Torah portion of the week – Korach – Why didn’t I think of that – How Character limits creativity. A Powerful Parable of about Carrying a Heavy Load, A Great Story about the Chafetz Chiam and Peace in your home – Get a Rabbi
The Torah Podcast Transcript
The Torah Podcast 018 – Why Didn’t I think Of That – How Character Limits Creativity
Torah Portion – Korach
I’d like to start out with the Torah portion of the week, Korach. For some background information, Korach got together with Dassan v’Aviram, bnei Eliab, v’On ben Peles ben Reuven. They were all firstborns, so he wanted to get together with them because they also didn’t have positions. In total he got together 250 great people, nissim, princes of Yisroel, to rebel against Moshe Rabbeinu. He was very upset. Why didn’t Moshe also make him a prince? Amram was the first brother, and Moshe and Aharon came from him. But he was the son of Yitzhar who was the second brother. He said, “Why shouldn’t I get a position? My cousin got a position and he comes from a younger brother. I should have been the one in the position of power.” He was very upset and jealous.
He made an entire rebellion to go against the power of Moshe Rabbeinu as the leader, and he wanted to bring the whole ship down. Now, Korach knew that if he failed in this endeavor, he was going to wind up with the death penalty. So, what made him fall into this? Rashi explained, he saw the great chain of descendants that emerged from him. First of all he saw Shmuel. Shmuel was a greater navi, prophet, than Moshe and Aaron put together, Chazal, our wise men tell us. “That Shmuel’s going to come from me? Not only that, there’s going to be 24 sets of families that are going to serve in the Beis Hamigdash, all of them neviim.” He said, “All of this greatness is going to come out of me? I deserve power. I deserve to be in a position of honor.” He came against Moshe and Aharon and he said, “Who are you guys? Everybody here is holy. Are you more holy than the other people that are here? Why do you exalt yourself on the congregation of God?” We know what happened at the end. Moshe Rabbeinu told everybody to get back and it says, “When he finished speaking all these words, the ground that was under them split open. The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them and their households, and all the people who were with Korach, and all their possessions. They and all that was theirs descended alive into the pit. The earth covered them over, and they were lost from among the congregation.” I guess it wasn’t really a very successful rebellion.
The Ohr haChayim explains that Korach was messing with the order of reality. He says, “When God created man, he created a single plant which compromises all the branches of holiness. And when man sinned, all the souls that were a part with him became defective, flawed.” In order to fix up the mess that Adam haRishon made, Hashem in his Torah gave the order in which the Leviim and the Cohanim should operate. You can’t change the fact that Moshe Rabbeinu was the one that received the Torah. Aharon was the Cohen Gadol. The Leviim, that’s who they were. And Korach was trying to mess with this. In the end, he was destroyed.
The question that Rav Dessler has and the other Rabbis is, how could this possibly happen to Korach? Korach was an extremely intelligent man. I just explained to you that he had all these great neviim come from him, Shmuel haNavi came from him. He was chosen to carry the aron hakodesh, the holy ark. He was a man of a very, very high stature and intelligence. He was one of the richest people who ever lived. How could he fall into such a thing? Why didn’t he humble himself and see that this is the way that God wants it?
Rav Dessler brings Rav Chai Gaon with an unbelievable parable that he actually brings down in his response. He says, “It’s not stam, it’s not simple that he brings this down in the middle of his halachic work, work of law.” The parable goes like this. He says, “One time there was a lion who wanted to eat a fox for dinner. The fox said to the lion, ‘What good could I be to you? I’ll show you a very fat human being, and you’ll kill him and you’ll have plenty to eat.’ The fox is going to convince this lion to eat a man instead of to eat him. There was a pit covered with branches and grass, and behind it sat a man. When the lion saw the man he said to the fox, ‘I’m afraid this man may pray, and cause me trouble.’ The fox said, ‘No. Nothing will happen to you, or to your son. Maybe your grandson will have to suffer for it. Meanwhile, you can eat and be satisfied. Until your grandson comes along, there’s still plenty of time.’ The lion was persuaded, and he ran towards the man. He fell into the pit, and he was trapped. The fox came to edge of the pit and looked down at him. The lion said, ‘Do you mean to tell me that the punishment would only come upon my grandson?’ ‘Your grandfather may have done something wrong, and you were suffering for it,’ replied the fox. ‘Is that fair?’ asked the lion. ‘The father eats sour grapes, and the children’s teeth ache?’ ‘Why didn’t you think of that before?’ replied the fox. That is the moshul, parable.
We see from this moshul that the lion wasn’t thinking until the end. In other words, the principle is true that the children and the grandchildren are going to suffer from the sins of their fathers, which we say is true if the grandchildren continue in this sin, so they also get the punishment from the fathers. But the lion didn’t think about that until he himself was in the pit. When it came to his own action, he didn’t think about his own grandchildren, and he didn’t think about that maybe my grandfather did sin. He just wanted what he wanted, and that was to eat the man. So, when he fell in the pit, the fox said to him, “Why didn’t you think of that before?” What do we want to learn from this?
Rav Dessler said, “How can it be, if you look in the possukim there in Parshas Korach, he accused Moshe and Aharon of taking them out of a land flowing with milk and honey?” That was talking about Egypt. The people themselves saw what was going on in Egypt. They were enslaved, and they were being beaten. Not only this, he convinced all the Jewish people to say, “Yeah, you took us out of the land of milk and honey.” How can they present such a foolish argument, as if it was obvious to everybody?” Rav Dessler explains that personal desires block the truth. Very intelligent people – scientists, proclaim to understand with arguments of great vigor, saying that what they’re saying is true beyond the shadow of a doubt. That there is no God, and there is no Torah, and you don’t have to do what the Torah says. Nothing matters. They really believe these things.
Not only that, they shlep everybody else into their argument, just like Korach did, because every sinner wants to lead others to sin, to boost his opinion. Why is that? Because they want to do with their lives what they want to do with their lives. They don’t want to humble themselves to the Torah. They don’t want to come on to God, and be dependent on God. So, they see their opinions as absolute truth, and shlep everybody else along with them. He says, “And that exactly was the example of Rav Chai Gaon. The lion, all he saw was that fat human being that he wanted to eat, fat meat. Therefore he even knew it was true the principle that you could get punished because of the acts of your fathers. But that axiom didn’t come into play because of the lion’s desires.” He says, “The scholars of today and the scientists, are drowned in a sea of materialism. They want to live their lives according to their way. They don’t want to have to come onto God, and change their lifestyles.” The principle that comes out of this is that a person is blinded by his desires. He could be the biggest genius in the world. He could be the most important person in the world, but if he has desires for something, he is going to bring all kinds of proofs and examples of why he’s right.
Let’s say a person found in the middle of the desert, an iPhone. Would you possibly say there was a big bang, and everything exploded. And the stars and the forces of the universe, gravity, everything came together and in the end came out this iPhone. A human being is a thousand, million times greater, more complicated, more complex than an iPhone. How is it possible to think that a big bang came along and created a human being? It’s a ridiculous idea. A lot of people like it, because it frees them from any responsibilities they may have to God. It frees them from morality, because without God there is no morality. If we’re just plants, trees or animals, there’s no reason to be moral. So, we would rather not think things out until the end, in order to free ourselves up in the moment. It’s like driving with your eyes closed. At a certain point you’re going to hit something. We all know clearly that after 120 years what happens. We say, “Nah, we’ll worry about it when we get there.” We would rather not extend our intelligence that far. We’d rather limit our intelligence and our creativity and not connect the dots, in order to free ourselves up in the moment.
I’ll give you an example of this that I heard from my Rosh Yeshiva, what was considered the blitz of Rav Dovid Liebowitz, the son and the grandson of Rav Naftali Trop. There was a Gemara, I think it’s Bava Metzia that says, “If you stick your hand in your pocket and take out the wrong coin for the bus, that’s considered tzar, difficulty. That’s considered enough suffering that you get atonement for that suffering.” Rav Dovid Leibowitz said, “If that’s true, it must be that if we cause that amount of suffering to another person, that we’re responsible for that suffering.” They called it the big blitz, a tremendous new idea. In other words, he took that idea and extended it. Maybe he extended it into a place that’s not comfortable for most people. They don’t want to think about that, “If I caused this amount of suffering to another person, I’m going to be responsible.” But since he feared God and was looking for the right thing to do, he thought of that idea. You see how your desires can limit your ability to perceive reality.
Our Rabbis tell us that Korach was actually a reincarnation of Kayin, who killed Hevel. I decided to look over there to see if I could get any more insight into this idea that we’re thinking about. Hashem said to Kayin, “What have you done? The sound of your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Therefore you are cursed more than the ground, which opened wide its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand.” You see the exact thing, that the earth opened up and the blood went into the land. You could see how measure for measure, Korach went into the land. So, Hashem cursed him and he said, “When you work the ground it should now continue to yield its strength. You should become a wanderer and exile to the earth.”
The possukim before that say, “Hashem said to Kayin, ‘Where is Hevel, your brother?’ He said to Him, ‘I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?’” Rashi says there, he’s a like a person who is gonev das, he steals knowledge. Like one who steals a supreme knowledge, as if he can fool God. You see here, this is an unbelievable thing, the exact same quality. He’s pretending as if God doesn’t know what’s going on. The same quality as Korach, going through his life with his eyes closed. In other words, by taking God out of our lives and not living our lives according to God, we think we’re actually fooling God. We’re shutting our eyes to the consequences of our actions. We’re closing our minds to what’s going to happen after 120 years. We’re ignoring the fact that this world is spinning at thousands of miles an hour, and we’re only living by the mercy of God. You say, “What’s the big deal? Don’t worry about it now, worry about it later.” Idiot. Fool.
In the sefer Cheshbon haNefesh he explains an unbelievable thing. We know that man has different levels to his soul. One level is called the nefesh behamious, which is the lowest level. It’s basically the physical body energy that a man has to do things. He says about that part of a man’s soul, “It has neither the power nor the wisdom to rest or to move. Rather it is swayed and moved by a sudden gust of wind, or desire, or pain – instincts which are implanted from it from its formation. It reacts up until the point at which his desires are satisfied, and its feelings then cease.” In other words, if you were only acting on a lower level of your soul, you’re basically just going to run after your desires. After it gets this desire, then it’s frozen into a lethargic sleep, and unable to move again until another wind of feeling or desire comes and awakens it. In other words, it’s just an animal being blown around by its desires. As soon as the desire stops, then it also stops. When it faces wind blowing in opposite directions, it follows whichever is strongest at the moment, for it lacks the foresight to judge the future consequences of an action. This is the nefesh behamious inside of a person. He’s not thinking about the future. He’s not thinking about the consequences of his actions. All he’s thinking about is now. The favorite word of the yetzer hara, evil inclination – now. This is our animal nature. If a person doesn’t work on himself to acquire some intelligence – it’s actually more than your intelligence, it’s fear of God. If a person doesn’t think about the ramifications of who he is, where he is, why he is here, what is he doing here, why God created him? If he doesn’t think about these things he’s like an animal just being led around by his nose. Even though he could be the greatest, most intelligent person, it has he has desires for all kinds of perversions and who knows what, then he’ll bring proofs that he’s right. And he’s not even scared.
Rav Yechezkel Levenstein says like this, in Ohr Yechezkel. “Acquiring the attribute of bitchachon, of faith, is a very difficult task” It’s a really difficult task to have faith in God, to really believe God’s controlling everything, and He is going to give you what you need. But there’s a relationship there. That is a very difficult test. Nevertheless, the average person is convinced he has faith. Their faith is that nothing bad is going to happen to them. So, what does he say? “God should save us from this type of faith.” It’s a false faith. It’s a false security. We’re living under a false security. We assume everything is going to be okay. Everything has been okay up till now, so why not? I can continue doing what I want. I can continue in my sins. I could do whatever I want, I’m a free agent.
The Michtav M’Eliyahu also brings, “It’s important to distinguish between optimism which is not true bitachon based on faith, and true bitachon of faith, which is trusting in God despite being afraid. In other words, real faith has fear in it. Real faith understands that there’s a Creator, and there’s a consequence to my action. I’m not a free agent. Every move I make is going to have a ramification, it’s going to affect my life, and my children, and my grandchildren. But Korach was lacking in his fear of God. He didn’t know his place, and it was because of his greatness.
Rav Yisroel Salanter says, “An ignorant person with bad character is like an unarmed robber.” He’s ignorant, so he’s unarmed. “But a learned person with bad character is like a fully armed robber.” He’s dangerous. In a certain sense, the more intelligent we are, the more learned we are, if we don’t have good character and we don’t have fear of God, we’re more dangerous. We’re dangerous to ourselves and to society, because our warped perception of reality doesn’t see the ramifications of what we’re doing.
So, what is the answer to this problem? The answer is, the fear of God. It says, “Reishis Chochma Yiras Hashem, the beginning of wisdom is the fear of God, a very unpopular term in our society. What does it mean, “fear of God?” It means that you understand that not everything is taken for granted. Just because we’re healthy today doesn’t mean we’ll be healthy tomorrow, God-forbid. Just because a person has money today, is it going to continue tomorrow? Because the world is spinning today, it’s going to spin tomorrow? Just because the sun came up yesterday, it’s going to come up tomorrow? No. Everything is being controlled by God. That’s called fear of God.
I want to end up with a possuk from Mishlei, it says like this. “A wise man fears and turns away from evil. But a fool oversteps the bounds and is confident.” Don’t live with a fool’s confidence. Have a real relationship with God. Understand, He’s the Creator. He’s the one making sure that the world doesn’t burn up, that it doesn’t blow up, that it doesn’t freeze – global warming, wars, disease. Who knows what could happen. Not that you’re supposed to be afraid in the sense that you’re scared and you can’t walk out of your house. No, that’s called real faith. Real faith is understanding, “Yes, I am dependent upon God. And yes, every detail of my life and what’s going to happen to me, my grandchildren, my society, all those things are dependent upon God. But I have faith. I’m going to try my best to do the right thing, and God will help me, and God will help society. And God will bring good to society. God only wants good for us.”
The Malbim says on this verse…let me read the verse again. “A wise man fears and turns away from evil, but a fool oversteps his bound and is confident.” The Malbim says, “To learn to be moral, a person needs a framework of discipline, since his natural instincts draw him away from morality. Like we said before, if you just go according to your animal nature there is immorality. This discipline is called the fear of God.” Beautiful. “The awareness that a great king stands over him observing his deeds, thus he will be ashamed to do anything before his Maker’s will.” You’re going to be embarrassed. You’re going to be scared. “The beginning of moral wisdom therefore is fear of Hashem. This is the condition and the means to wisdom. So, since the wise man fears the Almighty, he turns away from evil. His natural inclinations are disciplined, so that it cannot run wild. The fool on the other hand, overreaches himself and oversteps the proper bounds. He runs wild past all restraints of discipline and wisdom. Having no fear of the Almighty, he has instead a foolhardy confidence.” He gets false confidence. And where does he get his false confidence? Because he’s blinded, like we said before. Since he has desires, he’s blocked out from seeing the reality. He thinks everything is fine and he’s running like a wild animal, chasing after all the immorality of society. He thinks everything is going to be fine, everything is going to be great. Ma habayah, what’s the problem?
The moral of the story is that we need to work on our fear of God. We have to believe that our actions have real consequence. When we do that, our minds will open up to be able to see reality clearly, and we won’t be blinded anymore.
A Powerful Parable
I want to tell over a parable of the Chofetz Chaim. It says, “Sweating under the weight of his burden, the poor man trudged along the road. Suddenly, he heard the sound of a carriage behind him, and dashed off to the side of the road. The carriage came to a halt beside him and the wealthy owner called out, “Can I give you a lift? Toss your bags into the carriage, and hop in.” The poor fellow was overjoyed, and quickly entered the carriage and unloaded his bags. But one small packet he kept on his back. The carriage owner says to him, “Why don’t you also put your bag down and relax?” He said, “No, you’re so kind to me already, taking my big bags and me. I don’t want to burden you with this small pack, so I’ll carry it.” That was the moshul, what was the nimshal, conclusion?
People place much importance on having money to put away for a rainy day, to support themselves in case things don’t go so well. If you ask one of them how he expects to support himself through his entire years of his life, “No problem. I have faith in God. He’ll provide me with a livelihood.” When it comes to his whole entire life, he has no problem in belief in God. But when he’s worried about the small things, he’s worried about a rainy day, so he says, “I’ve got to put this money on the side.” He says, “Such a person is like the foolish traveler who puts his entire burden on the provider’s carriage, but leaves a little pack which he must take care of himself. This is not true,” he says. “Cast your burden upon God,” says Tehillim, “And He will support you. In the end, you have to place your faith in God so you might as well have confidence in Him for the rainy day, as well.” He says, “Anyway, you’re going to have to rely on God. Anyway, the only way to make it through life is to rely on God, so you might as well rely on God until the very end.” The moral of the story is, don’t try carrying your own bag is God is giving you a lift. In other words, if you have yiras Shemayim, fear of Heaven and you’re doing the right thing, you have to assume God’s going to help you until the end.
Great Stories – Chofetz Chaim
I want to tell you a story about the Chofetz Chaim. This story was told over by Rav Shach. Rav Shach said about the Chofetz Chaim that he was the last of the gedolim, great Rabbis, who knew how to interpret a period – which means he was able to bring things to a very simple level. He said, “The Chofetz Chaim was able to bring difficult problems down to their essence, to be able to say them over to the people.” He says about the Chofetz Chaim, “If you look into his work, the Chofetz Chaim was the master of halacha, Jewish law. He was the Gadol haDor, greatest of his generation. The Mishna Berura, we all follow the Mishna Berura now. If you look into the Mishna Berura, the biur halacha, you’ll see tremendous complexity and analytical expertise. But when it comes to his mussar, character development books, they’re written in a very simple style.” Rav Shach explained, “Yeah, it’s true. In our diminished level of fear of God, the only thing that’s going to move us is when we hear something equally intellectual. But the Chofetz Chaim was on a completely different level. He lived and breathed intense faith in God. He didn’t need the intellectual approach when it came to the fear of God. It says, “The fear of God flowed from his veins.” What he wrote in those inspirational works represented his own feelings and outlook. In other words, he honed it down himself to such a simple, basic level that he was able to give it over in that way.
Peace in Your Home
For peace in your home, this is again, Rav Avigdor Miller. He says you have to have a Rabbi. As soon as a couple was married, the new couple should attach themselves personally to a Rabbi who they respect, and remain under his influence. It is very important for a couple to have a Rabbi. Not only that, but they should also have a kehilla, that they should also be part of a society. It’s very important to have a Rabbi and be part of a society, be part of a shul, be part of something. This is going to help in shalom bayis. This is going to help to keep your family together. When you become close to a Rabbi, both of you, both the man and the woman and they’re part of a group, so that’s going to help keep their own personal family together. He says, “It’s because you’re going to be embarrassed. What are people going to say?” In other words, if you’re connected with the society, connected, what are people going to say about you? He says, “How many misdeeds have been averted by that attitude?” He says, “When a woman marries a man who has no Rebbe, he’s not connected with his Rosh Yeshiva, it’s a big problem. Sometimes, women call me up, ‘Can you please speak to my husband?’” He says, “Where does he daven?” She says, “He davens in 15 different places.” “Who’s his Rebbe?” “He doesn’t have a Rebbe.” This guy’s out of control, he’s not going to listen to anybody. He’s not connected. For a women it’s very important that your husband has a Rebbe. “It’s like insurance,” he says. The insurance is, what are people going to say? What’s the Rabbi going to say about me? It puts a little fear into the husband. It puts a little fear into the husband that he can’t just do whatever he feels like. He says, “Sometimes people go over to somebody’s house and they say, ‘You wouldn’t believe what’s going on over there. Nobody knows what goes on in that nice house.’ He says, “Yeah, but at least they close their windows, nobody knows.” This is also something. In other words, there should be some kind of fear that the couples don’t just go wild. He says, “Sometimes people tell me, ‘Yes, my husband has a Rebbe.’” “Where is he?” “He’s in Eretz Yisroel, he’s in Israel.” This guy’s in New Jersey, his Rebbe’s in Israel. What’s that going to help? Or he says, “Yeah, he has a Rebbe.” His Rebbe’s been dead for 150 years. He says, “A dead Rebbe? Maybe you can go to his grave once in a while in Russia, but he’s not going to be able to intervene. He’s not going to come from the dead, and speak to the husband.” He says, “You need a live Rebbe who’s going to call up your husband and put him on the carpet.” In other words, you have to have a real, live Rebbe, a real, live kehilla, be part of a shul, in order to help your marriage, because this will put a little fear of God into your household.
Okay, that’s it for this week’s podcast. Please share it with your friends. If you’ve enjoyed it and it helps you, it can help others also. Also, leave comments. Send in a voicemail and I’ll put you on next week’s podcast.