Rebel Without a Cause
June 26, 2020
By Rus Devorah Wallen

Rus Devorah Wallen, creator of T for 2: A Two-Minute* Torah Thought (*more or less), which is a Project of Toratherapeutics, is a musician, healer and teacher.  She has worked both within and outside the Lubavich community for over 40 years leading workshops, delivering lectures and working one on one with a variety of learners and seakers.  Today, she provides us with insight into this week’s Torah portion.

Click button to listen to the full audio clip, or read the transcript below.

This week’s portion is parshas Korach, named after a great man whose ego and insecurities literally led to his downfall. The first words of the portion begin with the words, “Vayikach Korach,” which means, “and Korach took.”  However, it doesn’t state what he took. In various translations they say that “he took himself” or “Korach betook,” since it’s a transitive verb with no object following it, such as “And Korach took an apple.” According to some of the commentators, the “taking” refers to his ability to manipulate people to endear them to follow him. An idiom in English may help us here, “Korach was taken by himself.” The Midrash on the book of Numbers, Bamidbar Rabba, states that, “he took men,” meaning he took them with his persuasive words; he attracted the leaders of Israel to follow him in his anarchy. Another interesting thing about the word, Vayikach is with a slight permutation of the same letters the word becomes “Viku’ach,” which is an argument.

You may recall from last week’s portion, after the spies’ negative report, the Jewish people were riled up against Moshe and Aharon. In our portion, Korach took a group of 250 men, many of them leaders, to rail against them again. Ultimately, he was not just opposing Moses and Aaron, but he was testing Hashem.  His effort ended with the miracle of the ground opening up, and his whole following sinking into the ground. Pirkei Avos – Ethics of the Fathers, chapter 5:17 says, that “Every argument that is for the sake of heaven is destined to endure. But if it’s not for the sake of heaven, it is not destined to endure. What is an example of an argument for the sake of heaven? The argument between Hillel and Shammai. And what is an example of an argument not for the sake of heaven? The argument of Korach and his rebellion.  The 13th century Talmudic commentator, Menachem Meiri explains that, “when Shammai and Hillel would debate a legal matter, one would state a halachic pronouncement, and then the other would argue against it. However, their inner intention was to discover the truth behind the matter. It was not to be merely argumentative or competitive.”  The Meiri continues: “On the other hand, an argument, not for the sake of heaven was that of Korach and his followers who came to undermine Moses, our master, may he rest in peace and his position, but it was out of envy contentiousness. And only for the sake of whining.”

We’ve discussed many times, that although the Torah is thousands of years old, it has current relevance in each parsha. So, how we can apply this to today’s crazy current events? Lately, we see a lot of polarization in our country. Those who may have different attitudes or are part of another political party or ideology demonize and marginalize those of another opinion. We’ve almost become collectively xenophobic. Fortunately, on the other hand, there are many people who are openminded, and are sincere.  These people debate issues for “goodness sake” and make efforts to correct things that have gone awry.  This is all done in a manner that is respectful, like the arguments of Hillel and Shammai.  As the Torah teaches, words that leave the heart, enter the heart. May we all have the energy to argue for positive causes utilizing our energy for good purposes.

Rebel Without a Cause - Jewish thought of the week graphic