Israel Report

June 2001         



THE PARSHA, THE PROCESS AND THE PROMISED LAND

Torah Thoughts Relating To Current Events

22 Jun 2001 16:41:39 +0200
by Michael Freund

In This Article:

1. He Meant Well…
2. …Which Still Counts for Something

1. HE MEANT WELL…

This week’s Parsha contains one of the most painful episodes in the Jewish people’s wanderings in the desert. Korach, Moshe and Aaron’s cousin, launched a rebellion against Moshe’s leadership of the Jewish people. Using populist rhetoric, Korach drew together 250 of the most prominent leaders of the generation and sought to undermine Moshe’s standing and authority because he felt entitled to a leadership position such as High Priest. The Torah tells us, “They gathered together against Moshe and against Aaron and said to them, ‘It is too much for you! For the entire assembly – all of them – are holy and G-d is among them. Why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of G-d?'” (Chap. 16, verse 3).

The question: Why is the Parsha named after Korach if he led a rebellion against Moshe?

The answer: The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson (in the book In the Garden of the Torah), cites an explanation which says that Korach’s underlying desire was in essence positive, since he wished to serve as High Priest and attain a higher spiritual level. Proponents of this view say the Parsha is named after Korach to emphasize that everyone has potential for spiritual growth and should aim to fulfill that potential. But the Rebbe rejects this explanation as insufficient, noting that while one’s intentions may be admirable, a person is judged primarily on his actions. And the fact is that even if Korach meant well, he nevertheless sparked a controversy that led to the deaths of thousands of people. Thus, the Rebbe suggests another reason for the Parsha’s name, saying that Korach’s mistake was that he chose to clash with Moshe and Aaron and thereby weaken Jewish unity. By naming the Parsha after Korach, the Torah wishes to emphasize that whereas unity can be complete only when it includes divergent units, it is essential that those units work in harmony, and not in discord, as Korach sought to provoke.

The lesson: With the collapse of the Oslo Accords under the weight of the Palestinian campaign of terror and violence, many people have finally come to realize the extent of the mistake that Israel made in 1993 when it concluded an agreement with the PLO. It is now clear for all to see that the goals of the Palestinians have not changed and that their aim is to wipe Israel off the map. Nevertheless, many people continue to take a magnanimous view of Oslo’s architects. “They meant well,” we are told, “it’s just that things did not work out the way they had planned”. But as we saw above, such an argument is simply beside the point, because it is a person’s actions, and the resulting consequences, that matter – especially when they impact on the lives of thousands, or even millions, of people. It is not enough to say that Oslo’s patrons meant well. They thrust the State of Israel into its greatest strategic and diplomatic debacle since its establishment. Shortly after the signing of the Oslo Accords, a public campaign was launched by its opponents, urging the government: “Don't Give Them Rifles”, for fear that those very same guns in the hands of the PLO would one day be turned against Israel. Sadly, such warnings went unheeded. Just this past week, Yasser Arafat's Fatah faction of the PLO claimed responsibility for the shooting murder of two Jews in the territories, and Israel now faces an armed PLO insurrection. It is worth remembering that when history one day passes judgment on this period, it will look not so much at what Oslo’s planners had in mind, but rather what they have wrought.

Likewise, Oslo divided the people of Israel like never before. Though diverging views, as we saw above, can be a positive and invigorating societal trait, the architects of Oslo unfortunately chose to repeat Korach’s error by widening the rifts in the nation. In the past, people who opposed Oslo were ridiculed and demonized, sidelined and scorned. They were compared to Hamas terrorists, labeled “fanatics” and “obstacles to peace” and treated with contempt. Peaceful anti-government rallies were brutally dispersed and numerous right-wing activists were arrested for exercising their democratic rights. The wounds of divisiveness will take a long time to heal, but we would do well to learn the lesson from this week’s Parsha (Torah reading): division without strife is a natural and perhaps even essential part of living in a peaceful society. But division accompanied by needless strife and delegitimization is a recipe for disaster.

2. … WHICH STILL COUNTS FOR SOMETHING

Confronting the rebels, Moshe presented them with a challenge, telling the two sides to gather together the next morning with brass fire-pans and offer incense on them, with the test being whose offering would be accepted by G-d. The rebels agreed to the test, with the 250 followers of Korach each bringing their own offering. The result of the trial was clear and unambiguous. The Torah tells us, “The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households, and all the people who were with Korach and all of the property… A flame came forth from G-d and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who were offering the incense” (Numbers: Chap. 16, verses 32, 35). After the rebellion had been quashed, G-d instructed that “the fire-pans of these sinners against their souls shall be made into hammered-out sheets as a covering for the Altar” (Chap. 17, verse 3).

The question: Why did G-d command that the 250 rebels’ brass fire pans be used as a cover for the Altar?

The answer: The Shem MiShmuel (Rabbi Shmuel Bornstein, 1855-1927, Rebbe of Sochaczev), explains that brass is symbolic of determination and conviction. Citing sources in the Prophets and the Midrash, the Shem MiShmuel notes that this character trait, when utilized carefully, can be positive and beneficial, helping a person to withstand great difficulties When left unchecked, however, it can degenerate into arrogance and inflexibility. Hence, whereas in the Tabernacle incense was always offered on gold utensils, in this case brass fire-pans were chosen to determine whether the trait of the 250 men was within reasonable bounds or had strayed into insolence and haughtiness. G-d’s rejection of the offering indicates, of course, that it was the latter. The 250 men had taken the positive trait of standing up for what one believes in and unfortunately contaminated it with their own haughty, self-seeking agenda. Thus, notes the Shem MiShmuel, once the fire had been doused (symbolizing the removal of their arrogance), the empty fire-pans (representing the good part of their characters) were still worthy of merit. They were therefore used in the Altar, to serve as an eternal reminder to the Jewish people to preserve their strength of character while avoiding the pitfall of arrogance and rigidity.

The lesson: Throughout Jewish history, our people have demonstrated an uncanny ability to survive, powered by an unyielding determination to cling to their identity even under the harshest of circumstances. The desire for peace, like the will to survive, is a basic and fundamental human striving, one that has guided the State of Israel since its founding. At its root, the pursuit of peace is of course a positive trait, representing the sacred and noble aspirations of a people that have known far too much death and destruction. But when the purity of that pursuit is tainted by personal arrogance and political pomposity, the result is neither peace nor serenity, as the failure of Oslo has amply demonstrated. When personal factors enter the equation, such as the desire for a Nobel Peace Prize or earning a place of honor in the history books, then naturally the equation changes, as does the outcome. In criticizing Oslo, however, we must be careful to separate the two, always bearing in mind that the desire for peace in and of itself is commendable. The mistake of Oslo’s architects was not that they wanted to bring peace to Israel, but rather the way in which they went about it, offering concessions they had no right to make and continuing the process in spite of the widespread opposition that it generated. Similarly, Korach’s followers erred in taking a positive trait and twisting it to suit their own purposes and agenda. Once that trait was returned to its pure and natural state, as in the brass fire-pans, it could take its rightful place on the Altar, where it would serve the entire nation rather than just one tiny faction. Likewise, now that Oslo has been invalidated, one can only hope that the Jewish people will have learned the lesson, retaining its desire for peace, but tempering that desire with a realistic perspective on the situation around us.

Michael Freund parsha_sheet@hotmail.com is former Deputy Director of Policy Planning in the Prime Minister's Office during Netanyahu's term. He is a columnist for the Jerusalem Post and a show host on Arutz Sheva http://www.israelnationalnews.com/metafiles/asx/shows/mike.asx

Source: Arutz Sheva


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