We hope you enjoy this selection of short divrei Torah, presented to family and guests at our Shabbos table as a springboard for discussion. Each one is followed by a question. The responses shared at our table are enlightening, entertaining, and always thought-provoking.
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Parshas Korach #1
Out of Trouble
“And Korach, the son of Yitzhar, the son of Kehas, the son of Levi, and Dasan and Aviram, the sons of Eliav, and On ben Peles, [all of the Tribe] of Reuven, took [themselves to the other side]” (Bamidbar 16:1).
Korach, a Levi and a first cousin of Moshe and Aharon, was angered by what he considered the unfair distribution of power and leadership roles among their Tribe. He was a talented man of distinguished lineage – why had he been passed over? He was not prepared to accept his status as an ordinary Levi, and set out to undermine the authority of Moshe and Aharon. The rebellion he stirred up has made his name forever synonymous with unjustified controversy.
Korach found support among members of the Tribe of Reuven. Prominent among the troublemakers were Dasan and Aviram, and a man name On ben Peles. However, while Dasan and Aviram are mentioned several times in the unfolding of events, On ben Peles is heard of no more. What happened to On, apparently a major figure in Korach’s rebellion?
Chazal answer this question. “The wife of On ben Peles saved him” (Sanhedrin 109b), by appealing to his common sense. Whether Moshe remained the leader or Korach took over, On’s position would remain the same – either way, nothing would change for him. Why should he get involved?
On still had a problem: he had sworn his allegiance to Korach, and he felt that he was bound by his vow. His wife’s solution was simple. She gave him enough wine to put him to sleep, so that he was effectively out of the picture. Knowing that the conspirators would be calling her husband to join them, she sat at the entrance of their tent and uncovered her hair. This was enough to chase everyone away, and On was saved. Korach and his followers were swallowed up by the earth, while On slept quietly through it all. Chazal said that the passuk, “A wise woman builds her home” (Mishle 14:1) refers to the wife of On ben Peles.
Rav Chaim Shmuelewitz (1902-1979), rosh yeshivah of Mir, raised an interesting question. What was so exceptionally wise about Mrs. On’s words to her husband? All she did was remind him of something that should have been obvious to begin with – that he stood nothing to gain by throwing in his lot with Korach.
He explains that her wisdom lay in keeping away from the machlokes (controversy) promoted by Korach. It is easy to be caught up in a machlokes, and very difficult to stay calm and uninvolved. This was the wisdom of the wife of On ben Peles: she retained her composure and acted logically in a volatile situation (Ateres HaMikra, Korach).
Question for Discussion:
What do you do to keep your cool in frustrating or annoying situations?
An excellent piece of advice really registered with me. When something happens that upsets you, ask yourself this question: whatever it is, will it still matter to you five years from now? Interestingly, the answer will usually be “no.” On those rare occasions when the answer is “yes,” you will know that this is an issue worth further thought. We tend to worry a great deal about things that actually matter very little. Stepping back and taking a broader view of a problem helps us put it in perspective.
Parshas Korach #2
“The staff of Aharon of the house of Levi bloomed. It produced a flower, and sprouted a bud, and grew almonds” (Bamidbar 17:23).
Korach, a disgruntled Levi who felt that he had been denied an appropriate leadership position, mounted a rebellion against the authority of Moshe and Aharon. He assembled a following, and with their backing, publicly challenged Moshe and Aharon. The Torah relates that Korach and all his adherents died a terrible death (Bamidbar 16-17). To settle beyond doubt that Aharon had been selected by Hashem as the Kohen Gadol, Hashem instructed Moshe to place twelve staffs in the Ohel Moed overnight, each one marked with the name of the Nasi (Prince) of a Tribe – including Aharon, for the Tribe of Levi. The staff of the one selected by Hashem would miraculously bloom overnight. By morning, Aharon’s staff had blossomed, a vivid, unmistakable demonstration that Hashem had chosen him and his descendants after him (ibid. 17:16-26).
The Blossoming of Greatness
Rav Moshe Sternbuch points out that the passuk provides a step-by-step description of the blossoming and development of Aharon’s staff – first flowers, then buds, then almonds. Why was it important for the people to see the entire progression? If they had seen that the staff had produced almonds, that alone would have been enough of a miracle, and undisputed proof that Aharon was the one chosen.
He writes that this description of the gradual growth of the almonds taught the nation an important lesson: Aharon had not undergone an instant transformation when he was appointed Kohen Gadol. He had invested many years and enormous effort in becoming the saintly Jew who was worthy of being Kohen Gadol, and that was why he had been chosen. There could be no room for anyone to suggest that had he been selected instead, he too would have been endowed with Aharon’s good qualities and high spiritual level. Aharon’s great piety and sanctity were not the result of his appointment, but the reason for it. The progression from flowers to buds, and only then to fruit, were intended to highlight Aharon’s years of spiritual growth and development.
Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, was revered as the posek hador (halachic authority of the generation). Similar to Aharon, the first Kohen Gadol, Rav Moshe’s authority was the product of a lifetime of intensive Torah study, which continued as long as he lived. At six, he dreamed of following in his father’s footsteps as a rav; at eight he gave up even the intellectual game of chess, feeling that it was better for him to use his mind for Torah. Friends who had known him as a boy all had the same memories of young Moshe: he was always learning. Before his bar mitzvah, he stayed up with his father on the night of Yom Kippur, and they completed the entire tractate of Yoma together. As a young teenager, his sister brought his lunch to the local beis medrash where he learned, so that he would not have to take off the time to go home to eat. And this was only the beginning… (Reb Moshe, by Rabbi Shimon Finkelman)
Question for Discussion:
It has been said that a dream doesn’t become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work. What have you worked hard on, and was it worth the effort?
Louis, originally from the United States, now in Beit Shemesh: Shabbos used to be very hard for me – I didn’t know what was permitted and what was prohibited. This made for a very stressful Shabbos. A little over a year ago, I decided it was time to learn the halachos of Shabbos in depth. Together with a chavrusa, I started learning Rabbi Dovid Ribiat’s four-volume “The 39 Melochos,” a thorough, comprehensive guide. We have been going strong for over a year now, learning almost every day.
Admittedly, I don’t know everything about hilchos Shabbos yet. But the knowledge I have gained has given me a much greater appreciation for what can and cannot be done on Shabbos – even if I don’t know the specifics of a given halachah, I now can spot if there’s a potential issue or not, look into it further, and ask a shaylah.
We are almost done with the fourth volume of the sefer, and I am planning a siyum on my birthday. My chavrusa and I share the same birthdate, so it will be a triple simchah for us.