Confounding the Work of Creation

From the teachings of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria; translated and edited by Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky

Korach refused to reconcile because his quarrel was not "for the sake of heaven."

In this parashah, the Torah chronicles the rebellion of Korach.

You can understand Korach’s quarrel with Moses based on what is written in the Soncino Zohar (1:17a) on the verse, "And G‑d said, ‘Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters.’" (Genesis 1:7) In the middle of that passage [in the Zohar] it says, "Similar to this is the quarrel of Korach with Aaron."

The division of the water into two (atmospheric and ocean water) presaged the division of Korach.

The seven days of the Creation week manifested the seven sefirot of the emotions. Sunday, when light was created, manifested chesed, pure giving. Monday, when the primordial water was divided into atmospheric moisture (the upper water) and the oceans (the lower water), manifested gevura, restraint. Water is naturally heavier than air, so in order for it to be suspended in air, it had to be restrained from precipitating, and this aspect of the hydrological system/cycle is referred to as the "firmament."

chanoch adds: there are other opinions about the upper and lower waters. Some Kabbalists indicate the upper waters are related to the Oort Cloud. The firmament is the Atmosphere and the lower waters are the ocean. Of course there are other opinions as well.

In particular, however, the upper and lower waters manifest chesed and gevura, and the firmament manifests tiferet, which harmonizes chesed and gevura. This is why the work of creation involving water was not finished until the third day (when the oceans were "gathered" in order for the dry land to appear), for the third day manifested tiferet.

chanoch adds: Please note that water represents chesed. Can the lower waters be gevurah? Only in the context of relativity.

Know that Korach was a Levite, and thus embodied gevura...

Know that Korach was a Levite, and thus embodied gevura, and [moreover] was the head of the Levites, and thus embodied the highest aspect of all states of gevura, while Aaron [embodied the highest aspect of all] states of chesed. Thus, their quarrel was that of the left side with the right side.

Chesed is the central sefira on the right axis of the sefirot, while gevura is the central sefira on the left axis. Their natures are fundamentally opposed, chesed being the nature to give and gevura being the nature to withhold. The tension between them is thus the fundamental tension of duality in all reality.

chanoch adds: To understand the term central sefira on an axis means it is the middle sefira in the various columns of the Tree of Life.

Moses observed [this] and said: "It is proper for me to try to harmonize them." This befitted Moses, for he [embodied the principle that] sweetens all states of gevura above [i.e., in the spiritual realm], the middle axis.

The middle axis of the sefirot harmonizes the right and left axes, combining the positive qualities in each and neutralizing their extremeness.

chanoch's Commentary

The next few paragraphs require deep contemplation on the Tree of Life structure. If you have questions please ask them. If you feel that you do not understand express that opinion as well. It is important to have at least a modicum of understanding to go forward in your learning on this subject of Korach Moshe and Aaron and their disagreement.

Furthermore, Moses embodied the yesod of Abba, which is revealed at the level of tiferet of Zeir Anpin, as is known, because it emerges [from its investiture in yesod of Ima] and extend further down than yesod of Imma.

Yesod of Abba (the drive of insight for self-actualization) becomes clothed in the yesod of Imma (the drive of the intellect proper for self-actualization) and thereafter, together with it, in Zeir Anpin (the emotions produced by the intellect). Thus, the emotions are "driven" by these two drives, one invested within and driving the other. The yesod of Imma, however, is invested in Zeir Anpin only as far down as its tiferet, while yesod of Abba continues down until the yesod of Zeir Anpin. Thus, yesod of Abba is revealed (i.e., openly manifest) when the emotions reach their central point of development, tiferet, the element of "mercy" in the emotional array. The essence of any new insight is a new, higher, better way of looking at reality. This new insight, if properly transmitted, will enable everyone to live life better, and therefore transmitting it is an act of mercy on creation. Therefore, yesod of Abba becomes manifest in tiferet of Zeir Anpin.

This manifest light of Abba also serves to sweeten the states of gevura at that point.

It is the exposed light of yesod of Abba that enables tiferet to harmonize the two preceding sub-sefirot of Zeir Anpin, chesed and gevura.

This is [the mystical meaning of] what is said of Moses, "And she saw him [oto]" — i.e. his "sign [ot] of the holy covenant," which was yesod of Abba—"that he was good" (Exodus 2:2) — that it manifest only states of chesed, and could serve to sweeten states of gevurah.

In the phrase, "And she saw him, that he was good," the word for "him" (oto) can also mean "his sign," and thus the phrase can read, "And she saw that his sign was good." The male reproductive organ is known as "the sign of the holy covenant [of circumcision]" (Tikunei Zohar, introduction 17a)

But Korach did not want to be reconciled...

But Korach did not want to be reconciled [with Aaron] and therefore persisted [in his quarrel].

Moses said: "Surely Purgatory resulted from the intensity of this tension above [in the spiritual realm], it is therefore necessary to combine [Korach, the personification of the left side] with the right side. If he does not want this, he will surely descend into Purgatory, just as when the world was created, the intensity that issued from the tension [between the higher and lower waters] descended into Purgatory."

Initially, chesed argued that kindness should be shown even to the wicked, while gevura argued that punishment should be meted out even to the righteous (for their miniscule faults). Tiferet harmonized these, so that chesed agreed that the wicked should be punished and gevura agreed that the righteous should not. This argument thus produced Purgatory, the fire of Purgatory, wherein the wicked receive their punishment/purification for their sins. Allegorically, the heat of the argument is envisioned as producing the fire of Purgatory.

chanoch adds: Purgatory is not a Jewish concept. In actuality this allegory is also a true spiritual effect of the binding by striking between chesed and gevurah that creates tiferet.

Korach did not want to agree [to be mollified] because [his quarrel] was not "for the sake of heaven."

The sages state that "Any quarrel that is for the sake of heaven will endure, while [any quarrel] that is not for the sake of heaven will not endure. What is [an example of] a quarrel for the sake of heaven? The quarrel between Hillel and Shamai. And [what is an example of] a quarrel that is not for the sake of heaven? The quarrel of Korach and his congregation." (Pirkei Avot 5:17) "For the sake of heaven" means "for the purpose of arriving at the truth, in order to further G‑d’s purposes on earth" rather than "for the purpose of self-aggrandizement."

The word for "for the sake of" (lesheim) literally means, "for the name of."

Here, the Arizal interprets this phrase mystically, defining "heaven" and "name" as appellations for specific mystical realms.

"Heaven" refers to Zeir Anpin and "name" refers to Nukva [of Zeir Anpin] which is its "name."

A "name" is something that manifests the entity called by that name. The feminine principle, malchut, expresses the emotions, which are Zeir Anpin.

Thus: "Any quarrel" — i.e. any manifestation of gevura, "that is for the sake of heaven" — i.e. for the Nukva of [Zeir Anpin] "heaven," " will endure" — i.e. it will remain above, with Zeir Anpin, and will not descend into Purgatory, while "[any quarrel] that is not for the sake of heaven" but is rather for the "other side" [the side of evil] " will not endure" there above, but will descend to Purgatory.

Whatever aspects of gevura assent to be sweetened by chesed can remain together with it, functioning as male and female in the orderly development of the creative process. Those coarser aspects of gevura that are too egocentric to be sweetened, ipso facto become the forces of pure punishment for sin, i.e. for egocentricity.

chanoch's adds: It is important at this point to stress that there is never punishment nor reward. There is only effecrts of spiritual causes. When someone, a student of Kabbalah, uses the terms reward and punishment it is a caution sign regarding their commentaries upon teachings of the Sages of Kabbalah. When one finds this it is important to ask questioins seeking clarification.

Korach was not concerned with G‑d’s glory...

Korach was not concerned with G‑d’s glory, but sought to confound the work of creation [as follows]. The [original] gevura of which we speak is holy, and when it is properly sweetened, it indeed remains above [in the realm of Zeir Anpin]. This increases the glory of holiness.

When, however, aspects of gevura are made to leave [the realm of holiness] and not be sweetened, it causes holiness to descend, weakening holiness and strengthening evil, for [the realm of evil] is thus increased by the force of holiness [transferred to it]. This is what Korach did.

This is how he "confounded the work of creation." His egocentricity added power to evil.

When Moses saw how he deranged the upper realms, diminishing holiness, he himself was being affronted, for [Korach] was fitting to be sweetened and rectified by him.

Korach’s refusal to be reconciled with Aaron was thus both a derangement of the workings of creation and a personal affront to Moses, who, as yesod of Abba, should have rectified him.

When Korach refused him and did not want [to be sweetened], "Moses became very angry" (Numbers 16:15) over the rectification that was meant for him [to orchestrate] but that he could not conclude. For Korach diminished the power of holiness and increased the power of impurity.

[Moses] is therefore described as being "very" [angry] because it was not only that he did not merit to rectify [what he should have] which affected only him personally. [Korach’s rebellion] also blemished the spiritual realms.

Because Korach caused all this, he descended to Purgatory as befitted him. (Ibid. 16:31-33)

Thus, we see how Korach reflected the very first quarrel, in which the [coarser aspects of] gevura asserted themselves stridently.

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Sefer HaLikutim; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."

Knowing One's Place

From the teachings of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria; translated and edited by Moshe Yaakov Wisnefsky

The essential struggle of Korach was over the soul-root of the generation

In this parasha, the Torah chronicles the rebellion of Korach. The opening words of Korach's speech against Moses were: "It is too much for you", as follows:

They assembled against Moses and Aaron and said to them, "It is too much for you, for the whole congregation is holy, and G‑d is in their midst. So why do you exalt yourselves over G‑d's assembly?" (Num. 16:3)

Significantly, Moses closed his reply with the same words:

He spoke to Korach and all his assembly, saying, "In the morning let G‑d make known who is His…It is too much for you, O you Levites!" (Ibid. 16:7)

The souls of the Jews [of that generation] were derived from the name of G‑d whose numerical value is 135, i.e. from [the combination of] the [two] names [Havayah whose numerical values are] 72 and 63.

chanoch adds: here are the Names - יוד הי ויו הי + יוד הי ואו הי = 135.

As we have noted previously, the name Havayah can be spelled out in four basic ways, giving the numerical values of 72, 63, 45, and 52. The sum of the first two of these iterations is 72 + 63 = 135.

The four spellings-out of the name Havayah correspond to the four partzufim of Abba, Imma, Zeir Anpin, and Nukva. Thus, combining the 72 and 63 spellings-out signifies the union of chochma and bina, i.e. the masculine consciousness of chochma applied or made relevant to the feminine consciousness of bina.

The two of them together thus express the idea [embodied in the Sages' statement] that "women have light [or 'agile'] daat" (Kidushin 80b).

[women have light daat: See the explanation of this given in the third installment of parashat Vayishlach.]

chanoch adds: The meaning of this phrase comes from the teaching that a women receives the upper 3 sefirot from her husband during Zevug – sexual intercourse or coupling. In my opinion this is not true for many in this generation since as an “end of days” generation women are growing to a level that restores the diminishment of the moon as prophesied in Isaiah.

The numerical value of the word "light" in this expression ("kala", the feminine form of the adjective) is 135:

Kala: kuf-lamed-hei = 100 + 30 + 5 = 135.

Moses' soul ...was derived only from the first of these two spellings-out of the name Havayah…

Thus, the daat, or divine consciousness of this generation, the second generation of the Exodus, was "female" relative to the "male" daat of the first generation of the Exodus. As we know, this was in fact necessary in order for them to enter the Land of Israel and concretize the abstract consciousness of the first generation.

Korach's rebellion occurred shortly after the incident with the Spies, i.e. during the first year after the Exodus. However, after the incident with the Spies, G‑d declared that that generation would perish in the desert and only the next generation would enter the Land of Israel. So, in a sense, the first generation was "over", and the history and mentality of the second generation had taken over by the time Korach mounted his revolt.

This is why they said, "Why do you exalt yourselves over G‑d's assembly [in Hebrew, "kahal"]?"

The Hebrew word for "assembly", "kahal", is spelled kuf-hei-lamed, and so therefore its numerical value is also 135.

Moses' soul-consciousness was pure chochma, i.e. entirely masculine, or abstract…

Moses['s soul,] however, was derived only from the first [of these two spellings-out of the name Havayah], i.e. from [the one whose value is] 72. This [numerical value can also be derived from the name Havayah] in square form.

The "square form" of a name is the progressive spelling of the name. For the name Havayah, this is:

Yud, yud-hei, yud-hei-vav, yud-hei-vav-hei = 10 + (10 + 5) + (10 + 5 + 6) + (10 + 5 + 6 + 5) = 72.

Moses' soul-consciousness was pure chochma, i.e. entirely masculine, or abstract. He was thus not suited to enter the Land of Israel.

chanoch adds: The Land of Israel prior to the Mashiach is considered Malchut or female. On a spiritual level opposites do not attract – in fact they essentially repel each other as there is no affinity. This is a counter intuitive teaching yet when contemplated it will become clear as actually the way the world works in all levels and worlds.

When this square form is considered together with how it is spelled out with the letter alef, we have the words "a light cloud", whose numerical value is 202, that of "it is too much".

If we then spell out each of the stages of the iteration of the "square form" in full, using the letter alef to spell out the letters hei and vav, we have:

yud = yud-vav-dalet = 10 + 6 + 4 = 20

yud-hei = yud-vav-dalet hei-alef = 10 + 6 + 4 + 5 + 1 = 26

yud-hei-vav = yud-vav-dalet hei-alef vav-alef-vav = 10 + 6 + 4 + 5 + 1 + 6 + 1 + 6 = 39

yud-hei-vav-hei = yud-vav-dalet hei-alef vav-alef-vav hei-alef = 10 + 6 + 4 + 5 + 1 + 6 + 1 + 6 + 5 + 1 = 45

20 + 26 + 39 + 45 = 130

130 is the numerical value of the word for the masculine form of the adjective "light" (kal, kuf-lamed = 100 + 30). 72 is the numerical value of the word for "cloud" (in Hebrew, "av", spelled ayin-beit = 70 + 2 = 72). The phrase "a light cloud" appears in Isaiah 19:1: "A prophecy about Egypt: Behold, G‑d is riding on a light cloud and coming to Egypt. The gods of Egypt will squirm before Him and Egypt's heart will melt within it."

130 + 72 = 202, the numerical value of the word for "it is too much" (in Hebrew, "rav", spelled reish-beit = 200 + 2 = 202).

Your soul is that of chochma, while that of the congregation is that of chochma informing bina…

This is the mystical meaning of the phrase "it is too much". In other words, [Korach said to Moses,] "You personify [the spiritual consciousness indicated by the number] 202, while Israel personifies [the spiritual consciousness indicated by the number 135, i.e. the numerical value of] 'the congregation of G‑d'. Why, then, do you exalt yourselves over them?"

chanoch adds: This is an indication of the spiritual adage “Less is More”. The number 202 being greater than the number 135 would indicate that the lower number is greater than the larger number. This is true in the physical world. Yet the discussion is about a spiritual level and therefore the larger number is the greater as is appropriate.

Korach said, "It is too much for you," which can be read, "You have 202", i.e. "Your soul is that of chochma, while that of the congregation is that of chochma informing bina. You therefore cannot relate, cannot understand this congregation. You are irrelevant."

[To explain:] You already know what I have written on parashat Behalotecha, on [Moses'] statement, "[Six hundred thousand marchers are] the people in whose midst I am" (Num. 11:21), namely, that the entire generation of the desert, six hundred thousand souls, were all soul-sparks who were derived from the source of Moses' soul, which was the source of all of them.

The generation of the Exodus achieved the highest levels of divine consciousness and were able to do so because they shared a common soul-root with Moses, who personified this consciousness.

But now, Korach said to him, "All that generation have already died out, through all the various ways in which they died. So now G‑d is in their midst, not you, as you said previously, the people in whose midst I am."

Korach argued that Moses was not the proper leader of the new generation; his mentality fit that of the previous generation. The younger generation, whose divine consciousness was relatively "feminine", was not able to relate to the "masculine" leadership of Moses.

The evil side of Abel was expressed by the number 308…

Moses replied that the exact opposite was the case. "It is too much for you, O Levites", i.e. "You Levites personify [the spiritual consciousness expressed by the number] 202, not I".

"It is too much for you" (in Hebrew, "rav lachem") can be read, "202 is yours".

As we saw above, 202 is the numerical value of the 72-spelling-out of the name Havayah plus the value of the word for "light" ("kal"). In other words, the masculine chochma (as manifest in the 72-spelling-out) does have an implicit feminine "lightness" in it, as well. This was Korach's error: he thought that chochma was pure chochma and could therefore not relate to or lead bina. Moses knew, however, that even though the new generation was the generation of bina, bina still needs to be connected to chochma, as we have explained previously.

To explain:

The following explanation is based on the fact that the numerical value of "Korach" (spelled in Hebrew kuf-reish-chet = 100 + 200 + 8 = 308) plus that of "Abel" (in Hebrew, "Hevel", spelled hei-beit-lamed = 5 + 2 + 30 = 37) equals that of "Moses" (in Hebrew, "Moshe", spelled mem-shin-hei = 40 + 300 + 5 = 345).

Moses knew, however, that…bina still needs to be connected to chochma…

Elsewhere, the Arizal states that the evil side of Abel was expressed by the number 308, and that this evil was rectified in Abel's reincarnation, which is Moses. This is indicated by the fact that Moses' numerical value (345) equaled that of the good in Abel (37) plus that of the evil in him (308). Korach (= 308) was thus the evil in Abel that had been rectified in the soul of Moses. Thus, he was a part of Moses' soul, dependent upon him. But when he began his rebellion, he was re-rooted in the soul of Cain.

chanoch adds: What is the meaning of “re-rooted into another soul that changes either world or Sefira? I do not know this answer yet.

Since Korach sensed that a reincarnated spark of the soul of Cain had ignited in his soul, he said to Moses, "I am no longer subservient to you". This is alluded to in [Moses' and Aaron's prayer]: "O G‑d! G‑d of the spirits of all flesh…", the initials of which spell "Abel" [in Hebrew, "Hevel"].

G‑d's first response to Korach's rebellion was to tell Moses that He intended to wipe out the whole people. "G‑d spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 'Separate yourselves from this congregation, and I will wipe them out instantly'. But they fell on their faces, and said, 'O G‑d! G‑d of the spirits of all flesh! Shall one man sin and You be angry at the whole congregation?'"

(Num. 16:20-22)

The initials of the phrase "spirits of all flesh" (in Hebrew, "ha-ruchot le-kol basar") are hei-lamed-beit, spelling"Hevel" ("Abel"), spelled hei-beit-lamed.

In fact, the souls of the [second] generation were [also] soul-sparks of Moses, the reincarnation of Abel. Thus, G‑d, who is "the G‑d of the spirits of all flesh", knew that they are derived from Abel's soul. Since only Korach sinned, [Moses therefore asked G‑d,] "Shall one man sin…?" [The rest of the generation] knows this [i.e. that they are no different from the previous generation] and believe in Moses, for they are all included in his soul.

Moses argued that despite the difference in the generations, they were still "his", i.e. they were still derived from Abel's soul. Thus, the 202 that defined his soul defined theirs as well.

This explains [Moses' statement]: "Through this you will know…that it is not from my heart [that I do this]."

(Num. 16:28)

In Moses' speech before the trial of the incense that would demonstrate Korach's folly and cause the death of the rebels, he said, "Through this you will know that G‑d sent me to do all these deeds, that I did not make it up". The latter phrase literally reads, "…that it is not of my own heart", which can also be interpreted to mean "that it is not of my heart, of my own free will".

For he was forced to do it by G‑d, against his will. [He said,] "For you are all part of me, and if evil befalls you it hurts me; this blemish affects me as well. But I am forced to do this against my will, because of your wickedness."

Translated and adapted by Moshe-Yaakov Wisnefsky from Likutei Torah and Shaar HaPesukim; subsequently published in "Apples From the Orchard."

A Cry from the Earth

Korach was the reincarnation of Cain.

From Shenei Luchot HaBrit by Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz

The scoffer Korach used matters connected with the soil as his subjects of study. Later, he made fun of Torah legislation involving sheep, as mentioned in the Midrash. In all this he paralleled the behavior of Cain, who first brought a gift of the fruit of the earth. Cain's brother, Abel, on the other hand, brought an offering from the firstborn of his sheep. Cain brought flax; Abel brought wool. We know that there was a great deal of difference between the offering of Cain and the offering of Abel, as G‑d refused to accept the offering of Cain. This is why wearing a mixture of wool and flax (i.e. linen) called "kelayim" in Hebrew, is forbidden in Jewish law. (see Leviticus 19:19) It is well known that Kabbalists have said that Korach was the reincarnation of Cain.

Tzipporah… was the gilgul of the extra twin that had been born with Abel…

Cain had to undergo three gilgulim, one each for his Nefesh, his Ruach, and his Neshama. His incarnations included the Egyptian whom Moses slew and Yitro, Moses' father-in-law, as alluded to in Judges. (4:17) In that verse Jael is described as the wife of Chever Hakeyni, the word "Hakeyni" being a reference to her being a descendant of Cain. He reappeared in the guise of Korach. Moses, on the other hand, was a reincarnation of Abel, whom Cain had killed. Moses took revenge on behalf of Abel on three separate occasions:

1) When he killed the Egyptian, who was the reincarnation of Cain's Nefesh. This is hinted at in the wording "…and he struck the Egyptian/vayach et ha mitzri"; the numerical value of "vayach", when you add one digit for the word itself, equals the numerical value of "hevel/Abel", 37. The word "hamitzri" equals the numerical value of "Moshe/Moses", 345.

2) Jethro deferred to Moses by giving him his daughter Tzipporah as a wife. She was the gilgul of the extra twin that had been born with Abel, and on whose account Cain had slain Abel out of jealousy. When Korach now started a quarrel he simply reverted to the pattern in which his original ancestor Cain had acted.

The serpent's motivation had been its jealousy of Eve…

3) Moses then killed him (i.e. caused his death), fulfilling the Torah's commandment that if someone has shed innocent blood, his own blood will be spilled by human hand. (Gen. 9:6) We must understand that verse as telling us that the very person who has been slain, will in due course slay his murderer. This is why we find Moses, who was in reality the reincarnation of Abel, slaying Korach, who was the reincarnation of Cain. The fact that Korach's death was due to the earth swallowing him was also an example of the punishment fitting the crime, since the same earth had been remiss when it opened to hide the evil deed that Cain had committed, "covering" his blood (see Gen. 4:10-11).

The Zohar refers to Cain as "unclean jealousy, jealousy of menstruation" and describes the very birth of Cain as due to the pollutant the serpent had injected into Eve. The serpent's motivation had been its jealousy of Eve. Similarly Korach was jealous of the appointment of Elitzafan to the position of prince of the Kehatites. We find therefore that Korach had been infected with this pollutant of the original serpent.

[Translated and adapted by Eliyahu Munk.] From Shenei Luchot HaBrit by Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz

The Eternal Covenant

Salt represents a fusion of the elements fire and water.

From the teachings of Rabbi Bachya ben Asher

"It is an eternal salt-covenant before G‑d." (Num. 18:19)

The words "it is an eternal covenant" mean that the covenant described as a "salt-like covenant" is an eternal covenant. Just as salt preserves the meat indefinitely, so this type of covenant endures indefinitely.

The major ingredient of salt is water. Due to the power of the sun which shines upon it, it turns into salt. In other words, salt represents a fusion of the elements fire and water. Similarly, the covenant is a combination of the attributes Mercy and Justice.

chanoch adds: In order to mix different energies, ccording to spiritual laws, requires a filament / 3rd component that separates to form unity. This is known as zvug behakaa or binding by striking. In the case of salt this component is the consciousness of the eternal brit – the eternal covenant. This is my opinion.

Jacob…even tithed his children….

The share of the Levites is the tithe which in itself is an allusion to the tenth sefira. This is why the Torah phrases this, "To the members of the tribe of Levi: I have given every tithe in Israel as a heritage," etc.

You will find that Jacob treated his son Levi as the tenth amongst his sons. Jacob took the vow to tithe everything G‑d would give him so seriously that he even tithed his children!

When a shepherd wants to tithe every tenth of his flock as prescribed by the Torah, he first leads all the sheep into the fold and then counts them individually, one by one. The last one in, then, becomes the first one out. Similarly, when Jacob, a shepherd, set out to tithe one of his children, he first brought them into the fold commencing with his eldest Reuben and concluding with his youngest Binyamin. When he counted them subsequently, commencing this time with Binyamin, Levi was the tenth and therefore became sanctified.

[Selected with permission from the seven-volume English edition of "The Torah Commentary of Rebbeinu Bachya" by Eliyahu Munk.] From the teachings of Rabbi Bachya ben Asher

Suspicions About Moses

Why did the masses disparage Moses?

From Shenei Luchot HaBrit by Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz

"Moses heard and fell on his face." (Num. 16:4)

The Talmud asks what it was precisely that Moses had heard (Sanhedrin 110a) and Rabbi Samuel son of Nachmeyni says that he had heard that these people suspected him of committing adultery (Baal HaTurim) since we read in the verse "And they envied Moses in the camp" (Psalms 106:16) which is interpreted by Rabbi Shmuel bar Yitzchak as meaning that each Jewish husband suspected Moses of adultery with his wife, since the Torah had stated that "Moses took his tent and put it up outside the camp". (Ex. 33:7) The question arises that, even granted the Jewish people were sinful, how could they have suspected Moses of adultery?! After all, Miriam had criticized Moses for not even living with his own wife, much less with other husbands' wives! What possible reason could these people have had to suspect Moses of something so patently absurd?

Moses removed his tent to silence these suspicions….

Many commentators have written that this accusation is not to be taken at face value, but rather that the rebels denied the quality of Moses' prophetic insights, claiming that it was not, as stated, of a face-to-face variety as described in Deut. (34:10) i.e. qualitatively superior to the prophetic powers of other prophets. The rebels claimed that the angels by means of whom prophetic images are transmitted are known as "ishim", "men", meaning that they are the means by which humans receive intelligence from celestial sources. The recipient would then be described as "eishet ish", "a married woman", much as a wife describes herself as such, seeing she is the "passive" part of her husband. (Their intention then was to deny Moses his special relationship with G‑d).

The Maimonides, in his "Guide for the Perplexed", maintains that the people were protesting Moses' arrogant behavior in claiming special status. I fail to understand how Maimonides, i.e. the Talmud, wants to prove this from the verse in Psalms quoted earlier. The language employed there is one describing "jealousy". This lends more credence to those who understand the accusation leveled against Moses as being meant literally! They were apparently alleging that the reason Moses appointed Aaron and his sons as Priests was to avoid being involved in the procedure of the bitter waters that a wife suspected of infidelity has to drink, seeing the priest was his blood relation and as such unable to administer the procedure.

The quarrel was directed at Aaron. This is why these men reasoned that there must be substance to the people's suspicions. One cannot argue that since Moses had taken his tent out of the camp, this occurred before Aaron ever began his function as a High Priest, seeing that Moses removed his tent on the morrow of the Day of Atonement, when the Tabernacle had not yet existed. It is a fact that as soon as Moses gave instructions to collect materials for the building of the Tabernacle and the weaving of the priests' garments, he had also announced who was to wear those garments, i.e. Aaron and his sons. There were grounds then for the suspicions, and Moses removed his tent to silence these suspicions. This is what Rashi explains there. Now that a quarrel had surfaced these suspicions were voiced openly, and that is why Moses fell on is face when he "heard". This is how one has to explain the plain meaning of the verse.

[Translated and adapted by Eliyahu Munk.] From Shenei Luchot HaBrit by Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz

Inner Humility vs. Arrogance

Spiritual accusers are created from the shed husk of a bad personal trait.

from Sefas Emmes on the Torah by Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter

The Sefas Emes teaches in the name of the Holy Jew of Peshis'cha that when detractors come up in opposition to the tzadik, they specifically attack him concerning a quality in which he has already achieved perfection. The Baal Shem Tov even suggests that the detractors of a tzadik are created from the husks which are shed as the tzadik strives for perfection in his character. Therefore, one who would come to accuse the tzadik, see in him only that which is similar to the husk from which he was created. He is limited to only a superficial understanding of the ways of the tzadik.

Korach accused Moses of arrogantly usurping power for himself and Aaron over the Jewish nation. We already know that Moses was the most humble man to ever walk the face of the earth. (Num. 12:3)

Korach…was not able to perceive the leadership of Moses for what it really was…

Moses was the epitome of humility; there wasn't a trace of arrogance in his actions, in spite of the fact that he was the leader of the nation, spoke with G‑d face to face, and was revered or feared by all the inhabitants of the world. Everything he did was for the sake of the nation. Yet, to a truly arrogant person like Korach, Moses' every move was a proof of Moses' own arrogance.

chanoch adds: Learn this well. One can only see traits in someone else that they possess themselves. If you do not have arrogance in you you will not perceive arrogance in someone else. You will not even hear the word arrogant or read the word arrogant unless there is still some dust of the trait of arrogance wthin you still. This spiritual law applies to all characdter traits both positive and negative traits.

Korach's perspective was childish and superficial. He was not able to perceive the leadership of Moses for what it really was. It is written, "...and jealousy causes the bones to rot." (Proverbs 12:4) This refers to Korach who lacked inner substance. Everything Korach did was external, for show - that he should appear very just and righteous. Moses and Aaron were the inner light of the Jewish nation. They were completely inner substance, a character which is often not easily discerned. Yet in Judaism, it is what counts.

This explains the two tests by which Korach was finally humbled. The essence of incense is fragrance, something which is completely internal and spiritual. The almond branch brought forth buds, a symbol of the the internal surfacing, taking precedence. When it came to tests that checked inner substance, Korach had no leg to stand on. Only the tribe of Levi and Aaron and his descendants possessed the inner substance necessary to represent the Jewish People in G‑d's service.

chanoch adds: Korach was from the Tribe of Levi yet his support politically came from outside this Tribe.

Arrogance must be battled until the day one dies. One can never be sure of himself until the day of one's death. (Avot 2:5) The Baal Shem Tov often declared, "Even after all of my achievements in the spiritual realm, I would give them all up just to be able to serve G‑d with the plain, simple, straight-forward faith of a child." Nevertheless, we have a record of the last words that left the pure and holy lips of the Baal Shem Tov: "Let not the foot of arrogance overtake me" (Psalms 36:12), he uttered. Even in his death the Baal Shem Tov was concerned lest even a trace of arrogance taint the holy service of his dying!

[Adapted by Binyomin Adliman; First published in B'Ohel Hatzadikim, Korach 5759 and 5757;] from Sefas Emmes on the Torah by Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter