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Korach personified dissension, the antitheses of the Shabbat spirit of peace.

5:6 Rebelling Against Rest

5:6 Rebelling Against Rest

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5:6 Rebelling Against Rest
Korach personified dissension, the antitheses of the Shabbat spirit of peace.

"Ten things were created on Shabbat eve at twilight. They are: the mouth of the earth…." (Avot 5:6)

Korach rebelled against the very institution of Shabbat, described as a divine gift. (Ex. 16:29) While he could appreciate the Festivals [called "mo'edim" in Hebrew] as occasions which celebrated events that occurred to the Jewish People and his cohorts were known as "those summoned for mo'ed", he disputed the notion that G‑d could grant us this day of rest, the Shabbat. Just as he spurned G‑d's gift of Shabbat, he also rejected the divine gift of performing the Temple service granted to Aaron and his children. (Sfat Emet, Korach 5659)

Korach and his allies also challenged other aspects of Shabbat, especially the sense of inner peace and serenity as well as the unity of the Jewish People that permeates our life each Shabbat. Every Friday night, as we sense the enhanced spirituality of Shabbat, we proclaim G‑d as One Who "spreads a canopy of peace". Korach, who personified dissension, was the antitheses of the Shabbat spirit of peace. Moreover, Korach was known for his lavish outer exhibition of piety. According to the Sages, he encouraged his followers to dress in garments made entirely of techelet [sky-blue wool] rather than merely wear garments with tzitzit [fringes] dyed with that color. (Bamidbar Rabbah 18:3) This exhibitionism is the antitheses of Shabbat, the day of inner peace and serenity. (Sfat Emet, Korach 5662)

Korach desired that the universe be governed solely on the basis of Divine Justice….

Above all, Korach's insurrection, and especially the venomous tone he used to pursue his cause, conflicted with the paramount theme of Shabbat, which is sanctity. [See Ex. 31:12 "You must observe My Shabbats…to know that I am G‑d, Who makes you holy." Shabbat was given to the Jewish People to make us aware that G‑d sanctifies our lives]. (Sfat Emet, Korach 5645)

Having defined Korach's revolt as a challenge to the venerable institution of Shabbat, we can appreciate why his ultimate end [the mouth of the earth] was created moments before the Shabbat began. (Maggidei HaEmet, also cf. Sfat Emet, Korach, 5631, 5645, 5652)

A Plea for Teshuva

According to the Beit Yisrael, the open pit which engulfed Korach and his followers reminds us of the eventual fate of those who do not repent - the bottomless pit of Gehinom. There is no more opportune time for teshuva than Shabbat Eve, when Adam repented from mankind's first sin (Yalkut Tehillim 843; adapted from Maggidei HaEmet)

The Opening to Gehinom

Korach desired that the universe be governed solely on the basis of Divine Justice. Korach's wish, however, was based upon a profound misconception that G‑d created a complete, self-contained universe, which could function on its own, based on the immutable laws of nature, without need of any further divine intervention.

G‑d deliberately designed the natural world to be incomplete….

In reality, G‑d deliberately designed the natural world to be incomplete, thereby compelling man to turn to Him and His Attribute of Mercy.

The Sages allude to the universe's "lack of completeness" by relating that G‑d sealed three sides of the universe but deliberately left the fourth side -- the northern flank - open. (cf. Baba Batra 25a) This metaphor may refer to Gehinom and other misfortunes which are associated with the northern direction [as in "From the north the evil will be released." (Jeremiah 1:14, 4:6, 6:1)] Appropriately enough, Korach, who envisioned the universe as being self-contained [complete], was swallowed up by the opening of the earth - its exposed flank and the passageway from This World to the purgatory of Gehinom.

In this light, we can better appreciate why the earth's opening was created on Shabbat Eve at twilight. There was never a moment in which the universe's lack of completeness was more visible that the waning moments of Shabbat Eve. Everything physical had been consummated according to the strict regulations of the natural world, as Korach espoused. And yet, the completed universe still had a gaping hole- the opening through which Korach would eventually fall -- that craved "closure". This could only come from the total spirituality of Shabbat. As the Sages state, "What was the world lacking? Rest and tranquility. With Shabbat came rest and tranquility." (Rashi, Bereishit 2:2 s.v. Vayechal)

When the universe became spiritually complete, that the demons' development was finally curtailed….

The Mishna also relates that the demons were created at that time. According to the Zohar, their growth was stunted when Shabbat arrived [i.e. they remained as "disembodied souls" without the external casing of the body]. There was no more propitious time than that first Shabbat Eve for the potential dominance of the demons and all other lethal forces -such as the opening of the "incomplete" world - who were awaiting the call of the Divine. It was only during the period of Divine Mercy at the commencement of Shabbat, when the universe became spiritually complete, that the demons' development was finally curtailed. (Sfas Emmes, Korach 5636)

The Universe Seeks Completion

Just as the human mouth craves nourishment, so too the earth craved that sense of completion which could only come with the Divine Revelation on Shabbat. Korach thrived on factionalism and dissension, the antithesis of completion, and loathed the sense of serenity and closure that Shabbat brings.

Thus, he simply had no place.1

In this light, we can gain new insight into a cryptic comment of the Sages: "The expression 'very good' refers to death." (Bereishit Rabba 9:5) When G‑d pronounced the universe to be "very good" that first Shabbat Eve, He was reflecting upon a world whose sole desire was to be inexorable linked to G‑d (a status achieved with the advent of Shabbat). The same yearning for closure, for absolute self-negation to the Source of all life - G‑d - is eventually attained by all human beings upon their expiration. (Adapted from Sfas Emmes, Korach 5640)

The Attribute of Peace Complains

Korach's continued existence was harmful not only to the Jewish People but also to the very viability of the universe. The Sages relate that when G‑d contemplated creating man, the Attribute of Peace objected, arguing that mortals were simply too contentious for the universe. (Bereishit Rabba 8:5) While G‑d overruled this objection and nonetheless created man, He also graced the universe with an extraordinary divinely inspired "infusion" of peace. By stirring needless controversy, Korach upset the universe's delicate balance of peace. Rather than jeopardizing the universe's equilibrium and endanger a peaceful haven for the Jewish People, the fomenter of controversy, Korach, had to fall by the wayside. (Sfas Emmes, Korach 5651)

[Translated and adapted by Rabbi Yosef Stern.]

Footnotes
1.
The earth's longing for the spiritual completion of Shabbat is reflected in our own conduct every week as we eagerly await Shabbats' arrival, symbolized by our Kabbalat Shabbat, accepting the Shabbat.
Rabbi Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter Rebbe of Ger (Warsaw, Poland, 1847-Ger, Poland,1905) Chassidic leader and Talmudist. Popularly known as Sefas Emmes ("Language of Truth") from the title of his commentary on the Torah. He was raised by his grandfather, Rabbi Yitzchak Meir, Chiddushei Harym, the first Gerrer Rebbe. He distinguished himself by the diligence with which he studied Torah, devoting 18 hours each day to mastering Talmud, the Zohar, and Chassidic classics; becoming a preeminent authority both in the revealed and mystical aspects of the Torah. In 1870 he reluctantly agreed to becoming the second Gerrer Rebbe. His commentaries stress the moral and ethical lessons to be derived from the Torah, offering many kabbalistic allusions. The title Sefat Emet, taken from the passage Sefat emet tikon la'ad, "Truthful speech abides forever" (Proverbs 12:19), was chosen by his children, who published his works, because it was the last verse on which he commented before his passing.
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