Enjoy four short thoughts and a video adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Parshat Korach.

True Leadership

This week’s Torah reading relates how Korach came to Moses with a protest: “The entire nation is holy and G‑d is among them. Why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of G‑d?”

Seemingly, Korachs’s complaint was legitimate. Since the people are all holy, each one of them possesses a spark of G‑dliness, why should one person be “exalted”?

The resolution to these questions depends on the understanding of leadership. Certainly, the entire nation was holy, but to express that holiness, the people had to be motivated and inspired. That required a leader, a Moses.

A leader empowers people to realize their potential and express it. Without such leadership, even though people possess positive qualities, it is possible that they will fail to manifest them.

Although the people all possessed an essential G‑dly spark, it was the responsibility of Moses to bring that G‑dliness into revelation. Certainly, they possessed the potential; but as the Biblical narrative indicates, there were many occasions when they failed to live up to their potential. Moses’ leadership motivated them to push forward and express who they really were.

In every generation, we must seek leaders, people who will spark us to utilize the positive qualities which we possess. Following the guidance of a leader enables a person to accomplish more than he could on his own initiative.
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Three Natural Miracles

The story of Aaron’s blossoming staff is told in our Parshah. In order to reassert Aaron’s status after the Korach debacle, G‑d instructed Moses:

“Take . . . a staff from each of [the tribes’] leaders . . . and write each one’s name on his staff. Write the name of Aaron on the staff of Levi . . . and the man whom I shall choose, his staff will blossom .

Moses placed each staff before G‑d in the Sanctuary. On the next day . . . behold, the staff of Aaron was blossoming: it brought forth blossoms, produced fruit and bore ripe almonds.” (Numbers 17:16–24)

In a talk delivered by the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Shabbat Korach 1991, the Rebbe cited the above incident as a classic example of a natural miracle. G‑d did not simply make almonds appear. Rather, He simulated all stages of growth. It transcended nature, but on nature’s own terms. The Shabbat on which the Rebbe spoke was the 3rd of Tammuz, and the Rebbe gave two more examples of “natural miracles,” both occurring on that date.

On the third of Tammuz of the year 2488 from creation, Joshua was leading the Jewish people into battle. Victory was imminent, but darkness was about to fall. “Sun,” proclaimed Joshua, “be still at Giv’on; moon, at the Ayalon Valley” (Joshua 10:12). The heavenly bodies acquiesced, halting their progress through the sky until Israel’s armies brought the battle to its successful conclusion.

The second natural miracle occurred 3,199 years later—this time in even more natural terms. The 3rd of Tammuz, in the Jewish year 5687, was the day on which the sixth Lubavitcher rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, was released from the Spalerna prison in Leningrad. This was the day that a new reality supplanted the old. Yet this new reality came into being by wholly “conventional” means, in the gradual and incremental manner that is the hallmark of a natural development.

This is the lesson of the 3rd of Tammuz: we must not be intimidated by the limits of natural norms, but we must also not to disavow them. Instead, we should work within them to broaden and expand them. Rather than seeking to liberate ourselves of the circumstances of nature, we should seek to liberate and elevate the nature of nature itself.
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Why Do We Need a King?

Korach’s challenge to Moses’ leadership calls for an understanding of the Jewish concept of authority in general. One of the mitzvot of the Torah is to appoint a king and whenever we recite the Grace After Meals we pray for the restoration of the monarchy and the House of David. Indeed, this will be the function of Mashiach who will be a teacher, but primarily a king, an absolute ruler.

Among the explanations of this concept is that earthly monarchy stems from — and serves as an analogy to and an extension of — our relationship with the King of kings. The purpose of a Jewish monarchy is to teach the people self-nullification to the king in order to intensify their self-nullification to G‑d. The self-nullification of the people to a mortal king should infuse kabbalas ol, “the acceptance of G‑d’s yoke,” into every dimension of divine service, deepening the intensity and commitment until it affects our very essence.

Ideally, kingship is invited by the king’s subjects, and not imposed upon them. The analogue to this relationship reflects man’s desire and initiative to tie the essence of his being to G‑d in homage to Him.


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Korach’s Division

The opening words of our Sidra, “And Korach took,” are translated in the Targum as “And Korach divided,” in the book Noam Elimelech, Rabbi Elimelech of Liszensk compares Korach’s dissension to the firmament which G‑d created on the second day to divide between the higher and lower waters.

What is the analogy? One difference between the priests and the rest of the children of Israel was that the priests were withdrawn from the affairs of the world and entirely taken up with their holy office. Especially the High Priest (against whom Korach’s accusation was primarily intended), of whom it is written that “he shall not depart from the Sanctuary.”

Despite this however, he was not uninvolved with the rest of the people: On the contrary, he exercised his influence over them all, drawing them up to his own level of holiness. This was symbolized by the kindling of the seven branches of the Menorah. Aaron’s special attribute was “Great, or everlasting Love”—and he drew the people near to this service.

But Korach did not see this. He saw only the separation between priest and people, he saw that just as the priests had their special role, so too did the people, in enacting G‑d’s will in the practical world. Seen as separate entities, the people had at least as much right to honor and elevation as the priests.

He sought the priesthood, but as an office entirely remote from the people. Hence his accusation, “Why do you elevate yourselves?” In his eyes, the two groups, utterly distinct, each had their special status. In this way Korach was like the firmament: His aim was to divide the people, like the waters, and sever the connection between the Sanctuary and the ordinary world.
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A Trek with G‑d

G‑d established the authority of Aaron the High Priest by putting the Twelve Tribes to a test: Each tribe was to bring forth a staff representing its leader and leave it in the Tabernacle overnight. By morning, Aaron’s staff had miraculously sprouted buds and almonds: