Parashat Korach: What Will Your Revolution Be?

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14 Jun 2007

Parashat Korach 5767

Part One: The Soldiers of King David

I recall reading that during a lull in the fighting in the Yom Kippur war, the head of one of the hesder yeshivot visited his talmidim (students) -troops on the Golan Heights. At one point, he heard a soldier on the communication system teaching the daf hayomi to the troops in the other tanks. The rosh yeshiva later wrote, “I felt as if I were in the presence of the soldiers of David HaMelech.”

Who were the soldiers of David HaMelech to whom the rav was referring?

The Tanach, Shmuel II -chapter 23 records the names of several of David’s brave officers. The partial list begins with Adino Ha’Etzni who the gemara in Moed Katan 16b relates was David himself, who was so powerful that he was able to fell 800 of the enemy with the shot of an arrow.

How moving and informative it would be if we could interview one of David’s soldiers. How much could we learn of the inherent character of the Jewish nation.

Despite the fact that the soldiers of David are no longer here, thank God their spirit continues to beat in the hearts of our holy soldiers of Tzahal.

From a newspaper interview with one of Tzahal’s leading field commanders we can learn what was the driving force in the hearts of David’s warriors.

The following are several excerpts from the interview, which I have translated from Hebrew:

The reporter begins by saying that when speaking with this modest, soft-spoken soldier, one might forget that he is in the presence of one of Tzahal’s most experienced field officers, who has been serving for an unprecedented 18 years in active field duty in the Golani Brigade, even delaying his right for an army-sponsored higher education because the “time was never right.”

The reporter describes the many prestigious units that this officer has commanded on his way to becoming a colonel, adding that all who have come in contact with this officer agree that he is ideologically inspired, courageous and a figure to be emulated.

The interview was made on the first day the officer was able to leave Lebanon on his way to visit wounded troops in hospital, with several details of the interview omitted because of military censorship.

Reporter: What is your assessment of the military performance in the past war?

Officer: B’Ezrat Hashem, our troops on the tactical battalion and lower levels fought courageously and fiercely. With regard to the higher echelons, I do not have the tools to measure their performance, nor is it my responsibility to do so. But the courage which I witnessed, the idealism, and motivation were the people of Israel at their best.

Reporter: Is the motivation of today’s Tzahal on par with that of the past?

Officer: In the Golani reserve units, there was a 110% mobilization, which means that no one requested a release. There were reservists who cut short their stays abroad in order serve shoulder to shoulder with soldiers half their age. At times like this, Am Yisrael unifies; but unfortunately, it is only at times like this that we find such solidarity.

Reporter: What do you think of the criticism leveled at some portentous statements made by some generals at the beginning of the fighting?

Officer: At the beginning of the war, not everything the enemy had was known to us; but wars have a dynamic of their own and things are constantly changing. Men left their families to fight and sacrifice and we achieved very good results. This, of course, does not minimize the necessity to investigate what was wrong in order to learn and draw conclusions for the future.

At this point, the reporter describes an act of gallantry performed by this young officer which, according to senior officers, has become part of military legacy of Tzahal and for which the officer has been recommended to receive Tzahal’s highest award.

The action involved a forced march of several hours in order to surprise the enemy from the rear. The fighting was furious. Hizbullah suffered tens killed and wounded, but we also paid a price. At a point in the fighting, an order was given to break contact with the enemy. After counting our dead and wounded, one soldier was unaccounted for and was believed to have been killed.

Under horrific enemy fire, the officer and several of the troops searched for hours until they found the body of their fallen comrade and returned with him to base. The message here is that a soldier knows that whatever might happen to him, Tzahal will do everything possible to bring him back.

When relating to this action, the officer said, “One has to see our soldiers at moments like this in order to believe what courage means. The dislodging of the dead and wounded soldiers under fierce fire was performed without consideration for their own safety. We saw how Hizbullah abandoned their dead and wounded, and how they retreated after their first losses. Our preparedness to sacrifice for each other appears to be a genetic Jewish trait.

Reporter: What was the mood of your soldiers after such intensive fighting?

Officer: After this kind of face-to-face fighting, one could expect a desire to escape and rest; but our soldiers, Baruch Hashem, all fought on. Many of the wounded refused to be pulled back from the battle, and many who were taken to hospital returned with their wounds to the battlefront.

Reporter: How can we separate political ideology from the army, which has to be a neutral entity?

Officer: We have to realize that at the end of the day we are one people with one land with whose security we cannot compromise or neglect. And even when situations arise which one might not agree with, one must raise up his head and look beyond the present and to the future – to guard and protect Medinat Yisrael. When Jewish destiny is perceived in this way, one is willing to sacrifice the comforts of family life and even of life itself. We have a great goal, and the nation is proceeding to its great destiny even in time of weakness.

There is much more to the military aspect of the interview which I will omit. The reporter then began questioning the officer regarding his personal life.

Reporter: How do you maintain your calm composure after so many years of tension and stress as the commander of spearhead units of Tzahal’s infantry?

Officer: What can I tell you? It comes down to faith (emuna). When you are at the end of your physical and mental strength and then receive a phone call from a rav who inspires you, there comes a surge of energy which carries you the extra kilometer.

Reporter: What can you tell me about being a career officer who is away from home for long periods?

Officer: Raising children becomes very complex, and the task of keeping the family unit intact falls on the wife. My task is not to interfere with what my wife does. A word here, an advice there at the proper time. I can repeat with great pride what Rabbi Akiva said regarding his wife, Rachel. After many years of study, Rabbi Akiva returned to his town and the guards were holding back the throng of thousands who had come out to greet him, including his beloved Rachel. And Rabbi Akiva points to the graying woman being pushed away and calls out to the guards, “Wait! My Torah and your Torah (which I teach you) are all her Torah.” In the midst of the intensifying burdens, I receive a phone call from my wife, Chagit, who says to me, “Don’t worry, all is under control; we are waiting for you to come home, but continue what you are doing – it is so important.” I put down the phone with a great emotion of longing, but I know there is someone behind me – this is the source of strength. My wife was brought up in a home with this spirit, and we are trying to pass it on to our children. It is not easy, but I wish on all good people a family which I have. We live in the north; and during this difficult period, she and the children had to be away from home. She understands the importance of what I do even more than I. Where there is faith one accepts all, even when the situation is painful and even if, God forbid, there is tragedy. We believe in Hashem above who guides us and decides all.

Reporter: Tell me about the role of a dati (religious person) in the army?

Officer: In the army, one does not always have the religious anchors – such as learning Torah, social interaction of civilian life close by. But I never felt any weakening in my religious faith. My personal anchor is Shabbat. In my parents’ home and in mine, there are no compromises – the Shabbat table, words of Torah, prayers – not by coercion but as a natural way of life. Take the matter of tefilin – there are circumstances that do not permit me to remove my helmet and roll up my sleeve to put on tefilin. I write on my hand “tefilin” not to forget, and I have a very uncomfortable feeling until the time I am able to perform the mitzva later in the day.

Reporter: Give me a closing message for the youth.

Officer: An episode occurred in this war which I will never forget. Yaniv Asur, the commander of the 51st battalion, five minutes after losing eight of his soldiers, reports on his loss and announces, “We are continuing to fight. The eternal nation is not discouraged by a long path. This is what we learned this year from the people of Gush Katif.”

When you decide what has to be done, don’t look at the moment. Look at the larger picture of us as God’s Chosen People, at the importance of a strong Tzahal which protects our people and look at our Medinah. Choose where you can best dedicate your talents and then perform in the belief that what you are doing is important. Do the best you can, not for financial reward or for a career, but in faith. If we all do this, we shall be a much better nation.

End of interview.

The 24th of Sivan marks my wife’s and my 45th ALIYA anniversary – a time for introspection and conclusions as well as planning for the next 45 years.

There are many criteria by which it is possible to measure what we have seen and experienced in this time, but the source of our greatest pride is when we descend from the philosophical level to the practical and “tachlis” one to see the future of this country by way of the children Hashem has granted us.

The officer who was interviewed above is one of our sons.

But he is not alone in the ideas and feelings expressed in the interview. He represents all the other members of our family and the many thousands of Hesder Yeshiva rabbis and students who see in our return to Eretz Yisrael the opening stage of the final redemption, and the huge mitzva to defend the people and the land.

Children like this can be raised only in the land of David Hamelech!

Part Two: To Merit vs. To Be Chosen

Forty years ago during the three week period of suspense and trepidation which preceded the miracle of the Six Day War, I gave a lift to a young soldier. After we got to know each other and I told him that Hashem will deliver us from this pending tragedy, he asked a question looking very perturbed: “Why should God favor us over the Moslems? Do we not pray to the same God? And as a group are they not more dedicated to their religion than we?

My answer to this young soldier is the essence of this week’s divrei Torah.

The gemara in Bava Batra 74a relates that the Eretz Yisrael amora, Rabba bar bar Chana heard in the Sinai desert the voices of Korach and his group declaring: “Moshe and his Torah are true.” A Bedouin who some say was actually Eliyahu HaNavee, then told Rabba bar bar Chana that the wheels of Gehenom turn so that every rosh chodesh Korach and his group return to this place just under the surface and voice this declaration.

Korach, like many others transgressors, was punished, but Korach is the only one who returns to the scene of the crime repeatedly-every month- for over three thousand years to declare his mistake. Why is this so?

In order to understand the crime and punishment of Korach we need to turn to a remarkable and indeed disturbing dialogue between Hashem and Avraham Avienu in the akayda episode, as related in the Torah in Parashat Va`yera:

“Please take your son, your only son, the one who you love – Yitzchak.”

The Gemara in Sanhedrin 89b explains the redundancies in the verse:

Hashem: Please take your son

Avraham: I have two sons Yitzchak and Yishmael

Hashem: The one who is an only son to his mother

Avraham: Both – Yitzchak and Yishmael – are only sons to their mothers

Hashem: The son who you love

Avraham: I love both sons

Avraham declares before Hashem that he loves Yishmael as he does Yitzchak, for both demonstrate yirat shamayim (fear of Heaven) and both are potential heirs to head the new monotheistic belief in the world. There is no reason for Avraham to think that Hashem is referring to Yitzchak over Yishmael. Indeed, in some ways Yishmael is more meritorious than Yitzchak. He was 13 years older and fulfilled important spiritual tasks. As related by Chazal, it was Yishmael who ritually slaughtered the three cows to feed the angels in Parashat Va’yera.

At this point Hashem commands Avraham to take Yitzchak and to totally reject Yishmael; so much so that the Torah relates that when Avraham and Yitzchak make their way to Mount Moriah for the act of akayda, Yishmael stays behind “with the chamor” (donkey), from which the gemara concludes that Yismael is “am haDomeh l’chamor “- a nation whose spirituality is greatly lacking.

Here Avraham, and we, learn a great lesson in the way Hashem relates to the world He created.

It is a lesson which defies human understanding, just as Hashem is incomprehensible to the human mind (even the highest esoteric studies of the Kabbala do not deal with the essence of God), that in the conflict between merit and chosen-ness the latter is supreme.

One can have great merit, but it will never pre-empt one who is chosen by God.

This is a basic tenet of Judaism: The pasuk says (Shmuel A 15:29) “Netzach Yisrael lo y’shaker” – the words of the Eternal God of Israel will never falter. Hashem, for reasons known to him alone, has chosen the Jewish nation to be the bearers of His name. Hence, the Jewish nation will never be rejected. Punished? Yes! Suffer? Yes! Rejected? Never!

At the akayda Hashem informs Avraham that Yitzchak and his descendants will be for all time God`s chosen people, to the total exclusion of all else.

Korach, when he rejected the appointment of Aharon as Kohen Gadol claiming that he was better qualified for this position, was undermining the basic foundation of the Jewish faith: Hashem chose, for reasons known to Him, one nation over all others and certain individuals over others. This is the prerogative of the Creator; the privilege of the King.

In every generation, the question of that young soldier going out to face an enemy many times stronger is put forward: Will Hashem save us from the Greeks, from the Romans, from Christianity, from Islam? What is our zechut, our merit, when we are far from the ideals of the Torah?

So Korach every month comes to declare to the Jewish nation that Moshe and his Torah are true – and one who is chosen by God must be accepted. Never question the invincibility and eternal existence of the Jewish nation.

At this very moment in the history of our people in Eretz Yisrael, there are those (Gentiles and unfortunately even Jews) who question our ongoing ability to hold back the murderous hordes of Yishmael whose only wish is to destroy the descendants of Yitzchak. They reject the lessons of Korach that the sublime and exalted Monarch makes independent and “arbitrary” determinations. The promise to our prophets that the Jewish nation will once again return to Eretz Yisrael to rebuild our national and religious heritage never again to be destroyed is a reality in our time.

Let all Jews know that despite what might seem real at the moment- it has no relationship to reality. And just as that young soldier when he left my car before the huge events which were to transpire a week later, thought to himself that I was just `another dreamer who does not live in the real world,` realized later that it is the dreamers of the world who know the truth.

Part Three: Your Revolution

Don’t be mistaken, Korach was one of Israel’s greatest men. He was a Levi by birth, and by appointment served as one of the four Levites chosen to carry the Holy Ark. But his great ambition to serve as Kohen Gadol was thwarted and this brought him to an early death.

Korach was not the only great man whose ambitions were unfulfilled. Indeed all great men die with unfulfilled ambitions.

Moshe desired, more than anything else, to enter Eretz Yisrael. His passion was so great, the midrash relates, that Moshe even pleaded to Hashem to permit him to re-reincarnate as a lowly animal or bird, just to be within the area of the Holy Land. But even this was denied him. Ten of the meraglim (spies), who were the leaders of the nation, died a horrible death when they fell from God’s graces.

Aharon and Miryam died in the desert.

Yehoshua bin Nun did not live to bring to fruition the two tasks of liberating the land and distributing it to the respective tribes.

Samuel, the prophet, died a disappointed man when the person he chose to be the first king of Israel, Shaul, fell below Hashem’s expectations.

King Shaul ruled for two years when his monarchy was taken from him.

King David purchased Mount Moriah and prepared much of the material for the Bet HaMikdash, but was denied the privilege of erecting it.

Sh’lomo, at one point in his reign, was banished from Yerushalayim and wandered as a commoner. Whether he ever returned to his seat of power is a point of argument among the rabbis.

And the list of great leaders, whether they were prophets, kings, tanna’im, amora’im , rishonim, or acharonim, who faithfully served our nation but left the world without accomplishing what they wanted, goes on.

In our own generation, the greatest leaders of Medinat Yisrael left this world in less then honorable fashion.

Ben Gurion was banished from his own party and died a semi-recluse in Sedeh Bokar. Golda Meir, the iron woman of Israel, died a lonely death for her part in the near defeat in the Yom Kippur War.

Menachem Begin, the Prime Minister closest to “Yiddishkeit” we ever had, resigned before ending his legal term in office; closing himself off from the world until his death. He is buried in a nondescript grave on Har HaZaytim.

And the same is true with the past present Prime Minister of Israel, who instead of going down in the annals of Jewish history as one of its greatest generals, will have a dishonorable black frame around his picture.


The Tosafot commentary on Chagiga 13b quotes the midrash Aycha (chap. 3) which opens a small window on the world of angels. The midrash informs us that there are various grades and ranks of angels. There are permanent ones, such as Michael and Gavriel, and temporal ones. The temporal ones exist for a split second and then cease to exist. Their essence then drops into the river Dinar, which flows into Gehinom and stokes the fires over the heads of the evil “residents” there.

The permanent angels wait to offer praise to Hashem until they are given permission to do so; whereas the temporal ones achieve reality and immediately give praise to Hashem without waiting for permission, and this causes their early demise into the river Dinar.

This is given expression in the shacharit service, which describes how the Ofanim and Chayot HaKodesh, the most elevated angels, give permission to the Serafim to offer praise to the ultimate King and Creator.

There is a fundamental principle in the study of Kabbala: whatever exists in the upper world (shamayim) has a counter-part in this world. The myriad angels created from the Chayot exist for one split second of time when they offer one time praise to Hashem before ending their sojourn in the realm of existence.

This principle controls much of human actions in this world. Hashem permits a man to achieve one revolution in his life on earth – one and only one.

Moshe served as the conduit for receiving the Torah from Hashem and teaching it to the people of Israel. He could not achieve a second revolution by leading the nation into Eretz Yisrael.

Yehoshua was the master military mind who conquered the land; he could not finish apportioning it to the people.

The meraglim were the leaders of the nation in the desert; they could not continue as such in the land.

Aharon established the Kehuna and Miryam lead the women. They finished their tasks in the desert.

Korach reached the apex of his life when chosen to carry the Holy Ark. He could not also become the Kohen Gadol.

King David consolidated the loose network of tribes into a centralized government. The Bet HaMikdash had to wait for another king. In our time, Ben Gurion established (of course, with the sanction and help of Hashem) Medinat Yisarel, yet he could do no more.

The great Menachem Begin led the revolt to expel the British from Eretz Yisrael. He could not achieve his dream of bringing peace to the land by offering the Sinai to the Egyptians. All we received in return for this noble act is that today Egypt has the largest army in the Middle East, despite the fact that no one is threatening them.

In conclusion: Hashem permits a man to make only one revolution in his lifetime, not two. BUT WOE TO HIM WHO DOES NOT MAKE THAT ONE.

One of the many outstanding differences between us and the gentile world is that non-Jews are born for the most part to a life of mediocrity. There is no expectation of what we call “gadlut” (greatness) from the 6 billion people of the world. But Hashem demands greatness from each and every one of His people. Hashem tells Moshe that it is His intention to make the Jewish Nation a “Nation of Kohanim and a holy people”, and as such there is no place for mediocrity in a holy, Kohanic nation.

It is not possible for every Jew to be the Prime Minister of the State of Israel, so we have to define what is the “greatness” that Hashem demands from us.

The revolution demanded of us, as in the case with all revolutions, is measured by how many people have been touched by it. If you wrote a great thesis on curing cancer but never published it, you have obviously done nothing.

Think for a moment. What is the revolution you can make in your daily, regulated life to change the lives of thousands of people? After serious thought you will probably come to the conclusion that there is nothing to fill that suggestion. But that is a mistake. Let’s make a simple calculation.

It sounds awesome. It is happening to my great-grandparents, HaRav Baruch David and Rivka Kahana. They made a revolution in their lives and came to Eretz Yisrael in 1868. We today cannot know the numbers of cousins in our family in Eretz Yisrael, except that I am constantly discovering new ones.

HaRav Baruch David and Rivka are immortalized in our family. Their names are renewed with every passing generation with boys and girls named for them. Their revolution will outlast the French and American ones. Their revolution, as well as the others who came to Eretz Yisrael and established their futures here, are eternal.

You cannot make two revolutions in your lifetime, but how sad if you don’t make the one which is close to you and possible to accomplish.

Think! In six generations you will have been responsible for bringing into Eretz Yisrael more than 3000 offspring.

If in another three generations there will be Jews in the United States, chances are that if they have any offspring none will be Jewish.

Shabbat Shalom, Nachman Kahana

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.