Torah Fax    

Friday - Shabbat, July 2 - 3

See some of the pictures from this year's Gala Chabad Dinner at Guastavino’s here 

Torah reading:  Pinchas (Numbers 25:10 - 30:1) 
Candle Lighting Time 8:13 PM
Shabbat ends 9:22 PM 

Pirkei Avot Chapter 1

Sign Here? 

In this week’s parsha, Pinchas, the Torah recounts how G‑d told Moses to take the census of the Jewish nation after they had suffered a loss of 24,000 people. This plague came as a result of their consorting with the daughters of Moab and the idol worship that accompanied their immoral behavior.

In presenting the numbers of the twelve tribes the Torah recounts some highlights (or more correctly: “low points”) of their experience in the desert. In discussing the tribe of Reuben, the Torah states how two members of this tribe, Datan and Aviram joined the rebellion of Korach. The Torah then adds: “The earth opened its mouth and swallowed them with Korach, when that group died, when fire destroyed two hundred and fifty men. Thus they became a sign (neis).”

It is somewhat puzzling that the Torah digresses from its discussion of the descendents of Reuben to mention Datan and Aviram’s tragic association with Korach and the way in which they were punished. Why does the Torah have to regurgitate this sad event?

To answer this question we must address another anomaly in the Torah’s description of the swallowing up of Korach and his entourage. After stating how they were punished (by the earth swallowing Korach and a fire consuming the rest of his men) the Torah adds: “Thus they became a sign.” What does the Torah mean with these words? Rashi states that it means that the Korach episode became a reminder for future generations that no one should dare challenge the priesthood.

But why does the Torah use the word neis for the word “sign.” The word neis is usually used for a miracle or ensign. It is true that a miracle is a sign of G‑d’s power and an ensign is a sign that identifies the nationality of the ship that carries that ensign, nevertheless, the Torah should have employed a simpler word that expresses the idea of a sign or remembrance such as “ot” or “zikaron.” In virtually all Biblical texts, the Torah uses those words to convey the idea of a sign and not the word “neis” which is employed here.

The Chassidic work, Igra d’Kallah provides an answer based on the interpretive approach known as remez (hints, or allusion), whereby letters become symbols and suggest ideas that are not evident from the simple translation and understanding of the word.

The word “neis” consists of the two Hebrew letters “nun” and “samach.” According to the Talmud and Zohar, these two letters are the initials of the words “nofel” (fallen) and “somech” (uplifting) respectively. The meaning of these two letters combined thus is that a day will come that even those who have fallen low will be uplifted by G‑d. In our context this means that even Korach, who epitomized the idea of someone who has fallen, literally and figuratively, will—in the Messianic Age—be transformed, and thereby, uplifted and rehabilitated.

We can now understand why the Torah adds the words “they became a sign (neis). This census occurred, as was mentioned before, in the aftermath of the tragedy that befell the Jewish people when they “fell” to the nadir of depravity. They consorted with the Moabite and Midianite harlots and worshipped their idols. They degenerated to the moral and spiritual bottom and exhibited the ultimate drop to the lowest level of unfaithfulness to G‑d.

This tragic debacle raises a serious question: Could there ever be redemption for these souls? The question is not just about the generation of Moses and Pinchas, but it can also be raised by all succeeding generations which had their share of disloyalty and degradation. Is there hope for them and us?

The answer is therefore provided in the discussion of the very first tribe, the tribe of Reuben. Even those who personify and epitomize the idea of having fallen—for few people have risen to the level of Korach in prominence, and even fewer have fallen so low—will ultimately rise and shine.

This is a powerful message to our generation in particular. In Kabbalah all of the generations of Jews from Abraham to the present have been viewed as an organic and complete structure. Abraham and Moses, and all those who lived at the genesis of our history, are likened to the head, while the final generation—living at the end of the exile—is likened to a foot.

Another metaphor that can be used is that our Patriarchs and other greats such as Moses and Pinchas are like the highest mountains (indeed, in last week’s parsha, Bilam refers to the Patriarchs as mountains). The last generation of exile—our generation—can be compared to the valley. Exile—and particularly the last stage of exile—has been described metaphorically as the “fallen” structure of the Jewish people, who reside in the darkness of the “valley of the shadow of death.”

We, like Korach, have fallen very low and wonder if we can ever rise.

The Torah’s powerful message to us is that even Korach, the paradigm of fallen-ness, can and will rise. Moshiach will help all of us get out of the shadows of darkness and death and instill within us true life.

One can still ask: Judaism does not subscribe to the belief that the Messianic Age is all about what G‑d and Moshiach will do for us. It is just as much about what we do to make fundamental changes in the world. The question that follows the aforementioned description of G‑d lifting us up out of the valley of darkness is: what do we do? What is our role in all of the above?

The Torah, we might suggest, addresses this matter as well in the next verse, where the Torah adds: “And the sons of Korach did not die.”

By adding on these words the Torah conveys a very powerful message to us. In the period leading up to the Messianic Age we are told by the Prophet Malachi that Elijah (who is identified by our Sages to be none other than Pinchas, the name and protagonist of this week’s parsha) will come to “restore the hearts of the parents through the children.” Our children will inspire us and ignite the Messianic spark within us, enabling us to climb out of the pit we might have fallen into as individuals and the pit that we call exile. Even if we retained a trace of the rebelliousness of Korach, our children will see to it that we will not die; they will assist us so that we will revitalize our own souls and thereby awaken the Messianic spark within. That, in turn, will reveal Moshiach, who will take us out of this exile permanently.    

Moshiach Matters 

It is important to complain to Hashem about the length of the Exile and cry out “Ad Mosai? Till When (do we have to be in this bitter Exile)?” There are those that might question the appropriateness of speaking to G‑d with such force. In truth, there are many verses in the Bible which speak exactly in this tone of voice, as in: (Zecharya 1:12) “Ad Mosai, Till when will you refrain from having mercy on Jerusalem and the cities of Judah...?”  (The Rebbe, Hisva’aduyos, 1984, vol. 2, pg 989))Moshiach - It’s a Jewish issue. For more info, visit  

Something constructive for the Three Weeks:

The Rebbe has emphasized the need to do positive things during the Three Weeks in a spirit of working towards the rebuilding of the Third Temple, in addition to mourning the loss. One thing in particular he suggested is the study of the Laws of the Temple, Beit HaBechirah, from Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah. By studying about the Temple, we can hasten its rebuilding.

Here is a quote from the Rambam’s Laws of the Beit HaBechirah (8:1):

There is a positive mitzvah to guard the Temple. [This mitzvah applies] even though there is no fear of enemies or thieves, for the guarding [of the Temple] is an expression of respect for it. A palace with guards is [much more impressive] than a palace without guards.

Learn more about the Rambam's Laws of the Beit haMikdash - Hilchot Beit HaBechirah at

For a virtual tour of the Temple, visit

In addition:
It is important to give more Tzedakah than usual during the Three Weeks. Tzedakah is a key element in bringing about the redemption , as the prophet Isaiah says, “Zion shall be redeemed with justice and its captives(returned) with Tzedakah.” Even a few extra coins each day (except Shabbat) into a pushka (charity box) is very meaningful.

The Talmud tells us that the Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred between people. Thus, the remedy for the destruction and the key to rebuilding the Temple is to increase in loving our fellow Jew.

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