“Vayikach Korach” —“And Korach took.” What did he take, and where did he take it? Rashi explains that “he took himself off to the side, he split off from the general tzibbur to be argumentative and to cast aspersions on how the priesthood was set up.” We know the story of Korach as one in which Korach —ever the populist— persuaded much of Bnei Yisrael that he was campaigning for “equal rights” and was the champion of the people in demanding equality for all segments of Klall Yisrael (sound familiar?). He presented himself as a spokesman for the people, seeking their spiritual welfare. In this manner, he managed to persuade the elite of the Jewish nation —the heads of the Sanhedrin, leaders among the people— to the degree that Hashem threatened to destroy the entire Nation! As the passuk states (Bamidbar 16:21), “Separate yourselves from the eidah and I will destroy them in a moment.” Thus, it is fair to ask —in what sense did Korach split off from the general tzibbur, if he managed to convince them that he had only egalitarian motives?
Moreover, the Medrash relates that Korach used the power of mockery (laytzanus) to make his points. Among the points that he raised: if a few techeiles strings are all a garment needs to fulfill its tzitzis obligation, how can it be that a complete garment dyed techeiles would still require tzitzis? Can a house full of sefarim still require a mezuzah? Why would the parshiyos in the mezuzah be more effective than those written in the sefarim themselves? Korach actually produced a play, with actors, in which a poor forlorn widow had to conform with an onslaught of Torah laws culminating in her having to give away significant amounts of her crop to the poor, to the Kohanim, to the Leviim… then portions of the wool of her sheep… then the firstborn of the sheep… then certain portions of her slaughtered animals… and as the curtain comes down, the “Kohein” takes everything, as the poor widow declares it cherem. Can this be Hashem’s intentions? (applause)
Now, mockery can be a powerful tool —but Korach and his group were intelligent people, and one would think that they would have buttressed their arguments with rational dispute, rather than with lampooning and creating caricatures. (By the way, why indeed do such laws exist? Wouldn’t a G-d given Torah be wise and judicious, rather than an irrational hodgepodge of unfair rules?)
In Jewish thought, there are two approaches that one could takes regarding basic emunah. One could be called emunah peshutah —plain and simple faith, belief without sophisticated arguments, lofty ideas and deep philosophies. Perhaps without (too much) understanding. Unquestioning belief. In contrast, there is emunah that thrives on questions and understanding, which is analytical, cerebral, perceptive, and rational. Faith that questions and answers. These are two roads, about which many have battled, taught, and preached.
Each of these paths clearly has its unique qualities as well as its distinct disadvantages. On the one hand, someone who delves into the reasons and rationales behind the mitzvos feels more engaged and is probably more impacted by observing the mitzvos. Such an individual worships Hashem with the most important part of himself —his seichel. The obvious danger of this path lies in the fact that those areas that do not pass that crucible of intellectual scrutiny are now inevitably seen as suspect in his eyes. He will inevitably encounter such areas. Surely, his intellectual travels will leave him grappling with those issues that do not lend themselves to rational understanding, whether this is due to their depth or to one’s own personal negi’os (vested interests), attitudes and values system. What does one do then?
On the other hand, the unquestioning believer is actually serving Hashem with all his limbs save one —his intellect! Surely, that pride of humanity, which separates humanity from the animals, should be at the very least included in one’s avodas Hashem! (The Chovos Halevavos, in his introduction to his sefer, makes the case for this modus operandi.) Surely, one who bases his faith on intellectual understanding is running a terrible risk!
The road to perfection lies in using the best of each path. To strengthen one’s convictions through straightforward belief, emunah peshutah, while at the same time delving into the rational and philosophical spheres of Torah and its mitzvos.
Yet the base, the foundation, the primary element must be that emunah plain and simple, what we simply presume to be true be’emunah shelaimah. It would be foolhardy to base one’s belief on one’s own seichel, with all of its flaws and weaknesses and sometimes lack of understanding, and then to “fall back” on emunah peshutah. Rather, a person should proudly wave the banner of mesorah and acceptance, and then delve into and try to add depth, understanding and profundity to his grasp of Torah. That which one is able to grasp is a priceless asset, while that which one cannot still has that foundational base unsullied.
Korach, as portrayed by Chazal, was a very wise man —a ‘peekai’ach gadol.’ We shall assume that his understanding of Torah and mitzvos was one of great profundity and enlightenment. After all, it is seichel that separates man from beast. It is seichel which allows us to exercise bechirah (free choice), that most fundamental of all human values —indeed, our raison d’être. Thus, he reasoned, we are obviously to use it to its utmost to understand Torah rationally, whereas that which we find irrational should be rejected as not being truly from Hashem, who is the ultimate Rationalist. After all, before the Torah was given, the Avos (patriarchs) “figured out” Torah; obviously it can be done, and thus must be done. As such, we should repudiate, and indeed scoff and scorn at, anything that does not meet this criterion.
To be continued…