Tag Archives: Korach

Korach: Who is Speaking to Your Heart?

In the Torah portion Korach we read how Korach led a band of 250 men in a rebellion against Moshe and Aharon. Underlying their revolt against Aharon’s High Priesthood was the charge: “All the people in the community are holy and G-d is in their midst; why are you setting yourselves above G-d’s congregation?” (Bamidbar 16:3.)

From Moshe’s response, (Ibid. verse 10.) “…and you seek priesthood as well,” we readily perceive that Korach and his band desired to become priests. This being so, their argument that “All the people…are holy,” and nobody can set himself above anybody else seems to contradict their desire to be above others by obtaining priesthood.

“A Lesson in Priesthood”
Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. VIII, pp. 116-118
Commentary on Torah Portion Korach
The Chassidic Dimension series
Chabad.org

Rav Yisrael of Ruzhin, zt”l, gives a fascinating explanation of a famous statement on today’s daf. “Our sages say that today the yetzer hara says to do one sin, tomorrow another, until one finally falls to idolatry. This statement does not mean that the yetzer hara increases the sins that one indulges in from day to day. It means that the yetzer hara pushes a person who falls to keep falling in the same manner day after day, time after time. Even this is enough to cause one to worship idolatry eventually, God forbid!

“This can be compared to a sick person whose weakened constitution does not improve. If his system does not overcome what ails it, he gets sicker and sicker and eventually he reaches the point where he is dangerously ill.” Rav Shalom Schwadron, zt”l, offers his own insight here. “It is interesting that the yetzer doesn’t demand that one stop fulfilling mitzvos; it merely pushes one to follow his instructions. He wants to bring a person to a place where he will fulfill only that which interests him. A student in yeshiva will learn Torah until very late at night, missing out on a meaningful shachris. Another person will express his zealousness at the expense of fulfilling his obligations to his fellow human beings.

“The yetzer wants to be in the driver’s seat; that one should only do what interests him in the manner that he prefers. He knows that a person who only acts when he is inclined to do so will eventually stop fulfilling the mitzvos. We need to recall that the main thing is to fulfill the mitzvos of the Torah because this is the will of the Creator. We must not be swayed by the compelling-seeming logic of the yetzer hara which causes one to forget God.”

Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
“In the Driver’s Seat”
Niddah 13

Here’s the key portion of the above-quoted lesson:

He wants to bring a person to a place where he will fulfill only that which interests him.

By the time I finished reading this “story off the Daf,” I found that the conclusion didn’t match up with what I thought it would be at the beginning of the story. I thought fulfilling certain of the mitzvot would be contrasted against overt sin, such as a person who fulfills the mitzvah of feeding the hungry and then turns around and cheats his business partner. I didn’t think it would be focusing on fulfilling one mitzvah, the one that fits your personal desires, at the expense of other equally worthy mitzvot.

We’ve seen this sort of thing before:

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. –Matthew 15:1-6 (ESV)

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.” –Matthew 23:23 (ESV)

We see a couple of important points taught by the Master relative to the story off the Daf, and both are related to hypocracy and setting human priorities on what we choose to do for good.

In the example from Matthew 15 (yes, I know this passage is typically used to say Jesus did away with man-made traditions and only endorses obeying pure Torah law, but he was perfectly fine with many other aspects of the normative halachah of the Judaism of his day, so I consider his main “rant” against hypocrisy, not tradition) , Jesus turns on his critics and accuses them of neglecting the commandment to honor parents by committing the money that could have been used to support their parents to the Temple. Outwardly, the Pharisees involved may have appeared holy, but in their neglect of their parents, they were reprehensible.

The short quote from Matthew 23:23 shows us something similar. Certain Pharisees were again, outwardly appearing as holy by their tithes but in the process, they completely ignored what Jesus called, “weightier matters of the law” such as the principles of “justice and mercy and faithfulness.” I should note that Jesus did not say one was really better than the other and told his audience that they should have performed their tithes without neglecting the other mitzvot.

But what does that have to do with us? On the one hand, these arguments could support the classic One Law position in the Hebrew Roots movement which states that non-Jewish people, when we become Christians and are “grafted in” (Romans 11) to the Jewish root, are obligated to the identical set of commandments as the Jews are, and we should not pick and choose which ones to obey. It would appear as if Jesus is telling us to not pick and choose as well, but to obey all of the 613 commandments, or at least as many as can be obeyed without the existence of a Temple, a Levitical priesthood, a Sanhedrin court system, and (for most of us), while living outside the Land of Israel.

On the other hand, we could use the same texts to consider just what our (I’m speaking to Gentile Christians now) true obligations are to God and whether, in our performance of the mitzvot, we are doing what God actually wants us to do, or only obeying what we want, what makes us feel righteous, and what makes us look “cool” in the eyes of our peer group. Are we falling into the same trap as Korach, Heaven forbid?

I know that sounds a little harsh, but I’ve encountered more than one non-Jewish person in the Hebrew Roots movement who seems really pleased with his tzitzit, his Hebrew prayers, and how he laid tefillin. OK, I want to be fair and say that there are many who subscribe to the One Law position who sincerely believe this is the one and only way a Gentile can please the God of Heaven, and these folks feel really picked on when people like me say that obeying many of the Torah commandments is a choice and not an obligation (your behavior doesn’t have to change in any way just because it’s voluntary rather than obligatory). But consider this.

When you say that non-Jewish believers in the Jewish Messiah are obligated to obey the full yoke of Torah, your saying that it is a sin for any Christian to fail to observe the full range of the mitzvot. You are condemning the vast, vast majority of Christians who have lived, loved the Master, observed the “weighter matters of the Torah,” and died, based on your personal interpretation of the Bible. By saying you are obligated to the Torah and that you are fulfilling the Torah, you aren’t equalizing conditions between Christians and Messianic Jews but (whether you mean to or not) elevating yourself above your brothers and sisters in the church.

Let’s continue the Chabad commentary on Korach. I think you’ll see that he and his followers were doing something very similar.

The Kohanim , the priestly class, differed from the rest of the Jewish people in that the Kohanim were wholly dedicated to spiritual matters. This was especially true with regard to the Kohen Gadol , the High Priest, who was commanded “not to leave the Sanctuary.” (Vayikra 21:12.)

Their apartness from the general populace notwithstanding, the Kohanim in general, and the Kohen Gadol in particular, imparted their level of sanctity to all the Jews. Thus we find that Aharon’s service of lighting the Menorah in the Sanctuary imparted sanctity to all Jews, and enabled them to reach Aharon’s level of service and love of G-d. (See Likkutei Torah , beginning of portion Beha’alosecha.)

You may consider this a bit of a stretch, but I think the unique standing and “choseness” of the Jewish people and their obligation Sinai covenant also imparts a “level of sanctity” to we who are grafted in from among the nations. I think there’s a relationship to Israel being a light and to those of us who have seen and been attracted to that light.

I’ve tried talking about this before, especially in blog posts such as Redeeming the Heart of Israel, Part 1 and Part 2, where we see a partnership between the Jewish and Gentile disciples of the Master that is complementary and interwoven, and I’ve tried to show that this partnership does not require a fused or homogenous identity between Christians and Jews in the Messianic realm.

Granted, I believe this manner of thinking is still in its formative stages and requires a great deal more research, especially in Scripture, but we see a classic example in the Korach rebellion of how a group desiring to separate themselves from their fellows and assume an identity not their own results in disaster. In the end, Korach and the rebels didn’t really believe that all of Israel had the right to become priests.

Korach and his band’s complaint that “All the people…are holy,” however, did not contradict their own desire for priesthood, for they desired a manner of priesthood totally removed from the rest of the congregation.

This manner of priesthood would not cause them to feel superior to the rest of the Jewish people, a superiority that resulted from their imparting holiness to them, for in their scheme of things they would not impart holiness to other Jews — they would remain totally separate and apart.

But Korach and his band were badly mistaken: It is true that there are different categories of service — Jews who are solely occupied with spiritual matters, and other Jews whose task it is to purify and elevate the physical world through the service of “All your actions should be for the sake of heaven,” (Avos 2:12.) and “In all your ways you shall know Him.” (Mishlei 3:6.)

Putting all this together, we can paint a picture of those Gentiles who want to assume a full “Jewish” identity without having to convert to Judaism as not demonstrating equality between Jews and Gentiles in the covenant, but perhaps setting themselves above their fellow Christians by taking on Jewish identity markers. I’m sure that many One Law proponents aren’t motivated in this direction, but ask yourself if this could be describing you.

If you, as a Christian (non-Jewish disciple of the Jewish Messiah) in the Hebrew Roots movement, choose to take on additional mitzvot that could be considered specific to Jews, please study up on them first, including the relevant halachah for performing the mitzvot. Shooting from the hip probably isn’t as effective way to perform any of the Torah commandments as using the accepted standards established in normative Judaism.

From my personal perspective, a Gentile publicly appearing as a Jew, even with completely pure motives, is like walking into a room full of trapdoors and tripwires. You might be successful in your efforts, but more than likely, once you step outside your local congregations and into the larger world, you could encounter unanticipated conflicts. Be sure whatever you do is actually what God wants and not just something that makes you feel special.

I’m sure no one wants to make Korach’s mistake. Ask yourself who or what is speaking to your heart?

Addendum: This all gets more complicated when you factor in people who claim a Jewish identity without Jewish parents and exist outside of Messianic Judaism, as we see in this Huffington Post article. One person has blogged about her experiences as a “Jewish” non-Jew, and Derek Leman has offered his own commentary. True, it doesn’t have a direct relationship with this week’s Torah portion or the matter of any Christian’s perceived obligation of Torah, but it is very much relevant to the “identity wars” between Jews and non-Jews, so I include these references here.

Good Shabbos.

The Tefillin and the Shoemaker

Praying with TefillinAnd they (Korach and his following) converged upon Moses and Aaron and said to them: “Enough! Every one of the congregation is holy, and G-d is amongst them. Why do you raise yourself above the congregation of G-d?”Numbers 16:3

There are those who maintain that they have no need of a mentor to guide them through life. They claim, as did Korach, that each and every individual can forge his relationship with G-d unaided. They argue that since the Jewish faith rejects the concept of an intermediary between man and G-d, they have no use for a rebbe or master.

They fail to understand that the entire Jewish people are a single entity, that every individual soul is, in truth, but a limb or organ of the soul of Israel. Just as each limb and organ of the human body has its function at which it excels, so, too, every soul has its role and mission, as well as its limitations. The ‘loftiest’ of souls is dependent upon the ‘lowliest’ for the attainment of the single, unified goal. And were any limb to strike out on its own, detaching itself from the ‘head’ which provides the entire body with vitality and direction – the results are self-understood.

Said Rabbi Yosef Yitzchok of Lubavitch: “When an individual adapts the attitude that he can do it all on his own, he reminds me of the story told about the peasant and the tefillin. Once, a Jew noticed a pair of tefillin in the house of a gentile peasant. Upon seeing a holy object in such a place he began to inquire about the tefillin, wishing to purchase them from the goy. The peasant, who had looted the tefillin in a recent pogrom, grew agitated and defensive. “What do you mean, where did I get them?” he blurted out. “Why, I made them myself! I myself am a shoemaker!”

-Rabbi Yanki Tauber
Once Upon a Chasid
“Jack of all Trades”
Chabad.org commentary on Torah Portion Korach

Paul explained that he received the gospel through a revelation of Yeshua the Messiah (Jesus Christ). He claimed that the gospel message he preached to the Galatians was not man’s gospel. It was not the normal gospel message. He received a different gospel. This is an important point – a critical point – for understanding Paul. The message of the gospel that Paul proclaimed was not precisely the same message of the gospel that the rest of the apostolic community proclaimed. In other places, Paul specifically refers to this unique gospel as “my gospel” (see Romans 2:15-16, Romans 16:25, and 2 Timothy 2:8-9).

-D. Thomas Lancaster
The Holy Epistle to the Galatians
“Sermon Three: Paul’s Gospel (Galatians 1:11-24)”
pp 35-6

But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!Galatians 1:8 (NASB)

Reading Rabbi Tauber’s commentary on the previous week’s Torah Portion Korach, I saw an inevitable collision with the above-quoted portion of Lancaster’s “Galatians” book. Although Korach and his co-conspirators claimed authority because all of Israel was holy to God, while Paul claimed authority based on his personal revelation from Jesus (see Acts 9:1-19 and Acts 26:15-18), they both set themselves (apparently) in opposition to the established authority representing God, Moses in the case of Korach, and the Jerusalem Council, in the case of Paul.

We know that Korach, Dathan, Abiram, and the 250 who were with them came to a bad end (Numbers 16:28-35) and their story is sometimes told in congregations as a cautionary tale not to go against the established leadership, but what about Paul? Does Paul’s receiving a personal revelation and mission from Jesus exempt him from respecting and obeying properly established authority? Lancaster says, “no”:

Despite the dismissive air, Paul submitted to their authority. He had already conceded that, if they had rejected his gospel of Gentile inclusion, he would have been running his race in vain. They had the power to utterly discredit the gospel message he had been presenting. Therefore, he certainly did respect their authority. But he seems less than reverently respectful in Galatians 2:5.

-D. Thomas Lancaster
The Holy Epistle to the Galatians
“Sermon Seven: Remember the Pour (Galatians 2:6-10)”
pg 71

While Paul could be opinionated and “outspoken”, he nevertheless realized that he was a man under not only the Master’s authority, but under the authorities established by God in Jerusalem, which included James, Peter, and John. But he had to approach these “pillars”, present his position based on the Master’s revelation to him, and hope they’d see things his way. Fortunately for Paul (and the Gentiles), they did. Otherwise Christianity, as we understand it, probably wouldn’t exist today. In that case, any person not born a Jew who wanted to enter into a full covenant relationship with God would have to convert to Judaism (for the sake of this blog, I will define Gentile Noahides -in contrast to Christians – as meriting a place in the world to come but not enjoying a full covenant relationship with God on par with the Jews).

The example of Paul presents a problem, though. His experience was entirely subjective. No one else saw or heard the details of his visions and so no one could verify independently, that he was telling the truth. In theory, he could have made the whole thing up in order to further some personal agenda he had in relation to Gentiles becoming “Messianic” disciples. If we accept the Biblical record on faith as well as reason, we accept that his visions were real and his authority was real.

But what about “authorities” today?

Most mainstream churches and synagogues are lead by a Pastor or Rabbi (respectively) who has received the education required to be ordained by their branch of faith and they have been appointed to a specific congregation upon the approval of that congregation’s board of directors. The board, and its various committees, have the authority to set the specific duties of the clergy, approve and renew their contractual relationship, and even fire the clergyperson if necessary. While the Pastor or Rabbi is the “face” and “voice” of the congregation in many ways, he or she can hardly act with total autonomy or impunity and are held accountable to the standards and authority of the congregation and their overseeing denomination or sect.

Sadly, not all religious groups and leaders operate on this principle. Paul’s “example” of receiving a personal revelation can be and has been terribly misused and misappropriated by many so-called “leaders” and “prophets” to set themselves up as the sole and individual authority over their congregations. If anyone complains about the “leader” and his or her lack of accountability to others, Paul’s example is cited and then the dissenters are accused of being like Korach and his band (implying that the dissenters will suffer a similar fate if they don’t withdraw their objections).

I know such a ploy may sound improbable and even silly to some of you reading this blog post, but the power of cult leaders over large groups of “believers” can be formidable to those who have made a commitment and who believe their “leader” is the “real meal deal”; the one and only person anointed by God to spread a special “message” to the “remnant” of the faithful.

I’m sure you are thinking about some of the infamous and extreme examples of what I’m describing, such as Jim Jones, David Koresh, and Marshall Applewhite, but there are probably thousands of other religious groups out there that operate below our radar, so to speak. Certainly a number of groups loosely affiliated with the Messianic Jewish (MJ) movement, function under the sole authority of the “Rabbi” in charge, acknowledging only his (in the vast majority of these cases, the leader is male) “right” to make decisions and pronouncements for the congregation, based on the leader’s self-described “anointing” from God.

(I want to make it clear at this point, that there are many MJ congregations that do operate on a board of directors model and that do receive authority from a central, overseeing organization which does provide a series of checks and balances for congregational leadership – I’m not painting “Messianic Judaism” as such with a single, broad brush – however, because “the movement” is largely unregulated, some people -usually not Jewish- just put on a kippah and a tallit, declare themselves a “Messianic Rabbi”, and proceed to gather a “flock”. Then they go about sharpening whatever theological ax they have to grind, which much of the time, has only a faint resemblance to anything Jewish).

Everything I’ve said up to this point certainly could make you doubtful or concerned if you find yourself in a “one-man show” type of congregation or even one where you might suspect (correctly or not) that the the congregation’s board is pretty much “rubber-stamping” the clergy’s decisions. On the other hand, we are taught to respect authority:

Rabbi Ishmael would say: Be yielding to a leader, affable to the black-haired, and receive every man with joy. -Pirkei Avot 3:12

It’s confusing. However, anyone, leader or otherwise, should recall this:

Rabbi Akavia the son of Mahalalel would say: Reflect upon three things and you will not come to the hands of transgression. Know from where you came, where you are going, and before whom you are destined to give a judgment and accounting. -Pirkei Avot 3:1

There is a Heavenly authority who holds us all accountable for what we say and do. Examples like Paul’s vision are extremely rare. They were extremely rare in Paul’s day and perhaps they may not even occur in the common era. Judaism has a long tradition of centralized authority but generally, that authority is not held by a single individual. The great sages often disagreed and it was through those debates and dialogues that justice and mercy was distilled throughout the centuries and applied to the devout in response to the unique needs of their communities and the time in which they lived.

Some respond to religious leadership concerns by refusing to affiliate with any faith group, but we all come under some sort of authority, including our employers, and local and national governments. Meeting with our congregations is how we prevent ourselves from entering into individual error (though I’m hardly one to talk at this point):

Rabbi Shimon would say: Three who eat at one table and do not speak words of Torah, it is as if they have eaten from the slaughter of the dead, as is stated, “Indeed, all tables are filled with vomit and filth, devoid of the Omnipresent.” But three who eat at one table and speak words of Torah, it is as if they have eaten at G-d’s table, as is stated, “And he said to me: `This is the table that is before G-d.’ ”

Rabbi Chanina the son of Chachina’i would say: One who stays awake at night, or travels alone on the road, and turns his heart to idleness, has forfeited his life. -Pirkei Avot 3:3-4

We are charged to test the validity of a leader as the Bereans tested the validity of Paul’s teachings (see Acts 17:10-12). We also know that valid and righteous leaders are established by God for the good of the world:

It was for this reason that actual peace in the world was brought about through Aharon, who descended to all creatures and elevated them to Torah.

-From the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson
Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. VIII, pp. 103-107

The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace. –Psalm 29:11

Faith and history have established the relative authority of Korach and Paul and God’s justice and mercy was enacted in both lives in accordance with the actions of these men. Our lives are the same. We serve the same God. We all benefit from His providence. We are all accountable to His justice and we all rely on His mercy. We should not take the Name of God or His authority lightly. In the end, God prevails:

If you play for your own glory and not God’s you have no place here. -a Maggid

Rabbi Akivah would say: Beloved is man, for he was created in the image [of G-d]; it is a sign of even greater love that it has been made known to him that he was created in the image, as it is says, `”For in the image of G-d, He made man.” -Pirkei Avot 3:14

A man’s soul is the light of God. –Proverbs 20:27

Drawing Near

Kohen GadolThe name of this week’s Torah reading, Korach, provokes an obvious question: It is written: “The name of the wicked shall rot,” and on this basis, our Sages state that a person should not be named after a wicked man. Why then is an entire Torah reading named Korach? For with this title, Korach’s identity is perpetuated forever, since the Torah is eternal.

Among the explanations given is that Korach’s desire was, in essence, positive. Korach wanted to be a High Priest, to experience the absolute closeness with G-d that results from entry into the Holy of Holies. Indeed, when Moshe responded to Korach, he did not tell him this objective was unworthy. On the contrary, as Rashi relates, Moshe said he shared the same desire; he also wanted to be a High Priest.

Moreover, at Mount Sinai, G-d told the Jewish people that they are “a kingdom of priests,” and our Rabbis interpret this to refer to the level attained by a High Priest.

Rabbi Eli Touger
In the Garden of Torah
“Korach’s Positive Import”
Chabad.org

A third gentile wanted to convert so he could become the High Priest, and wear the Priestly garments. Shammai said no, but Hillel accepted him. After studying, he realized that even David, the King of Israel, did not qualify as a cohen, not being a descendant of Aaron…Hillel’s welcoming personality complements his saying: “Love people and bring them close to Torah.” (Avoth 1).

from -Hillel, Shammai and the Three Converts
Saratogachabad.com
citing Shabbos 31

“My job is not to distance anyone, but to draw them closer. If a person needs to be rebuked, let someone else take care of that.”

-from a letter of the Rebbe
quoted by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Bringing Closer”
Chabad.org

I write a lot about praying, about reading Talmud, Chasidic stories, the Bible; and I write a lot about living out the life that God gave us, not just praying, reading, and studying. But what’s the point? Why do we do this? Why do I do this?

Why did the convert in the story about Hillel want to be a High Priest?

The motives are all the same. We want to draw closer to God. Even Korach, the subject of this week’s Torah Portion is said to have had good motives, though a bad way of expressing them. We all want to draw closer to God.

But what does that mean? I’m not sure anyone really knows.

What would we do if we were really close to God? You probably think you know the answer. You probably think it would the the most wonderful, peaceful, loving experience of your entire life. But do you know what you’re really asking for?

When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” –Exodus 20:18-20

When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades. –Revelation 1:17-18

Do not be afraid? Are you crazy? who wouldn’t be afraid?

Sure, Abraham spoke with God “face-to-face” and Moses talked with God at the top of Mt. Sinai for forty days and forty nights, but that was Abraham and Moses. The Bible doesn’t relate tales of every one who encounters God having a perfectly comfortable and casual conversation and in fact, in the two scriptures from which I just quoted, we see that the more typical response of a meeting with the Divine was to expect to die in the next second or two. Why do we want to get closer to God?

We think we want to get closer to God when we imagine God is some sort of “cosmic teddy bear” who is all comfy and cozy and we can sit on His lap like kids telling Santa Claus what we want for Christmas. But it doesn’t work that way as we’ve seen in abundant measure. So why do we want to grow closer to God, abandoning all common sense and reason, desiring to have such an intimate and terrifying experience?

In Jewish mysticism, it’s believed that we contain a spark of the Divine; something of God, within each of us. That spark is always striving to return to the source. It’s like trying to hold a beach ball underwater in a swimming pool; the more you try to drive it downward, the more it pushes back toward the surface. The more darkness we pour into our being, the more sorrow and sin we find in the world, the more the Holy fire within us seeks out the conflagration of God.

From this life and light proceeds the divine “spark” which is hidden in every soul. Not all men succeed in rising to this close union with God at prayer, because this spark is imprisoned in them. “Yea, even the Shechinah herself is imprisoned in us, for the spark is the Shechinah in our souls.

-Paul Philip Levertoff
Love and the Messianic Age

Ezekiel's VisionIn yesterday’s morning meditation, I said that meeting God requires our “time, effort, and an unquenchable need to learn“. It’s that unquenchable, insatiable, unstoppable drive; like a spark seeking the fire, that pushes us forward, over the edge of the abyss, sometimes without our conscious will, pressing us across the threshold from our familiar world into the Presence of the Throne of God. This is what drives mystics to leave the universe and seek higher Heavens in vision and in spirit. This is what we see in the Merkabah or the Ezekiel’s chariot event and this is what John experienced in the vision he recorded in Revelation. Daniel’s visions all but drove him insane.

Most of us won’t have such intense encounters with God, but we seek something of Him nonetheless. It’s why we pray. It’s way we read the Bible. It’s why we study Talmud and Kabbalah. It’s why, night after night, we seek Him in our dreams and day after day, we call to Him to be with us along our way.

You shall teach them diligently to your children and you shall speak of them, while you sit in your home, while you walk on the way, when you retire, and when you arise. –Deuteronomy 6:7

This small portion of the Shema is part of what Jesus taught as one of the two greatest commandments; the commandments that are the “containers” for all of the Torah and the Prophets. Perhaps this is a clue telling us how we draw closer to God.

We know that Korach’s intentions were good, but intentions are not nearly as meaningful as the actions we take. His actions ultimately cost the lives of over 14,000 people. And while the actions of the convert who approached Hillel with the desire to become High Priest didn’t result in tragedy, he still was given the opportunity to learn a hard lesson in what it means to draw nearer to God.

Interestingly, the letter from the Rebbe quoted by Rabbi Freeman seems to speak somewhat of Hillel who, unlike his contemporary Shammai, did not rebuke the foolishness of the three converts but rather, welcomed them and gave them the time and the room to discover their mistakes. We make our own mistakes in trying to draw nearer to God. A lot of the errors we make have to do with arrogant presumption and the idea that the life, death, and life of Jesus Christ turned God the Father from a horrible, vengeful creature into everybody’s favorite uncle. Fortunately, God, like Hillel, gives us time and room to discover our errors.

It’s in our sincere attempts to encounter God that we actually discover when we’re walking the wrong path. Like Moses who saw only God’s “back” but not His “face”, when we’re ready, we realize just how vast and overwhelming even a momentary glimpse of God’s awesome glory is when it breaks into our world. However, to meet with God, we must make our humble efforts to seek Him out, in the pages of the Bible, in the halls of study, in the realms of prayer…and then we must wait.

From a mystic perspective, it is explained that Korach’s desires reflected the spiritual heights to be reached in the Era of the Redemption…The rewards of that age cannot, however, be attained prematurely, but only as a result of our Divine service. It is only through our selfless devotion to the Torah of Moshe and the directives of “the extension of Moshe in every generation” the Torah leaders of our people that we can elevate ourselves and the world to the point that “the world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d.”

-Rabbi Touger

Good Shabbos.