In this week's Torah portion we find one of the most astonishing events in Jewish history: Korach's rebellion. At that point in time, Hashem had already forgiven the Jewish people for the sin of the Golden Calf which was worshipped only out of fear that Moses would not descend from the mountain.
In this week's Torah portion we find one of the most astonishing events in Jewish history: Korach's rebellion. At that point in time, Hashem had already forgiven the Jewish people for the sin of the Golden Calf which was worshipped only out of fear that Moses would not descend from the mountain. The Torah and all of its laws were given at Mt. Sinai, and the Jews were divinely protected while traveling in the desert. Korach and his followers were the first group to rebel against the laws of the Torah, an occurrence which was especially unique because it happened at a time when there was no fear or uncertainty regarding Moses' return.
Korach claimed that the entire congregation of Israel was holy (Numbers 16:3). The truth seems to be that Korach was right, as we see at the end of last week's portion where Hashem tells us that we are to be holy to Him (15:40). Hashem even calls us "a nation of priests." However, Korach's mistake was that he thought that everyone's ways and means to achieve fulfillment through sanctity are the same. This would mean that everyone would assume the same roles in society, but we know that society requires the fulfillment of many different roles working symbiotically in order to function effectively. Our sages tell us that just as our faces aren't similar one to the other, so too our minds aren't similar, meaning that everyone of us has his or her own identity. All of us must seek sanctity through our own unique personalities, however it must be within the laws and boundaries of the Torah.
At the end of this week's Torah portion we read about the laws dealing with the Levites. Their role is to provide assistance and worship within the mishkan (tabernacle) and later in the Beit Hamikdash (Temple). The law of ma'aser (every Jew giving a tenth of his crop to the Levites) and that kohanim (priests) and Levites are prohibited to do each other's work are explained by the Sefer HaChinuch, a classic work enumerating and explaining the 613 mitzvot one by one, as means to better enable the Levites to perform their purposes for society. However, he explains, the Levites were chosen by Hashem to fulfill their roles within the mishkan. It was the tribe of Levi that possessed and displayed the strength of belief in Hashem in not worshipping the Golden Calf that earned them the merit to be the ones to lead and perform these services. This was their strength, and they had to involve themselves in it so as to fulfill their unique potential for sanctity. The law mentioned in this week's Torah portion which prohibits the tribe of Levi from possessing a portion of land in Israel can also be understood as a means of focusing the Levites' strengths towards prayer and worship instead of in physical toil and labor.
Perhaps the Torah juxtaposes these laws with the story of Korach to teach us that our challenge in life is to strive for holiness and sanctity by using the strengths and talents we individually possess. Korach did not comprehend this message -- that it is only through our strengths that we can adequately fulfill our vast potential.
Rabbi Danny Gimpel, a native Atlantan and graduate of Yeshiva Atlanta, is currently enrolled in a joint program with Ner Israel Rabbinical College and John Hopkins University, both in Baltimore.
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