In this week’s parshah we read about the infamous individual named Korach who led a rebellion in an attempt to overthrow Moshe and Aaron as leaders of the nation. On one hand, he was upset that Moshe appointed their cousin, Elitzafon, as the Nassi — head of the Kohathite family. Korach argued, “Our fathers were four brothers. Your father Amram was oldest, thus, as a bechor — firstborn — you are entitled to two portions of inheritance. Hence, you took for yourself leadership and gave your brother kehunah— priesthood. But,” he argued, “my father, Yitzhar, was the second, so I should have been appointed Nassi, and you gave it to our cousin Elitzafan whose father, Uziel, was the youngest of the four brothers.”

Most people would not tolerate an injustice being done to them, so Korach, motivated by his human instincts, complained. On the surface it seems that Korach was justified in being upset, so why did he suffer such a devastating blow?

Korach was not an ordinary person on the street. Rashi describes him as a pikei’ach — an extraordinary wise person (16:7). This prompts Rashi to ask “But what did Korach, who was a clever person, see which led him to this folly”?

I would like to ask this question a little differently.

During their confrontation, Korach challenged Moshe about the requirement for a mezuzah on a house filled with Sifrei Torah. He also asked if a tallit made entirely of techeilet required a string of techeilet in the tzitzit. Moshe responded to both questions affirmatively. Did Korach not appear to be correct logically?

Perhaps their dispute could be explained in the following way:

Moshe argued that “Torah and mitzvot cannot be approached with our cold logic. A Jew must have kabbalat ol — complete submission to the will of Hashem — doing whatever He commands even when human logic may dictate otherwise.”

The name “Korach” conveys to us the nature of his personality. It has the same letters as the Hebrew word “kerach” — “ice.” For an advocate of using a cold and frigid approach to spiritual matters and serving Hashem only with logic and understanding, the name “Korach” — “kerach” — is appropriate.

The two radically different approaches to Torah of Korach and Moshe — cold logic versus kabbalat ol — submission to Hashem’s will — are illustrated by a story of the Ba’al Shem Tov. He once told his students that anything a Jew sees or hears is not a function of mere chance, but caused by hashgachah peratit — Divine Providence — and intended as a message for the individual.

Afterwards, the disciples went out into the street and noticed a group of villagers singing and dancing. It was a holiday celebrated by chiseling out a cross from the frozen water of the river and dancing with it through the streets. Deeply disturbed, the disciples hastened back to the Ba’al Shem Tov and asked, “What lesson is being conveyed to us through this mysterious scene?”

The Ba’al Shem Tov replied, “Water has very unusual qualities. It enables a person who immerses in it to regain his purity. However, this can be accomplished only when the water is in the flowing state. When it freezes, then G‑d forbid, it can become an object of avodah zarah — idolatry. Likewise, Torah is compared to flowing water (see Ta’anit 7a). Through it one can reach the highest levels, but approaching it with coldness can make it ‘freeze’ and produce a radical spiritual decline in a person.”

Korach’s “chilly” approach deprived him of the warmth of Torah and ultimately led to his downfall.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, the lesson for you and all present here today is that Torah is chachmato shel Hakadosh Baruch Hu — the wisdom of Hashem (Tanya, ch. 4). It is far beyond our human intellect and comprehension.

We do not observe Torah because we calculate that it makes sense and seems to be the correct thing to do, but rather, because it is His will, and through it we become attached to Him.

The difference between a varemer yid — a warm Jew — and a kalter yid — a cold Jew — is that one does what his seichel — intellect — calculates is proper and the other is guided by his heart and emotions and thus, performs with vigor and enthusiasm.

My berachah to you, my dear Bar Mitzvah, is that you always be a Jew with a warm heart, filled with good attributes and emotions for Hashem and your fellow man. May you always contemplate how to become closer to Hashem and how to help others, and may it be manifested in words emanating your mouth, speaking Torah, tefillah and soothing words to your fellow man.


Towards the end of Parshat Korach, the Torah lists the twenty four gifts that Hashem presented to the Kohanim as a reward for their service. This passage is juxtaposed to the rebellion in which Korach questioned Aaron’s Kohanic position to serve as an affirmation that Hashem recognizes Aaron and his family as His personal legion.

Among these gifts are three kinds of living firstborn that are sources of gifts to the Kohanim. One of these is the law of pidyon haben — redeeming a firstborn son of an Israelite with a payment of five silver shekels to a Kohen.

In the Gemara (Menachot 37a) there is a story concerning an unusual firstborn child. A student named Pelimo asked the following question of Rebbe, Rabbi Yehuda, his teacher. In the case of one who has two heads, on which one of them does he don tefillin? Rebbe considered the question an absurdity and told him, “Go into exile and accept excommunication upon yourself.” Then the Gemara relates that meanwhile a certain man came in and said to Rebbe, “A child that has two heads was recently born to me. How much money must I give to the Kohen for the firstborn’s redemption?” The Gemara concludes that a certain elder (Eliyahu HaNavi) came in and taught the father is obligated to give the Kohen ten shekalim.

(Incidentally, Tosafot quotes a Midrash that a man with two heads married a woman with one head and they bore both a one-headed and two-headed child. When the father died, the children came before King Shlomo and the one with two heads demanded a double portion of the estate (inheritance).

The wisest of all men covered one of the heads of the two-headed son and poured boiling water over the other head. When the covered head bellowed in pain, it was evident that the two heads were part of one person.)

I refer to this strange incident for two reasons. First it shows that what we think today is something new was already discussed by our Sages in the Gemara two millennium ago. The other reason is that there is an inherent message in this narrative.

In a symbolic sense there are many Bar-Mitzvah boys who possess two heads. I do not mean that they are, G‑d forbid, physically bipolar or schizophrenic, but spiritually their minds are split. There are many boys who go to Yeshivah or day school and there is a frequent clash between the doctrine taught in the Yeshivah and the lifestyle they see at their homes. The Rebbe or teachers at the Yeshivah stress Torah and mitzvot, and to their parents these are alien and antiquated. The boy will be called to the Torah in honor of his Bar Mitzvah and then celebrate a lavish spread at a non-kosher establishment with the emphasis on the bar while the mitzvah is non-existent.

Pelimo’s question is thus very relevant: When a boy has two heads, and is living a life of conflicting ideas and emotions, how does he put on tefillin which emphasize love of Hashem and to serving Him with “all your heart and soul”?

Unfortunately, many of these youths after Bar Mitzvah become estranged and drop their affiliation with Torah and Yiddishkeit.

The sad scene of many American Bar Mitzvah boys can be illustrated with the story of the immigrant who came to our blessed country, America and wanted to open a business. Not knowing the American lifestyle, he walked the streets to learn how business is done in America, and he noticed that a certain store was attracting a much larger crowd than all the others. When he inquired as to the reason, he was informed that there was a sign above the store which read “Grand Opening” and that this usually attracts many people. He continued on his stroll and noticed another store a few blocks away which was also attracting more customers than all the other stores. Again he inquired and he was told that above this store was a sign “Going Out of Business” and that such a sign also tends to attract many inquisitive people.

Wanting his store to be a tremendous success, and unfamiliar with the English language, he hired a sign maker to copy both signs and place them above the entrance to his store. Business was terrible; people did not come in because they were convinced that the store was operated by a “meshuganer” — “lunatic.”

This story, which has an amusing note to it, unfortunately portrays many facets of life in general, and Jewish milestones in particular. Bar Mitzvah is the first celebration in which a young Jewish boy actively participates. But how sad is it when the Bar Mitzvah boy and his family, after attending services in the synagogue, drive away on Shabbat to a non-kosher restaurant for a festive repast. In actuality, for this boy and his family, the “grand opening” and “going out of business” took place at the same time.

My dear Bar Mitzvah, the scenario that I described is the unfortunate scene of an American Bar Mitzvah boy. As far as you are concerned, thank G‑d, I see that you are a normal boy that possesses but one head both physically and spiritually. Your Yeshivah education and home atmosphere are compatible and compliment one another. Your Bar Mitzvah is your grand opening as a full fledged member of Torah observant Jewry. We pray that you continue in this path and for all of the 120 years of your life you continue to bring Yiddish and Chassidish nachas to your family and Klal Yisrael.