Beware of the Glowing Embers of the Tzaddikim
One of the great figures and leaders of the Children of Israel was Korach. Our Sages say that he was among those who carried the Ark, which means that he was one of the Levite leaders who loaded the Ark of the Covenant and transported it. Korach was very intelligent, and he also had a dynasty of tzaddikim descend from him, with the prophet Samuel at their head. Despite all this, he experienced a bitter end, being swallowed alive by the earth along with 250 other people.
The Sages ask how Korach, who was so intelligent, could have done such a foolish thing. Korach wanted the priesthood for Elizaphan the son of Uzziel. Yet how did he arrive at such a lowly level that he was literally swallowed by the earth? How did it happen that Korach contested the word of Hashem, Who said that Aaron would be High Priest, no one else?
Korach’s sin lay in the fact that he rebelled against the tzaddik of his generation. He rebelled against Moses by telling him, “The entire assembly – all of them – are holy and the L-RD is among them. Why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of the L-RD?” (Numbers 16:3). Was that really the case? Korach knew and could actually see that Hashem constantly summoned Moses and spoke to him, teaching him Torah and entrusting him with prophecies to transmit to the Children of Israel. Yet despite this fact, Korach went to Moses and Aaron and told them that they were exalting themselves at the expense of Hashem’s people! Of all people, Moses – described by the Torah as “exceedingly humble, more than any person on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3) – was exalting himself at the expense of Hashem’s people? Moses was seeking greatness for himself and his brother Aaron?
Such foolishness, such shameful thoughts, led Korach to the abyss. They led him to set himself apart to contest the priesthood. Furthermore, the Sages said of him: “ ‘Now Korach took’ [Numbers 16:1]. Resh Lakish said: He took a bad deal for himself” (Sanhedrin 109b). This means that the essence of his sin was to have broken the power of the Jewish people’s unity. He took 250 men with him, leaders of the community, and with them he went to oppose our teacher Moses. He broke the power of the Jewish people’s unity, and thus he set himself up for failure. He wanted to be for himself – alone – not being in harmony with Moses the tzaddik of the generation. That is why he ended up lost and destroyed.
However if we examine the situation a little more in depth, we will see that in our generation there are also people like this, people who resemble Korach in terms of opposing the tzaddikim of the generation. We often hear various people around us opening their mouths, without shame or fear, to discuss and belittle the tzaddikim of the generation. These people are not all necessarily adults. We hear such things from youngsters as well, even from children, who are capable of telling one another: “Mine is greater than yours…mine is the greater tzaddik.” Where do they find the permission and audacity to speak like this? The answer is extremely simple: The young learn it from hearing adults speak. They learn it from listening to how one person speaks against a certain tzaddik, and from how another spews forth insults from his mouth against the great of the generation, against rabbanim, dayanim, and talmidei chachamim. Yet no one responds. Nobody tells them to stop. None calls out and shouts, “Don’t you care about the Torah’s honor? How can you insult the angels of G-d?” Why is that? How can people reach such a state? To our great regret and shame, today a situation exists in which nothing is important to a person except himself. People think only of themselves; they arrange a bad deal for themselves and decide, “Who’s to tell me what I can and cannot do? Who’s to tell me what I can and cannot say?” Sadly, this is why people think that they can say and make others hear whatever they want. Today this is called “freedom of expression,” for people feel free to say whatever happens to come into their heads. Yet who can foresee the catastrophic results of such behavior?
If people speak like this against tzaddikim and rabbanim, who will guarantee that we can educate a generation of righteous, G-d-fearing people? It is not without reason that this is called “freedom of expression,” for such harmful ways of expressing oneself soon become completely free, leading to a total rejection of the yoke of the Torah and its mitzvot. Now the Sages have said, “Warm yourself by the fire of the Sages, but beware of their glowing embers, lest you be burnt – for their bite is the bite of the fox, their sting is the sting of a scorpion, their hiss is the hiss of a serpent, and all their words are like fiery coals” (Perkei Avoth 2:10). Are people not frightened by this? Do people not realize that they will have to give an accounting after 120 years for such words, as well as for not protesting when they heard talmidei chachamim being disparaged?
My friends, let us learn a lesson from the wife of On, the son of Pelet. The Sages said: “On, the son of Pelet, was saved by his wife. She said to him, ‘What does it matter to you whether one [Moses] remains as leader or another [Korach] becomes leader, since you are only a follower?’ ” (Sanhedrin 109b). Because Pelet would remain a follower in any case, his wife told him that getting involved in Korach’s dispute would serve no purpose.
We should constantly be reminding ourselves of the same thing. When a discussion occurs among the tzaddikim of the generation, we are not to stick our noses into it; we are not to get involved into matters between mountains. We have no right to get mixed into it, for in any case our personal opinions will not be heard. Therefore since we have no say in the matter, why should we get involved? Why do we need to open our mouths and speak against someone who is holy and precious to the Jewish people? How can we speak against tzaddikim, rabbanim or talmidei chachamim?
We must adopt an attitude of faith. We must believe in Hashem and realize that all His paths are true and fair. Nevertheless, it is impossible to believe in Hashem if we do not believe in the tzaddikim of the generation, whoever they may be. In fact it is written, “They believed in the L-RD and in Moses His servant” (Exodus 14:31). If we have faith in the tzaddik, we will have faith in Hashem. If we act in this way, we will experience good both in this world and in the World to Come. Amen.