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Korach and the Mystery of Faith

The dangerous trend that began with the lack of faith displayed in the Sin of the Spies rears its head again in Parashat Korach (Num.16:1-18:32) read this week in the Diaspora. That theme continues, as well, in Parashat Chukat (Num.19:1-22:1) read in eretz Israel. In that Torah portion, Moses faces familiar complaints about food and water that revealed that were questioning God's plan.


Rabbinic sources suggest several reasons for the rebellion by Korach. For example, the command to shave all the hair on the bodies of the Levi'im is said to have insulted the vanity of Korach. He questioned the logic of putting a mezuzah at the entrance of a house full of holy texts, or why only one blue thread on the tzit-tzit (fringes on a tallit) was necessary--why not fashion the entire tallit from blue thread? I would like to suggest that the positioning of Parashat Korach right before the decree of the Parah Adumah may be a hint that Korach was troubled by what he thought was a completely illogical decree. It’s as if Korach was finally convinced that he couldn’t believe in a God that mandated what he likely considered nonsense.


Korach decided to challenge the leadership of Moses while also casting doubt that Aaron should be Kohen Gadol. Korach alleged, "You take too much upon yourselves!" How fitting that the next Torah portion, Chukat, opens with God telling Moses to, "Take for yourself a flawless unblemished red cow..." to make the Parah Adumah. The ashes of a perfectly red heifer, mixed with spring water, creates the water of purification used to cleanse those who had come in contact with the dead.

In the future, the water of purification will be used for a larger purpose. Chazal (Jewish Sages) tell us that the ashes of the red heifer will purify the waters of the world. They glean this idea from Ezekiel 36:25-26 which states, "Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh."


The Talmud, in tractate Chullin 95b, teaches that the mysterious process of preparing the waters of purification, with the Parah Adumah is an example of ipcha mistabra, an Aramaic phrase that basically means, "the opposite makes sense”. In Torah, a chok is a decree that must be carried out whether it's understood or not. The decree for the Parah Adumah seems counterintuitive, but the Talmud explains that sometimes the opposite of what seems logical is actually true. The decree for the Parah Adumah is a prime example. Grasping secrets of the Torah and even discovering new scientific concepts can be accessed through counterintuitive thinking. The concepts of General Relativity, String Theory and Mechanics are all counterintuitive.


Also in Korach, HaShem settles the question of Aaron’s fitness for serving as Kohen Gadol by instructing the heads of each tribe to bring their rods and place them beside the rod of Aaron within the Sanctuary. The next day, Aaron's rod has budded with almond blossoms. The Talmud, in tractate, Ta’anit 9a, teaches that all of the rods were cut from the same tree, yet only Aaron's rod budded.


It would seem that the decree for the Parah Adumah, coming on the heels of the rebellion against Moses and Aaron carries another message for us—purity in thought is achieved by ridding one's self of egotism. That purity clears the path for accessing HaShem. Korach was so full of himself that there was no room for the Creator. As Rabbi Richman pointed out, the fact that only Moses understood the secret of the Parah Adumah was proof that Moses possessed a clarity only available to one who was pure in heart and mind. That purity was due to Moses’ unprecedented level of humility


The late Rebbe Menachem Schneerson, of Blessed Memory, stated that the Parah Adumah embodies the whole of the Torah. Total belief in the paradox presented by the Parah Adumah is only possible when we worship HaShem with purity of thought. Korach misunderstood the mystery of faith, yet it was on display at Sinai when the new nation, wholeheartedly accepted Torah by exclaiming: “We will do and we will hear!” That response came from a pure heart.

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