Thursday, June 18, 2015

Parsha: Korach’s Claims - Three Approaches to a Mistake

Rav Yehudah Turetsky

Chazal[1] record two of the claims Korach made towards Moshe. First, Korach questioned whether a garment that is entirely blue still requires Tzitit.  Korach reasoned that since a single blue string is all that’s needed for a garment made entirely of white,[2] a Begged consisting entirely of blue strings should not require any additional Techelet attached to it. The second claim Korach made was in regard to a house filled with Seforim, in which Korach reasoned that such a place should not require a Mezuzah. Moshe responded in both cases that Korach’s claims were incorrect.

What motivated Korach? It is hard to believe he was only asking narrow Halakhic questions about the laws of Mezuzah and Tzitzit. What was really bothering him?

1. Rav Soloveitchik[3] famously understood that Korach made a fundamental error about the Halakhic process. Korach thought that logic and common sense alone are able to dictate Halakha. For that reason, he made Halakhic claims that appear reasonable and compelling. What he failed to understand is that Halakha is a self-contained discipline in which human logic is not always the sole determining factor.[4] Moshe did not question whether Korach’s arguments made sense, as much as whether they reflected a proper assessment of the Halakha.  

2. Tzaidah LaDerech (ad loc[5]) suggests that Korach’s argument was far more sweeping than it initially appeared. Korach’s real claim was that Halakha is less binding on that which is already holy. A room filled with Seforim does not need a Mezuzah, and a garment made of Techelet does not require Tzitzit. Mitzvot are less critical for that which is already sacred. Korach viewed the entire Jewish people as holy (Bamidbar 16:3. Through these claims, he was really questioning whether Mitzvot are truly necessary at all.  The Jewish people are sufficientlyinhrently holy so as to render Mitzvot superfluous.

3. Perhaps one can suggest a slightly different perspective. While this idea is similar to Tzaidah LaDerech’s, maybe there’s a reason why Korach focused specifically on Tzitzit and Mezuzah[6]. Both of those Mitzvot share one thing in common; they are spiritual reminders. Tzitzit remind us of all the Mitzvot. They help ensure our observance and religious awareness. Rambam (Hilchot Tefilin, Mezuzah and Sefer Torah 6:13) writes similarly about Mezuzah. Each time we enter and exit our homes, the Mezuzah reminds us of God’s role in this world[7].

Perhaps what Korach failed to appreciate was not the importance of all Mitzvot, as suggested by Tzaidah LaDerech, but rather specifically those that are there to help us remember God and His Mitzvot. Maybe Korach thought that the Jewish people were sufficiently holy so as to not require the kind of “token” reminders provided by these Mitzvot. It is easy to belittle that which appears to have less independent value with the feeling that those Mitzvot are less necessary. Truly successful people recognize the need for help and reminders in continuing their religious growth and development.

[1] See Rashi Bamidbar 16:1
[2] There is a debate amongst Rishonim how many blue strings of Tekhelet one requires. See Rashi, Tosafot, Rambam, and Ra’avad for a discussion about this.
[3] Rav Soloveitchik, “The Common-Sense Rebellion Against Torah Authority”. This is printed in Reflections of the Rav Vol. 1. Rav Soloveitchik’s actual approach is more nuanced than what is presented here, and it is certainly recommended to read it inside.
[4] This is not to state that logic is never a factor or that sevarah plays no role. See, for example, Brachot 35a with Pnei Yehoshua (ad loc), Rav Soloveitchik cautions that logic alone is not enough to determine Halakha.
[5] This is quoted in Rav Mordechai Eliyahu’s commentary on the Torah, Divrei Mordechai.
[6] See Divrei Mordechai in the beginning of Parshat Korach.
[7] See Rambam inside for his precise formulation.

No comments:

Post a Comment