Shelach- Friday, June 19, 2015 - 2 Tammuz, 5775


Torah Reading: Korach (Numbers 16:1 - 18:32)  
Haftorah: Samuel I 11:14 - 12:22 

Pirkei Avot: Chapter 4  
Learn more about Pirkei Avot here    


An Enigmatic Midrash

This week’s parsha begins with the tragic story of Korach’s rebellion. Korach openly challenged Moses’ authority. The argument Korach used to dismiss Moses’ role as leader of the Jewish people was: “The entire congregation is holy and G‑d is within them; why do you lift yourselves above the congregation of G‑d?”

There is an enigmatic and cryptic Midrashic comment that connects Korach’s argument with King David:

“When King David saw that Korach said, ‘the entire congregation is holy’ he took a harp in hand and played to the words I will extol you, O G‑d, for You have raised me up from the depths, and not let my enemies to rejoice over me.’”

What possible connection is there between King David’s praise of G‑d saving him from the depths and from his enemies’ rejoicing and Korach’s rebellion? And more specifically, what is the connection 
between King David’s song and Korach’s claim that ”the entire congregation is holy?”

Korach’s Rationale

To decipher the words of this Midrash, we must first try to comprehend how Korach could possibly think that the people were equal to Moses? Didn’t he realize that Moses was head and shoulders above the rest of the congregation? Didn’t he realize that Moses was uniquely qualified to be their leader after he had been G‑d’s instrument in liberating the Jews from Egyptian bondage? Didn’t Moses split the sea and bring them to Mount Sinai and give them the Torah? Wasn’t Moses the one to bring the Divine presence into the world by spearheading the construction of the Mishkan, the portable Sanctuary?

Everyone is Holy!

By saying “the entire congregation is holy,” Korach’s argument was that Moses was not qualitatively different from all other Jews. The fact that G‑d spoke face to face with him, Korach claimed, was not unique. G‑d also communicated directly to every Jew at Sinai when He declared “I am the L-rd your G‑d…”  Indeed, the word “your” in this verse is phrased in the singular form which denotes G‑d’s revelation to each and every Jew individually.

If there is any difference between Moses and the entire Jewish nation it is a quantitative difference. While G‑d spoke to the average Jew face to face for only a few moments, G‑d communicated with Moses in this manner for many years. If the difference is merely one of quantity, Korach reasoned, how could Moses arrogate to himself the august position of leader, as if he is on an entirely different level?

Moreover, in Korach’s mind, everything that Moses did before Sinai was performed by him acting merely as G‑d’s instrument. Moses was only a conduit for G‑d’s miracles; he did not perform them himself.

But whatever distinction Moses possessed before Sinai, Korach argued, was no longer valid after Sinai when G‑d created an intimate relationship with each individual Jew.

This, Korach, concluded was even more true when the Mishkan was built with the participation of every Jew. G‑d declared; “Make for me a Sanctuary and I will dwell in them.” The plural “in them” implies that the Mishkan was a collective effort of each individual Jew. It concretized the intimate relationship that was inaugurated at Sinai.

While Korach understood that Moses was the consummate teacher who would make G‑d’s teachings accessible to all the Jews, that did not entitle him to assume the role of leader.

Analysis of Korach’s Argument

In Korach’s font-family: Arial; font-size: 14px; line-height: 25.2000007629395px; background: white;">Korach, of course, was wrong. Moses’ role was not just as facilitator and interpreter. Moses was the ultimate receptacle of G‑d’s light. Moses was able to fully absorb that G‑dly energy and then channel it to the Jewish people. Without Moses there would be no revelation at Sinai because the Divine message of Sinai could not possibly be transmitted to human minds without Moses’ first receiving the Torah, internalizing it and then transmitting it to the entire Jewish people.

The same can be said of the Mishkan. It is true that the Mishkan was a joint project of the entire Jewish nation. However, without Moses’ visualizing it on Mount Sinai and in it’s construction, it could have not been built by the Jewish people themselves. Moses’ contribution to the Mishkan was more than that of an advisor or coordinator. Moses was the one who endowed the Mishkan with the G‑dly power it possessed and the ability it had to channel G‑d’s light to the whole world.

Parallel between King David and Moses

We can now understand the connection of the Korach saga with that of King David.

King David, as was the case with Moses, was maligned by his many detractors. David too suffered from rebellion. In the end, however, he was vindicated. How was King David vindicated?

According to the Talmud (Shabbos 30a), when the Holy Temple, which King David had conceived, prepared for and laid the foundation, was inaugurated by his son, King Solomon, the ceremony was interrupted. The gates would not open, signaling that G‑d was not “ready” to reveal His presence there. Only after Solomon appealed to the gates to open in the honor of King David did the gates open.

This, Rashi, in his commentary on Psalm 30 states, was what prompted David to sing “for you have raised me up from the depths.” Until this event, his enemies held him in contempt and his reputation was in the depths. Only after the gates opened up in David’s honor was he vindicated and ”raised up from the depths.”

According to the Alter Rebbe, the Hebrew word for “raised me up” dilisani, is related to the word deles, which means door or gate. This is an allusion to the opening of the gates of the Temple in David’s honor that caused him to be raised up. 

It is certainly true that the Holy Temple was a collective venture. It involved all of the Jewish nation. Indeed, Maimonides rules  (Hilchos Beis Habechirah) that every Jew, men and women, is obligated to participate in its construction. This applied in the past and will apply to the construction of the Third Temple in the future. Yet, all of their efforts notwithstanding, the Temple’s gates did not open and it could not be inaugurated until King David’s name was invoked.

This is a direct parallel with Moses.

Korach argued that Moses had only a marginal role in the building of the Mishkan and in bringing the presence of G‑d to it and to each and every Jew. This was the gist of his assertion that “all of the congregation is holy.” His point was not to praise the congregation but to diminish Moses’ role, just as David’s enemies sought to minimize his role in the building of the Beis Hamikdash.

In the end, both were vindicated. The revelation at Sinai and the building of the Mishkan with the Divine presence dwelling therein, was through, and in honor, of Moses. The building of the Beis Hamikdash was likewise through, and in honor, of King David. And while it is true that these were communal projects, the only way the Jewish community could have succeeded was through the power of Moses and King David.

Who Will Build the Third Temple? The Jewish People or Moshiach?

The same is said of the future Beis Hamikdash. While Maimonides writes, as stated, that it is the obligation of every Jew to participate in its construction, he also rules (Hilchos Melachim 12:4) that Moshiach (the heir to Moses and descendent of King David) will build the Temple. How do we reconcile these two apparently contradictory sources? Who will build the Temple? Moshiach or the entire Jewish people?

The answer, in light of the above, is that both are true, While we, as a people, execute the actions necessary for its construction, it is Moshiach that will make it possible for our actions to succeed. And while we also contribute the spiritual material to make the future Temple a reality, it is Moshiach’s leadership role that will infuse our spiritual efforts with the requisite power to make the Temple a spiritual reality.

The Rebbe also maintains that Moshiach will actually reestablish the gates of the Beis Hamikdash. Those very gates that King David was responsible for opening, Moshiach will put into place. This will mark and exemplify his role as the one who will make the Beis Hamikdash possible and crown all of our individual efforts with success.

The lesson for our time is that Moshiach, just like Moses and David, is not just a facilitator or a coordinator. Moshiach, through his dedication to G‑d and His Torah will empower all of us to build the third Temple and experience the Redemption. Thus Maimonides rules that it is insufficient to believe in Redemption alone. One must also believe that Redemption will occur through a human Moshiach who will lead us out of exile and rebuild the Beis Hamikdash in its place.