Monday, June 26, 2006

Korach: "We've Got it Good and We Don't Want to Leave"

The story of Korach and his rebellion gets a lot of attention in Rabbinic literature and deservedly so. It's a story that is hard to comprehend and it has major ramifications on our understanding of Moshe. On the face of it, Korach and his merry men come to Moshe and said "We too are holy, why are you restricting power to yourselves?" A strong statement that results in the death of Korach's band.

What was Korach's problem with Moshe? In verse four we are told that Moshe "falls on his face".
רש"י על במדבר פרק טז פסוק ד
(ד) ויפול על פניו - מפני המחלוקת
Because of the question that Korach asks.
Whatever this question was it was dumbfounding; it was such a good question that Moshe is struck by its potency. Rashi, on the first posuk of the parsha, informs us what the machloket between Korach and Moshe is:

רש"י במדבר פרק טז

והלבישן טליתות שכולן תכלת. באו ועמדו לפני משה. אמרו לו טלית שכולה של תכלת חייבת בציצית או פטורה. אמר להם חייבת. התחילו לשחק עליו, אפשר טלית של מין אחר חוט אחד של תכלת פוטרה, זו שכולה תכלת לא תפטור את עצמה:

The Midrash Tanchuma tells us that the issue that Korach really brings up to Moshe is the question of Techelet. They asked if a garmet composed completely of Techelet needed Tzitzit. Moshe response is "Chayavet" - Yes, it does. Korach laughs at Moshe, what a ridiculous statement.

But is it?

Moshe doesn't explain himself but his thought process is easy to understand. What does this question have to do with anything? Only five psukim before this episode the mitzvah of tzitzit is given:

Speak to the children of Israel and you shall say to them that they shall make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations, and they shall affix a thread of blue on the fringe of each corner.

Moshe thinks 'Why would a beged of Techelet be any different? Of course it needs tzitzit'. Korach's question is based on a Kal V'Chomer, it's a logical response but is based on an incorrect premise.

The Rambam, in Hilchot Tzitzit, tells us that the Techelet wraps around the white strings to remind us about God's (the blue) dominion over the world (the white). Korach's question about tzitzit then is a moshol for B'nai Yisrael going into Israel. Just as the the Techelet/Hashem wraps around the White/Olam HaBa; the desert is a place where B'nai Yisrael live with God. Every day they eat Man, the Annan HaKavod protects them, their clothes never wear out either. God takes care of their every need, why would they leave?

The giving of the mitzva of tzitzit was an indication to Korach that this perfect civilization was coming to an end. They'd have to face the real world. Why would we want this? It's better to live in the talit sh'kulan techelet your whole world is God.

This, however, is not Jewish. Moshe is leading the people to Israel to put into practice these great ideas. Korach wants to live in the Ivory Tower (okay maybe it's Blue this time), he wants to be an European intellectual always talking and never doing. This isn't Jewish, but the question is so great that Moshe is incapable of answering. Judaism is about bringing the techelet down to the white, not wrapping ourselves completely in it. Korach, after living through Yitziat Mitzrayim and Matan Torah, still could not understand what it was all about.

1 comment:

alan said...

thats an interesting and atypical take on the machloket!