting to be contacted by agents.
What is the solution, or the other option? For those people currently of age and in the system, or for communities that would accept only the shidduch­ system, there is no other solution but to redouble our efforts. They will reap the reward, and also, sadly, the misery of those who choose to be passive in life. Obviously, unmarried men and women should be seated together at weddings to facilitate more natural, pressure-free encounters; it is so obvious, it is surprising it is even debated.
But for younger people today – say, older teens – there has to be a better way. The paradigm of “don’t smile/talk/socialize/date” until one is ready for marriage constricts the capacity of our young people to assume responsibility for their own lives. Many will disagree with me, even among my colleagues, but if we wish to minimize the heartbreak of so many of our young people, we must find healthy ways of encouraging interaction between teenagers – in shuls, in schools, in youth groups. We have to de-stigmatize self-help and personal initiative.
For example, at a shul Kiddush, it should not be construed as abnormal or off-putting if a young man approaches a young woman who has caught his eye, and asks her name, and “would you like a piece of kugel?”That should be normal; at one point, that was darko shel ish. Indeed, that should be even more normal among people of marriageable age, and would consign the shidduch­ system to its appropriate b’diavad status, for people who have not been able to meet on their own. Perhaps the young woman whose lament was featured above should take similar initiatives as well.
Dating at too young an age is certainly problematic, but teenagers who learn to socialize in groups demystify the opposite sex and learn appropriate boundaries, communication skills and modes of interaction. Such contact makes males more sensitive, and helps them learn at an early age that a young woman is not a shtender, in the Steipler’s elegant phrase, or a vehicle for their own gratification, in the modern lexicon. It certainly helps prepare a couple for marriage if they know each other longer than three weeks or three months, and the recent spate of broken engagements and early divorces in the Jewish world would tend to confirm that. And conversely, the plethora of recent weddings of couples in our community who know each other for years would corroborate that as well.
I am mindful of the opinions of the gedolim who proscribe any male-female interaction before one is ready to marry, and those gedolim who permit such contact in controlled settings. As a community we have other options than the false choice of isolationism or promiscuity, and we need to strengthen our young men with the inner confidence to guide their own lives. There are too many people walking around with Y chromosomes who are not men. They have an Ohn-like existence, sitting back comfortably and letting others plot their destiny in life. They will never be masters, only objects who cannot lead or build or create. That does not bode well for Klal Yisrael.

May Hashembless with success the work of all shadchanim.But we need to shift the culture away from the passive indifference of the well-connected to the active pursuit of spouses by all, and thereby mold more assertive men and more confident women. That is because more is expected of us – as a nation that is called by God for greatness, not mediocrity; to be active, not passive; to be followers of God and leaders of mankind.

 

  

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky is spiritual leader of Congregation Bnai Yeshurun of Teaneck, New Jersey, and the author most recently of “Judges for Our Time: Contemporary Lessons from the Book of Shoftim” (Gefen).

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/what-we-can-learn-from-chazal-about-dating/2011/07/07/

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