Arrogance Blinds

“Korach son of Yitzhar son of Kehat son of Levi took, with Datan and Aviram, sons of Eliav, and On ben Pelet, the offspring of Reuven”

(Bamidbar 16:1)

Chazal (Tanchuma, Korach 5) try to understand Korach’s reasoning in rising up against Moshe and Aharon. They explain that his eyes deceived him. He had a vision that Shmuel Hanavi would descend from him. Shmuel was considered equal to Moshe and Aharon, as it says (Tehillim 99:6), “Moshe and Aharon were among His priests, and Shmuel among those who invoke His Name.” Korach approached Moshe and Aharon with the following charge, “Why do you lord over the nation? I also have rights to rule the people, for I will have a descendant who is the equivalent of the two of you together.”

Korach was a smart man. How could he be so blind as to believe that he was more important than the two giants of the generation, chosen by Hashem to lead Am Yisrael? Furthermore, Korach’s righteousness was public knowledge, for he was one of the Ark-bearers (Tanchuma, Korach 2). It was well-known that anyone unworthy who touched the Aron would die on the spot (see Bamidbar Rabbah 5:1). Korach carried the Aron all along, and was never harmed. This attested to his spiritual stature. The pasuk (Tehillim 92:13) says, “צדי~ק* כתמ~ר* יפר~ח* – A righteous man will flourish like a date palm.” The last letters of these words spell the name קרח (Korach). This alludes to Korach’s righteousness (Arizal, Likutim, Tehillim 92).

How can we fathom that he fell so low as to be involved in a terrible dispute against Hashem’s chosen ones, sweeping the Nesi’im of our nation along with him? Their terrible punishment, being swallowed alive by the earth while shouting, “Moshe is true, and his Torah is true” (Tanchuma, Korach 11) echoes with the severity of their sin. How, indeed, did such men of distinction fall to such depths?

Our mission is to remain as one nation, unified at all times. Chazal (see Zohar II, 124; Ramban’s Introduction to the Torah) teach us that the Torah is comprised of Hashem’s Names. All of the neshamot of Bnei Yisrael, as well, are alluded to in the Torah (see Sha’ar Hagilgulim, Introduction 17). There is exactly the same amount of letters in the Torah as there are neshamot of Bnei Yisrael (Ohr Hachaim, Bamidbar 16:1; Shelah Hakadosh, Pesachim, Matzah Ashirah 25). When Hashem desired to create the Jewish nation, He interwove their neshamot with the Torah, a compilation of His Names. Corresponding to the 613 mitzvot, a person has 248 organs and 365 sinews, each body part parallel to a different mitzvah of the Torah (Sha’arei Kedushah I, 1). Hashem’s Names are found in the Torah, as well as inside each and every Jew, as the Zohar states (II, 90b; II, 4b), “The Torah, Hashem, and Am Yisrael are one.” When a person separates himself from the congregation, lording over his fellow Jews, he has categorically severed his ties with Hashem and the Torah. He is no longer connected with Am Yisrael, the Torah, and Hashem. This was the situation with Korach. He divorced himself from the rest of Klal Yisrael. This led to his severance with the Torah and Hashem, Himself, rachmana litzlan.

Now we might better understand the words of Rabbi Akiva (Torat Kohanim 4:12), “You shall love your fellow as yourself – this is a fundamental principle in the Torah.” The phrase “in the Torah” is used exclusively, as opposed to, “in general conduct,” or “in good character.” The names of Bnei Yisrael are intertwined with Hashem’s Names, which are found in the words of the Torah. When one Jew bears animosity toward his fellow Jew, he has, in effect, dissociated himself from the Torah which contains Hashem’s Names. In order to maintain an ongoing relationship with the Torah and Hashem’s Names, one must love one’s fellow Jew. This is the only way to keep up one’s contact with Hashem and His Torah.

Arrogance repels the Shechinah, as Hashem says He cannot exist in the same place as an arrogant person (see Sotah 5a). This is difficult to digest. One who is haughty is sinning against his fellow man, not against Hashem. Why does Hashem deal so harshly with this person, removing his Shechinah from him? Chazal (Avot 4:21) go so far as to say that “honor removes a man from the world.”

A person can connect to Hashem and His Torah only when he is connected with his fellow men. This is because Hashem’s Names are located inside each and every person, by means of the Torah, which contains the Names of Hashem. When a person severs his ties with his fellow men by being arrogant, it is as if he is dominating over Hashem and the Torah, which is acquired only in one who acts humbly (Derech Eretz Zuta 8). Moreover, every Jew was created in the image of Hashem, given a neshamah from on High (see Mesilat Yesharim 1). Therefore, whoever lords over others is, essentially, lording over Hashem. For this reason, Hashem refuses to be in his company.

With all of his wonderful attributes, Korach should have ensured that the trait of arrogance not get the best of him. One who considers himself important is liable to fall into thoughts of pride (ibid. 11). In this manner, without even realizing, he falls lower and lower, to the point of instigating a dispute not for the sake of Heaven (see Avot 5:17). In contrast, Moshe and Aharon were paradigms of humility (Chulin 89a). Their greatness lay in the fact that they did not view themselves as more significant than the rest of the nation. On the contrary, they ascribed their honor and respect to the merit of Bnei Yisrael. They understood that if not for their responsibility in leading the nation, they would never have been chosen for their posts. As proof of this, Moshe told the people (Shemot 16:7), “ ונחנו מה– For what are we?” The word מה (what) is numerically equivalent to the word אדם (man). Moshe and Aharon were so humble that they did not feel themselves worthy of being called a man.

Moshe and Aharon were essentially telling Korach that they were mere mortals, no more honorable than anyone else in the nation. He had nothing to envy. The amazing thing about tzaddikim, who are so knowledgeable in Torah and fear of Heaven, is that they don’t accredit themselves with their lofty level. They do not perceive themselves as prominent, feeling they have cause for conceit over their fellow men. They follow the dictum of Chazal (Avot 2:4), “Do not believe in yourself until the day you die.” Even slight arrogance has the potential to tear one’s ties with Hashem, Am Yisrael, and the Torah. Then, all of a person’s hard work will prove worthless.

Although Moshe Rabbeinu was considered the equivalent of all Am Yisrael, he did not accredit himself with his accomplishments. On the contrary, Moshe and Aharon, the paragons of humility, claimed, “What are we?” The word מה (what) is numerically equivalent to the word אדם (man), as well as Hashem’s Name י-ה-ו-ה, with its letters spelled out. Moshe and Aharon did not even consider themselves on the level of an ordinary person. Who were they, they asked, that Hashem should rest His Shechinah among them.

Moreover, “If you consider us people, we are just one of the nations,” they explained to Korach. They did not feel that they were more important than anyone else. The greatness of Moshe and Aharon rested in their caution never to impose their authority over a fellow Jew. This would have been considered lording over Hashem and His Torah, rachmana litzlan.

The Torah was given only after Bnei Yisrael rested at the foot of the mountain “as one man with one heart” (Rashi, Shemot 19:2). They had a sense of unity and mutual accountability. Had they displayed any form of arrogance over one another, it would have been considered lording over the Torah, which was written with the Names of Hashem, and they would have been unworthy of receiving it.

If even one letter is missing from a Sefer Torah, it is invalid and may not be used. Even if a letter is only partially erased or somewhat blurred, the Sefer Torah is invalid (see Rambam, Sefer Torah 7:9). Am Yisrael are a living Sefer Torah, for their neshamot equal the amount of letters in the Torah. When a person detaches himself from the nation or weakens his connection with a fellow Jew, he has invalidated the Sefer Torah itself! Harsh decrees come in the wake of dissention, in order to arouse our nation to live peacefully. Only galut and suffering have the power to repair the breach in our national Sefer Torah.

One who acts with conceit toward his fellow man is harming, first and foremost, himself. Korach’s haughtiness came with a hefty price, causing him to lose his portion in this world, as well as the Next. At first, he yielded to the abominable trait of arrogance. He isolated himself from the rest of the nation. Since one sin leads to another, he came to scorn the mitzvah of tzitzit (Tanchuma, Korach 2), as well as the mitzvah of parah adumah (see Pesikta Zutrati, Chukat), statutes that are above human intelligence.

The end of parashat Vezot Haberachah describes Moshe Rabbeinu’s death, as the pasuk (Devarim 34:5) states, “So Moshe, servant of Hashem, died there, in the land of Moav, by the mouth of Hashem.” Why do we read the passage concerning Moshe’s death on Simchat Torah, which is the holiday of Shemini Atzeret? This is in order to teach us that our entire purpose in this world is to be engrossed in Torah. Only Torah will escort a person on his final journey, advocating his cause on High, as the Gemara (Pesachim 50a) states, “Praiseworthy is the one who arrives here with his Talmud in his hand.” At the end of reading the entire Torah, we read of the passing of Moshe. This demonstrates to us that this is what Moshe took along with him after his death – the Torah that he toiled over all his life. His honor and his wealth remained behind. The Torah, which was called by his name, and written and bequeathed by him to his nation, was his eternal asset.

The Torah ends with parashat Vezot Haberachah, wherein Moshe blessed the nation before his death (Devarim 33:1). This attests to the strong bond between Am Yisrael, Hashem, and the Torah. One cannot involve himself in words of Torah without love for his fellow Jew. Love of one’s fellow Jew encompasses all of Torah, and through ahavat Yisrael, one attains ahavat Hashem. Moshe blessed the nation before his death in an open display of affection and brotherliness. The Torah endures only in a person who relates to all Jews as equals.

As he was being swallowed up by the earth, Korach finally recognized his fatal mistake. He called out, “Moshe is true and his Torah is true, and we are the wicked ones” (Tanchuma, Korach 11). He thereby will merit purification in the World to Come, as Tehillim states (92:13; see Likutim, Tehillim 92), “A righteous man will flourish like a date palm.” Korach will eventually be called a righteous man. His dispute taught us how distant we must keep from arguments which arise from arrogance. Before his death, Yaakov Avinu warned his sons to always be united (Shelah Hakadosh, Yoma; Derech Chaim, Tochachat Mussar 70). For this reason, Korach’s lineage is not attributed to Yaakov, but ends with his great-grandfather, Levi. Only through unity would the nation gain closeness and connection with Hakadosh Baruch Hu, and His Names, as they appear in the Torah.

The Torah begins with the word בראשית (in the beginning), and ends with the words, “לעיני כל ישראל – before the eyes of all Israel” (Devarim 34:12). The Torah is teaching us a wonderful principle. The secret to our survival lies in the words “all Israel.” We live with mutual responsibility, allowing our fellow man to be ראשית, first. Only in this manner will we merit a portion in Olam Haba, as the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 90a) states, “All Israel has a share in the World to Come, as it is said, ‘And your people are all righteous, they shall inherit the land forever.’”

How distant must one keep from discord! Let us not allow our eyesight to be blinded like Korach, who disputed Moshe and Aharon by truly believing he was defending Hashem’s honor. The words “before the eyes of all Israel” teach us that Moshe Rabbeinu did not allow himself to be blinded from the truth. He never felt that he was above the level of the nation. On the contrary, he acted openly, before their eyes, never hiding anything from them. He humbled himself before them, for he considered each Jew as ראשית, or first.

In Summary

Hevrat Pinto • 32, rue du Plateau 75019 Paris - FRANCE • Tél. : +331 42 08 25 40 • Fax : +331 42 06 00 33 • © 2015 • Webmaster : Hanania Soussan