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Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier

Parshas Korach - The Power of the Spoken Word

by Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier, June 25. 2011

Korach’s rebellion
Korach gathered together 250 men of stature and mounted a rebellion against Moshe and HASHEM.

Rashi explains that Korach’s motivation was jealousy: he felt that he should have been appointed to the position of Nasi of his Shevet, and was seeking revenge.  Even though Moshe Rabbeinu was commanded by HASHEM to appoint Elizaphan Ben Uziel to that position, Korach felt that Moshe made this decision on his own, and he set out to depose him. He would prove that Moshe was saying things in the name of HASHEM, that HASHEM never told him to say.

To prove his point, Korach gathered  250 leaders of the Jewish people, and gave each one a Talis made completely out of Techeiles (A talis only requires one strand of the Tzizis to be dyed the  purple / blue color of techeilis).

He brought this group in front of Moshe and asked: “If one has as a garment made completely of Techeilis is he obligated to put Tzizis on it?” Moshe answered, “He is obligated”. Korach said, “Does that make sense? A garment that is made completely of wool only requires one strand of Techlies and yet you say that a garment made completely of techlies should need additional techlis? It is impossible!” At which point the entire group began laughing at Moshe; and with this Korach launched his revolt.
What was so unanswerable 
about Korach’s question?
Korach’s question wasn’t that powerful

It seems clear from the Medrash that Korach’s strategy was to ask so powerful a question that not only wouldn’t Moshe be able to answer it, but it would prove that what he said couldn’t possibly be from HASHEM.  The question is what is so potent about the question that he asked? It might well be that a garment made of plain wool requires tzisis with one strand of Techlies, and a garment made completely of techlies still requires Tzizis with a strand of techeilis in it.  The question doesn’t seem particularly plaguing.

Furthermore if Korach wanted to ask questions, there are far more difficult questions that he could have asked. The Medrash tells us that Shlomo HaMelech couldn’t understand the system of the Parah Adumah. If the purpose of the Parah Aduma is to to purify the one who is being sprinkled with its ashes, how could it be that the kohain  sprinkling the ashes becomes impure by doing it? It is an enigma. Surely if Korach were looking to find an unanswerable question to disprove Moshe, there were many more difficult questions he could have asked. Yet there was something so unanswerable about the Ticheiles question that it caused 250 Torah scholars to laugh at Moshe’s answer- the question is why?


The answer to this question is based on understanding how bias blinds the mind of man.

Questions have answers; answers have no answers

Rav Chaim Voloshin was once approached by a student who had left the Yeshiva. This was at a time when the enlightenment movement was in full swing, and many young, impressionable Yeshiva students were struck by the lure of modern studies promise to fulfill all of mankind’s needs -- The Torah’s ways are archaic and outdated; science alone provides all the answers to  that which ails the world.

This student after having been outside the Yeshiva for a while returned and said to Rav Chaim, “I want to come back, but I have many questions”. Rav Chaim asked him, “Did these questions come to you when you were in Yeshiva, or after you left?” The boy innocently asked, “What difference does it make- these are questions that I have”. To which Rav Chaim responded, “If these questions troubled you before you left Yeshiva, they are questions, and for questions I have answers. However, if these questions only began troubling after you left Yeshiva, then they aren’t questions, they are answers- and for answers I have no answers.

Bias blinds a man

Rav Chaim was explaining a basic principle in man: that bias greatly affects our ability to understand. If a person has a prejudice against a way of thinking then he isn’t open minded and he becomes incapable of hearing the truth- no matter how clear and no matter how obvious- because he isn’t listening. To allow for free will, HASHEM gave man this uncanny ability to shut his mind down, to ignore proofs and all logic and to blindly follow his desires. When a man has made up his mind and doesn’t want to hear the truth, there is nothing that can prove him wrong- his mind is shut.

This seems to be the answer to understanding Korach’s question. Korach wasn’t approaching Moshe seeking the truth; his sole intention was to mock and discredit Moshe. With that mindset, the strength of the question, and whether there was an answer to it, didn’t matter -- because there was no question, only scorn and derision in the guise of a question. It was a question that had no answer because it wasn’t a question-- it was an answer.

This concept has great relevance in our lives. There will be times when we are perplexed by situations that we don’t understand, and we don’t know which way to turn- the answers that we seek aren’t forthcoming. It may well be that we can’t find the answer- however sometimes the answer may elude us, not because the answer isn’t there-but because we aren’t listening. Sometimes the answer may be right there but we aren’t open to it- and so we can’t hear it. It’s not that there aren’t answers- it is that we aren’t asking questions- we are providing answers, and in that situation there are no answers.

HASHEM created man with a heart of truth, and if a person puts aside his bias and  opens his mind he is capable of hearing the answer. The key to the process is to ask himself one pointed question: What do I think is the truth? Forget my self interest, forget the consequences- what do I think the right path is? What do I think HASHEM wants me to do? If a person follows this process, their inner sense of truth will guide them past the  darkness and they will be able to find the truth.

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