Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Being Happy With What You Have

In this week's parsha, Korach, there is a very unique type of language that is used. In Bamidbar Chapter 16:1 it says:

א וַיִּקַּח קֹרַח, בֶּן-יִצְהָר בֶּן-קְהָת בֶּן-לֵוִי; וְדָתָן וַאֲבִירָם בְּנֵי אֱלִיאָב, וְאוֹן בֶּן-פֶּלֶת--בְּנֵי רְאוּבֵן.

1 Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took;

The question here is who took, what did they take, and what does taking refer to? There are many different understandings of what vayikach (take) means found throughout the commentators. I will focus on Rashi and Ramban.

Rashi says on the above verse:

ויקח קרח: לקח את עצמו לצד אחד להיות נחלק מתוך העדה לעורר על הכהונה, וזהו שתרגם אונקלוס ואתפלג נחלק משאר העדה להחזיק במחלוקת, וכן (איוב טו, יב) מה יקחך לבך, לוקח אותך להפליגך משאר בני אדם. דבר אחר ויקח קרח משך ראשי סנהדראות שבהם בדברים, כמו שנאמר (במדבר כ, כה) קח את אהרן, (הושע יד, ג) קחו עמכם דברים:

Korah… took: He took himself to one side to dissociate himself from the congregation, to contest the [appointment of Aaron to the] kehunah. This is what Onkelos means when he renders it וְאִתְפְּלֵג,“and he separated himself.” He separated himself from the congregation to persist in a dispute. Similarly, מה יקחך לבך, “Why does your heart take you away?” (Job 15:12) meaning, it removes you, to isolate you from others (Midrash Tanchuma Korach 2). Another explanation: He attracted the heads of the Sanhedrin among them with amicable words. Similarly, “Take Aaron [with words]” (20:25); “Take words with you” (Hosea 14:3) (Midrash Tanchuma Korach 1). - [Num. Rabbah 18:2]

Rashi here is explaining that Korach is the one that separated himself from the rest of Israel and was followed by Dasan, Avirum and Oen. This has to be the case because only Korach was able to challenge Aharon for the Kehuna (priesthood) and this is why they separated themselves from the congregation of Israel. Also, if we go according to the second explanation of Rashi the vayikach only goes on Korach because it was through his compelling arguments that the heads of the Sanhedrin followed his rebellion.

I think there is a problem with Rashi's understanding for one main reason, the verse seems to be using the word vayikach (took) to be speaking about all the people in the verse (Korach, Dasan, Aviram and Oen) and not just Korach. The main reason I believe this is because of the vav in front of Dasan, Aviram and Oen. If the vayikach only went on Korach then, I think, there should be no vav. For example, when the Torah says in Bamidbar 1:17 יז וַיִּקַּח משֶׁה וְאַהֲרֹן אֵת הָאֲנָשִׁים הָאֵלֶּה אֲשֶׁר נִקְּבוּ בְּשֵׁמוֹת it means that Moshe AND Aharon both "took" because there is a vav. Therefore, I am more partial to the explanation of Ramban which allows us to view the word vayikach as going on all the parties mentioned in the first verse and not just korach.

The Ramban says on this first pasuk:

"The meaning of the Midrash referring to vayikach korach is that he took counsel with his heart (his inner self) to do what it told him, for 'taking' is used as advice and thought. In the same way, ma yikachecha libecha, what thought did your heart bring you that you should think in secret 'there is no judgement and no judge' (Vayikra Rabba, 28:1) and not reveal that thought..... And Onkelos who translated "he separated himself" was presenting the general meaning as he often does, but not the literal wording. Thus he translated al devar korach (Num., 17:14) (lit. 'about the matter of Korach') as 'about the dispute of Korach' and bidvar bilaam (Num., 31:16) (lit. 'in the matter of Bilaam') as 'in the advice of Bilaam' for he gives the general meaning in his translation (and does not thereby contradict the way the Midrash understands the meaning of the word vayikach)." (translation found here)

Then Ramban tells us exactly why Korach, Dasan and Aviram's hearts took them to oppose Moshe. He says, also on the first verse:

"Korach was angered by the appointment of Elitzafan as leader [over the Levite family of Kehat] as our Sages say, and he envied Aharon, too, as it says, '… and you seek priesthood, as well.' Datan and Aviram were attracted to him, but not [in protest] over the privileges of the firstborn, for it was Yaakov their patriarch who removed it from Reuven and granted it to Yosef. Rather, they, too, explicitly state their claim: 'to kill us in the wilderness'; 'You have not even brought us to a land flowing with milk and honey.'" (Translation found here)

(The reason Oen is not mentioned here in the Ramban is because he was only part of the initial complaint, but as I point out here Oen backed down from his challenge of Moshe.)

The explanation of the Ramban seems to tell us that Korach, Dasan, Aviram and Oen all had complaints against Moshe, they had different reasons, but they all had contempt in their hearts for Moshe. This allows us to use the word Vayikach to explain how all of them "took" counsel from their hearts. This counsel led them to challenge Moshe's leadership.

I think there is a very valuable lesson that we can learn from this verse as explained by the Ramban. The Torah is teaching us a lesson in human character. People are going to be upset if they feel they are wronged. Korach thought he was passed over for some type of honor that he deserved. Dasan and Aviram thought that they were lied to about entering Israel. These complaints showed one main character flaw in these men, haughtiness. Each one of these rebels believed they were entitled to something that they were not. Korach thought he was entitled to the priesthood and Dasan and Aviram thought they were entitled to enter the land of Israel. Why did they believe these things? They were arrogant! Moshe did not even get to enter the land of Israel!

The Torah is telling this story to show how detrimental arrogance can be and how destructive this character trait can be. The MAIN point about this story is highlighted by the word vayikach. Vayikach is telling us that these people were overcome by their inner selfish desires. We can not afford to give in to our base desires like Korach, Dasan and Aviram. We need to focus and work on improving ourselves so that we are not jealous of what others have or that we do not have this sense of entitlement. In a world where everything comes from G-D, everything should be viewed as a gift and not something that is owed. This was the fatal mistake of Korach, Dasan and Aviram, they felt that they were owed that which they did not deserve.

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