Korach: “Ruach HaKodesh” and Personal Interest

When dealing with Parshat Korach, many get an impression that Korach was a reckless individual who was obsessed with “kavod”. But the sages portrayed Korach quite differently, and through their image of Korach we will try to learn a valuable lesson from our parsha.

What Happened to Such Brilliance and “Ruach HaKodesh”?
Rashi comes and repeats the question asked by the sages: “Now Korach who was prudent, why did he commit this folly?” In other words, it is obvious that Korach was not some nut, but rather a “gadol” in Torah, as we will soon see. He also appreciated the greatness of Moshe Rebbeinu, as the parsha itself testifies to, and knew that Moshe was not after the “kavod”. And so he should have known that there would be some serious Divine backlash to the steps he was taking. This being the case: “Why did he commit this folly??” And Rashi answers: “His eyes deceived him; he saw a great chain (i.e., a chain of great men) issuing from him, (viz.) Shmuel, who is weighed against Moshe and Aaron. (Korach) said: Because of him I shall be saved. And twenty-four ‘watches’ will arise from his son’s sons, all of them prophesying through ‘Ruach HaKodesh’ … (Korach) said: Is it possible that all this greatness is destined to arise from me and I shall remain silent? Therefore he associated himself to come to that prerogative: for he heard from the mouth of Moshe that all of them would perish and one would be saved…”

And here we must ask a great question: We are talking about a tremendousTorah giant with “Ruach HaKodesh” who was capable of seeing generations and generations into the future! How then, could a man with such great vision and prophecy walk like a blind man in an alley, unable to understand something which any thinking, logical person could understand who does not possess any special “Ruach HaKodesh”?

The Refusal to See the Truth

From here we learn a shocking lesson: Even a “gadol” in Torah like Korach, who had the ability to see way into the future and reveal secrets of hidden Torah, is liable not to see simple things when he is not objective regarding the matter. How does this happen? He simply refuses to see what is not comfortable for him to see! In such a situation, even if he has a perfect Divine picture before his very eyes, he will force himself to close them so that “he won’t get confused by the facts”. And this is what we have here. Korach’s uncontrollable desire to be the Cohen HaGadol blinds him, and causes him to make calculations of folly which even a small child would not make. In fact, not only did “Ruach HaKodesh ” not help him, but he actually used this very “Ruach HaKodesh” to convince himself more and kindle hisself-deception – “His eyes deceived him!”

To what is this analogous? To the fellow who shot arrows, and someone comes along and is amazed to see how all the arrows have landed exactly in the center of the target. He asks: How is your shooting so accurate? He says: First of all, I shoot. Only afterwards do I go and make a circle around the arrow. Korach, too, has his target of being the Cohen HaGadol. He uses his brilliance to plan how to create an argument in which he already decided the outcome. He uses any possible claim that might work to strengthen his support among different groups. He is the consummate politician. And indeed, he succeeds in carrying the people with him, until he is swallowed into the ground…

How a Leader is Chosen

The lesson is clear. Certainly this is relevant when relating to the empty politicians of today. But unfortunately, it also applies to people who really are great in Torah – such as the “gedolim” like Korach and 250 heads of the Sanhedrin that bit the dust with him. (Rashi, verse 1), or the spies (tzadeekim!) who had the support of the Sanhedrin (Rashi, 14:1). All the more so does all this apply to the orphaned generation we live in today, where smallness of faith is what characterizes our leaders. Therefore, we must remember that even the “gedolim” and the possessors of “Ruach HaKodesh” can fall into the trap of subjectivity and personal interest, thus causing them to err on various issues. We learn from here that the test of the true Jewish leader (or if one is searching for a mentor to show him the way, he must seek out): He who has “Ahavat Yisrael” burning in his bones, and distances himself from all personal considerations. This is a true Jewish leader!

Shlach: The Unrealistic Men of Truth

We tend to lump together all ten of the spies who spoke against the land as one cohesive group – an “evil congregation” which acted as one in rejecting the land of Israel. But this was not the case. There were actually several internal differences in the motives amongst the ten spies, who before their sin were considered by the sages as the most righteous of men.

The Different Factions
The most active group which set the pace and was most extreme in their stance of rejecting the land was ready to do anything to prevent entry into the land. Their agenda was to remain in the wilderness and eventually return to Egypt to the watermelons and garlic, or to the “land of milk and honey” (as Egypt was later coined by their pious disciples, Datan and Aviram in parshat Korah).

In contrast, there were more moderate factions for whom it was not so easy to suddenly reject what Jews had dreamed of for so long. But what? They too held doubts about making Aliyah. There was the fear of losing their prestigious positions, as well as the more simple fear of getting pummeled by the giants of the land. These spies were able to ease their consciences by “facing the reality”. After all, it’s impossible to defeat giants, and one is forbidden to endanger the entire Jewish People. Who knows? Maybe they came up with a “psak halacha” that “pekuach nefesh” takes precedence over the land of Israel. And the spies who were left probably “had no other choice” other than to go with the tide. They hadn’t the courage to go against the flow, and thus were dragged along, accepting the “party line”…

While there is a huge difference between those who streamrolled the process and those who were simply dragged along or were just being “realistic”, the Torah does not differentiate among the spies when meting out the punishment. All factions were put in the same boat, suffering a harsh death and non-entry into the Promised Land. The major inciters and those who may have LOVED Eretz Yisrael are ALL labeled as “and they despised the good land”. All pleas for lighter punishment due to special circumstances would have to wait for the Heavenly Court.

The True “Gedolim”

To accentuate this point, we have the two “gedolim”, Joshua and Kalev. In contrast to the pragmatists, men of small belief, and outright rejecters of G-d’s will, we see two men who proved that one needn’t buckle under to the pressure. We see two men who proved that precisely it is faith in G-d which is the REAL reality!

Behold, Joshua and Kalev found themselves in a new situation. Suddenly, they were a minority that stubbornly clung to an idea which was deemed as “unrealistic”. Surely it was difficult for them not to succumb to the pressure of following the party line. But the harder test was when they returned to the Jewish camp – to the people who had been incited and brainwashed, and had to decide whether they would hop on the bandwagon and repeat the party line, or whether they would fight. Here, too, they stood their ground, clinging to the simple truth which overnight had somehow turned into something insane and unrealistic: “The land which we passed through is an exceedingly good land!”

Being a “Hebrew” – the Most Difficult Test of All
Joshua and Kalev stood the test. True, they endangered themselves: “But all the congregation said to stone them with stones”. But this is what is required of a Jewish leader – not to make “cheshbonot” with God’s commandment and not to accept the false reality. To be willing to be hated and to suffer helpless isolation versus overflowing falsehood. For this is the root of the word “Hebrew” – “Ivry”, which means other side, where Abraham stood on one side, and the entire world stood on the other side.

When the dust finally clears, the masses who were mired in the temporary falsehood will try to understand where they went wrong. At that same moment, the men of truth who stubbornly clung to the simple truth will merit G-d’s portion and receive the yoke of leadership.

Shlach: Beware of Corrupt and Treacherous Leaders

We never cease to be amazed with each reading of Parshat Shlach as we expose the true colors of the leaders of the nation. This same leadership that was to lead the Jewish People to the Promised Land suddenly rejects the entire Jewish destiny and dream. They brazenly turn their backs on the Holy Land promised to us by G-d, and to our amazement, are even prepared to find a substitute for it.

How could these Jewish leaders do such a 360 degree turn around? How could they reject the most basic of goals, so central to the Jewish destiny, for which every Jew up to that point had been striving for – the entering into the Land of Israel. To compound the question, the sages tell us from the verse, “and they went and came” (13-26), that “just as their returning was with evil counsel, so was their going with evil counsel”. This is, the spies sudden “change of mind” had nothing to do with the negative report they brought back with them after spying out the land, for their minds were already made up to give an evil report even before setting foot in the land. So what happened to these Jewish leaders who so abruptly betrayed the Jewish destiny?

From here we learn that we must always examine the deeds of even the most righteous of men. We must not be robots, blindly trusting in the “gedolim” or “leaders” under the assumption that “they will take care of it”, and thus we can rest easy. Even the most reliable leaders can, at one point or another, betray himself and his ideology as a result of normal human weakness, as did Yochanan Cohen HaGadol, who became a heretic at the age of eighty. The Torah itself bears witness to the fact that the spies were “tzadeekim”, and their tragic mistake was brought on by all kinds of personal and flawed motives that festered inside them.

In similar fashion, we can now understand how once nationalistic parties on the Israeli political spectrum eventually became so ideologically bankrupt. The Knesset seat overwhelms any sense of sanity, and the “kavod” overcomes ideology. Sure they may have justifications and excuses for their treachery, but the bottom line is that greed and lust erases the glorious past they may have had.

Parshat Shlach teaches a vital lesson to the people and to their leaders. The people must beware of leaders who lead them around by the nose, from one corner to another. We must break off the shackles of such leadership, and not hesitate to defy them. In this orphaned generation where a “gadol” isn’t so gadol, and a leader isn’t so much of a leader, it is that much more our obligation to go to all those “gedolim” and ask them the difficult questions that need to be asked – and if they have no answers, then let us recognize this fact and start searching for the hard truth, the hard way. The leaders also must realize that as leaders, they bear a greater responsibility and must set the example and be a positive influence. The spies were punished so severely because they were in a position of power, and with it comes greater responsibility.

Lack of Faith

In addition to all sorts of alterior motives the spies had, the sagesattribute their sin to several other factors, all stemming from one basic deficiency – lack of faith. Afterall, how can grasshoppers stand up to giants? Yes, the same G-d of history who created heavens and earth promised something, and they didn’t believe He was capable of delivering the goods. Without question, the leaders of that generation piously read the “thirteen principles of faith”, and gave “shiurim” in Yeshiva on “emunah”. But when it came down to “tachlis” – when they had to actualize what they had been preaching every day; when their faith was put to the test: Who is stronger, G-d or Sichon and Og, they opted for Sichon and Og. For sure, a “psak halacha” of the “Badatz” was even given on this issue by the ten rabbis.

As the Israeli government hands over to the Arabs the Land of Israel piece by piece, it becomes all the more important to learn Parshat Shlach, for the sin of the spies, “and they despised the holy land”, is repeating itself in a big way. Once more, the basic sin is lack of faith. But it is likely that the sin today of despising the land is a lot more severe than it was then. After all, we are already sitting here in the land. We have already conquered it through great wonders and miracles. We should not need such enormous faith to understand what our eyes have already seen in past wars. In essence, the faith for us should not be such an abstract commodity. Yet, in spite of this we insist on groveling to the Asads and Arafats, continuing to perceive ourselves as grasshoppers instead of giants. May G-d give us the faith and “msirut nefesh” (self sacrifice) to save ourselves from awesome punishment.

%d bloggers like this: