Torah Fax
Friday, June 30, 2006 - 4 Tammuz, 5766

Torah Reading: Korach (Numbers 16:1 - 18:32)
Candle Lighting Time:  8:13 PM
Shabbat Ends: 9:22 PM
Pirkei Avot: Chapter 4
Discord in our community is one of the tragic features of Jewish life that has unfortunately existed from the very beginning of the history of our nation.
This week's Torah portion, Korach, highlights the ultimate and prototypical schism within the Jewish community. Korach, Moses' cousin and one of the distinguished members of the Israelite society in the post-Exodus period, started a rebellion against Moses. His claim was that Moses had taken the most important positions of leadership and given them to his brother Aaron and others and denied Korach his rightful position in the hierarchy of Jewish leadership. Korach, felt that he was entitled to one of these positions of honor and was prepared to fight Moses. Their misguided rebellion was abruptly terminated when G‑d miraculously had the earth swallow Korach and his followers.
The entire tragic episode of this rebellion is recorded in the Torah to underscore the horrors of internal discord. According to some legal authorities, there is a Biblical commandment, based on this week's parsha, not to follow in Korach's footsteps. We are enjoined to do everything to avoid strife and to ensure peace.
Internal discord and strife is so odious that in the thick of the rebellion, Moses made every effort to convince Korach and his cohorts to desist. From this, our Sages deduce, one should never allow a dispute to fester. Every effort should be made, whenever and wherever possible, to "nip it in the bud" and prevent it from leading to a disaster.
After Korach met his bitter end, G‑d told Moses to have twelve staffs deposited in the Sanctuary, one representing each of the twelve tribes. Aaron's staff sprouted almonds overnight. This was the miraculous sign that Aaron was indeed chosen by G‑d to be the High Priest.
One can ask why were almonds chosen as the symbol for to vindicate Aaron? Second, why was there a need to vindicate Aaron after everyone had clearly seen what happened to Korach and all of his supporters?
One answer is that the blossoming staff was not just intended to demonstrate that Aaron was the rightful person for the position of leadership, but that his ascension to leadership was associated with the blessing of the Jewish people. The speed with which the almonds grew was an illustration of the way G‑d's blessings were channeled to the Jewish people through Aaron and the other Kohanim (priests). This provided a vivid contrast with Korach's brand of leadership that ended precipitously and catastrophically.
There is another approach as to why almonds were used as the symbol of Aaron's vindication that was given by a prominent rabbinic figure when he was asked to mediate between two parties in a bitter fight.
The Talmud tells us that there are two kinds of almonds. One brand is bitter in the beginning but then becomes sweet as it matures. The other is the reverse: It is initially sweet but later turns bitter.
The same can be said about discord and peace. When a fight breaks out, each side feels the need to be victorious. Defeat of your enemy is sweet and gets the adrenaline flowing. But in the end, the quarrel turns ugly, and it destroys the lives of so many. What starts sweet turns very bitter.
Pursuit of peace, by contrast, can be disconcerting and unpleasant. The very thought of not prevailing in what one thinks of as a just cause is frustrating and bitter. But the end result is sweet and pleasant. The peace and harmony that one begins to experience is beautiful and exhilarating.
By having Aaron's role vindicated through the growth of almonds, the Torah wants to tell us how we should view the role of strife and peace. Indeed, Aaron was identified by Hillel in Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, as the ultimate peacemaker: "Be from the students of Aaron, love, peace, pursue peace, love all creatures and draw then near the Torah."
We also find in Prophetic literature the symbol of almonds used in conjunction with the Three Weeks (beginning on the seventeenth of this month of Tammuz), that mark the period from the breaching of the walls of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Holy Temple. 
And here again the message should resonate: Whether the Temple is ultimately destroyed or rebuilt depends on whether we appreciate the metaphor of the almonds. Pursuing peace and unity (the opposite of the manner which characterized Jewish life prior to the destruction of the second Temple ) will produce the "sweet almonds."
And while the pursuit of peace and the rejection of discord and dissonance is the vessel for all of G‑d's blessings, as is stated at the very end of the Mishnah, it is especially conducive for the realization of the ultimate and all-encompassing blessing, the coming of Moshiach and the rebuilding of the Third Beis Hamikdosh, Holy Temple.
Moshiach Matters
Among the prophecies of Bilaam is the verse: "A star shall shoot forth from Jacob, and a scepter shall arise in Israel," which refers to the coming of Moshiach. Significantly, the Jerusalem Talmud interprets that verse as referring to every Jew. And yet this does not represent a contradiction to the accepted tradition that it refers to Moshiach, for every Jew, contains a spark of Moshiach within his soul (From Highlights, by Rabbi E. Touger, published by the Mashiach Resource Center)

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