Mark Okrent – There is a sacred connection in Parshat Korach
There is a sacred connection in Parshat Korach following Parshat Shelach, although it is not the apparent one. The apparent connection is that In Shelach, we are told about the journey of the spies sent by Moshe to survey the land of Canaan and except for two of them, the majority return pessismistic and negative to the possibility of the people entering the land while in Korach, Korach and his people revolt against the leadership of Moshe and Aharon who have been designated by God. This is not exactly the significant sacred connection we should relate to.
At the end of Shelach, we read about the order to wear Tzitzit:
“למען תזכרו ועשיתם את כל מצותי והייתם קדושים לאלקיכם”
“So that you shall remember and perform all My commandments, and you shall be holy to your L‑rd.”
From this verse, we learn that in order to be holy, you must perform all the commandments, whereas Korach states that all Israel and of course, he and his people are inherently holy. They do not have to do anything to deserve to be holy!
In parshat Tzitzit, it is not even clear that by performing mitzvoth, we can attain holiness but rather that we must be aware that this is how holiness is attained. Nothing is promised but it is our responsibility to perform mitzvot if we wish to reach a level of holiness. For Korach, humans do not have any necessity, any responsibility, any mission to make an effort in order to become holy.
We are familiar with this characteristic throughout the generations. These are people who take it for granted that we are a Holy People, or as some people say, we are the Chosen People. They believe that we are born to this designation and being born to it means that we come from a long line of Holy People or Chosen People. No matter how we act, we can not lose the title
According to Parshat Pinchas, Korach and his band did not die when they were buried but actually continued to live on. As Yeshayahu Leibowitz stated, these people have continued to live throughout the ages and continue to declare that they are Holy – that they are the Chosen. They believe that they are on same level as those who read Parshat Tzitzit daily so as to remember that they must work to become holy.
Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Harlap, a student of Harav Abraham Isaac Kook and his successor as Head of the Yeshivat Mercaz Harav Kook asked the following question:
“What is most important to a person? Is it the achievement or the effort one makes to attain the achievement?”
His response was “Most important is the effort that a person does in order to attain the achievement” and adds “the value of the effort is not dependent on whether the achievement is reached or not and furthermore, a person may even be aware that he can not even attain the achievement, but the effort he makes is the greatest value. And for this reason it is stated ‘So that you shall remember and perform all My commandments’. Possibly, it is even beyond the person’s capability, but the person is told to try to reach this achievement – to try to be Holy.”
Thus, it is necessary to clearly distinguish between the holiness referred to at the end of the Shema in Parshat Tzitzit and the holiness declared by Korach and his people, who were not fully swallowed by the earth but continue to live among us until this day.
It must be remembered that the Holy People or the Chosen People is not an entitlement which we received at birth but rather an obligation which was placed on us because we were chosen to carry out mitzvoth, tasks, missions in order to truly be part of the Holy People, the Chosen People and a Light unto the Nations.
Mark Okrent, together with his wife Susan, made aliyah in 1970 from Toronto. He attended CHAT (Community Hebrew Academy of Toronto) and holds both a degree in engineering from University of Toronto and an M.B.A from York University. He is now retired from Israel Aerospace Industries after 35 years. In his retirement, he attends lectures on a variety of subjects, is active in synagogue services and assists clients as an independent travel agent (The Reservation Co.) with hotel reservations around the world.