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The Rebbi-Talmid Relationship

By: Jason Allen

Have you ever complained about the weather? Perhaps you have complained about the food you eat? (well, not if you went to Reishit!) Did anything bad of the magnitude of the earth swallowing you up ever happen to you because you complained? Well, it happened to Korach after he complained. What did he complain about that was so terrible?

The Torah only relates Korach’s complaint to Moshe and Aharon in a general sense, stating (Bamidbar 16:3) “They gathered against Moshe and Aharon and said to them, ‘It is too much for you! For the entire assembly – all of them – are holy and God is among them; why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of God?’” What exactly was “too much” for Moshe and Aharon?

Rashi (16:1) quotes the Midrash which presents a little more insight into what specifically bothered Korach about Moshe and Aharon. The Midrash (Bamidbar Rabbah 18:3) says that when B’nei Yisrael were commanded to make tzitzis at the end of last week’s Parsha, Korach approached Moshe and posed the question that if a talis were to be completely dyed in techeiles, would it then be exempt from attaching tzitzis strings? Moshe responded that one would still be obligated to attach tzitzis strings. Korach and his assembly mocked and laughed at Moshe, responding that it made no sense that four little strings of techeiles can exempt an entire talis, but the entire talis dyed in techeiles cannot?! Korach also asked Moshe whether a room completely full of sefarim would still require a mezuzah on the doorpost or not? Moshe responded in the affirmative, and again, Korach made a mockery of Moshe and these halachos, saying that if one little paragraph in a mezuzah fulfills the mitzvah of mezuzah, shouldn’t hundreds of books with thousands of paragraphs exempt a room from needing a mezuzah?!

This Midrash still seems a bit strange. What was Korach’s big problem? What was he really so irritated about?

Furthermore, later in this week’s parsha, in the episode involving the staffs of the 12 shevatim, the Torah (17:19-20) informs us that the placement of these 12 staffs was specifically in the Ohel Moed, the holy area of the Mishkan, which was off limits for any regular member of Bnei Yisrael to enter. At first glance, this seems like a strange place for God to instruct Moshe to place the staffs. After all, wasn’t the whole point of this test to allow all of Bnei Yisrael to see, with their own eyes, the budding and sprouting of the almond on Aharon’s staff to prove to all of B’nei Yisrael that Aharon and Shevet Levi were indeed the chosen ones for the kehuna? Why put them in a place where most people will not be able to see this miracle take place?

In answering the first question we raised, Rav Soloveitchik (Nefesh HaRav pp. 37) explains that Korach’s complaint was that all members of B’nei Yisrael are holy, “kulam kedoshim” (Bamidbar 16:3). Every member of Bnei Yisrael heard God speak to them at Har Sinai. Every person heard the aseres hadibros. Everybody was fit to listen to God directly, perform mitzvos and study Torah on their own. There is no need for intermediaries like Moshe and Aharon to give over the Torah and explain its intricacies since B’nei Yisrael are “kulam kedoshim,” meaning that they have the ability to do it all on their own. Korach was against the need for a true rebbe-talmid relationship. The Midrash can now be understood. A talis completely dyed in techeiles is already holy since it is entirely covered in techeiles. A room full of sefarim is holy since it’s already filled with holy books. For what reason does the talis need another four strings of techeiles to make it holy? Similarly, why does the room need one little piece of parchment on the doorpost to increase its holiness?

Korach’s sin was his belittling of the necessity of the mesorah being properly passed down from rebbe to talmid, which is the most important thing to ensure Judaism’s and Torah’s continuation through the generations. So while Bnei Yisrael were indeed “kulam kedoshim,” this was only due to Moshe and Aharon teaching them Torah and leading them through life. Similarly, it is only because of the four strings of techeiles on the talis that establishes the kedusha to even be present on the all-techeiles talis and because of the little mezuzah on the doorpost that there is holiness in the room full of sefarim in the first place. It is only due to the holiness of the leaders and rabbis that allows the nation to permeate with kedusha.

Moreover, the techeiles strings on a talis and the mezuzah on a doorpost represent that we should listen to the leaders and rabbis who tell us both how to perform the mitzvos and how to interpret the Torah. The aforementioned Midrash alludes to this idea. The proper way to perform mitzvos – is represented by having only the four techeiles strings. How to teach the ways of the Torah – is represented by the mezuzah, as it says inside in mezuzah “v’shinantem levanecha,” and you shall teach it to your children. And even though there might be a talis that is completely techeiles, which is represented by those of B’nei Yisrael who think they know how to perform mitzvos, or there might be a room full of sefarim, which is represented by those who know a lot of Torah, there is still a critical need for guidance in the proper way of understanding our mesorah. Korach was trying to diminish the need for a rebbe-talmid relationship, which we all know, is vital to proper avodas Hashem and to maintain spiritual growth.

This idea also sheds light on our other question. Perhaps, the reason why God wanted Moshe to place the staffs into the ohel moed, when seemingly the point was for all of B’nei Yisrael to see Aharon’s staff bloom, was because the ohel moed represented the source of kedusha. It was literally before God. Even though it may seem better for Bnei Yisrael to see the actual miracle occur, Hashem wanted them to learn a more profound lesson: to recognize the source of kedusha. They should see where it ultimately emanates from and tap into that when establishing their own environs as being kadosh. The lesson for us now, as it was then, was that to achieve the lofty goal of increased kedusha, it is imperative for us to connect ourselves to sources of kedusha – our rebbeim. We must strive to attach ourselves to these sources of kedusha, we must always learn with them and from them.

The Mishna in Avos tells us (1:6) “aseh lecha rav” - to acquire for oneself a Rabbi. The lesson from Korach is exactly that. We need to establish a proper relationship with our rebbeim and the sources of holiness in our lives. Korach’s egregious sin was the mockery he made of this idea, and we all know how his story ended. God demonstrated that he no longer could exist in this world.

This time of the year always marks the anniversary of our departure from our time spent at Reishit. Whether we were there for one year, two years or more, it is a nostalgic time to reflect upon the connections and impacts our rebbeim from Reishit had on our lives. Let us use this lesson from Korach to recognize and improve our own rebbe-talmid relationships and to express our hakaras hatov to each of our rebbeim for all they have done for us.

Gut Shabbos.