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Parsha Va'eschanan

07/26/2018 08:18:43 PM


The Parsha opens with Moshe’s request to enter Israel, and despite his incessant begging and hundreds of Tefilos, God emphatically responds with a “no.”  Moshe is told “Rav Lach”-it is much for you and beyond you, and the Gemara in Sota 13b notes that these words of “Rav Lach” were ironically used by Moshe himself to squash Korach’s claims to leadership.  As the Gemara concludes, Moshe invoked “Rav Lachem” to lecture Korach to lower his aspirations, and Moshe was later lectured with the same phrase of “Rav Lach” to lower his own aspirations of entering Israel.  How did Moshe error in his response to Korach?

In a stimulating piece on Jewish leadership, R’ Tzadok Hakohen notes that it is Yisro, the “outsider” to the Jewish people, who suggests the implementation of groups of leaders within Jewish society.  Furthermore, R’ Tzadok notes that Parshas Yisro forms an awkward transition from Yisro’s advice to Matan Torah, developing an unlikely relationship between Yisro’s calling for an efficacious system of leadership and the power of Torah.  The Pasuk in Mishlei (8,15) writes regarding Torah, “Through me, kings will reign,” meaning that kingship in Judaism is derived from an elevated status in Torah knowledge, and any kingship that is predicated on other platforms is doomed for failure.  However, it is precisely because Jewish leadership is based on Torah that Jewish leadership itself becomes an inherent paradox and one that the people will always struggle to fully accept, because Torah is really an equally inherited right that all Jews share.  “Morasha kehillos yaakov” dictates that despite any individual accomplishments of erudition, Torah remains the ancestral right of all Jews, and as such, the very right to the “crown” is collectively shared as well.  

This theme is so poignantly described in Midrash Rabba, (Tzav, 9,3) where R’ Yannai was taken by the dignified appearance of a man he mistook to be a Talmid Chacham, and R’ Yannai invited the man to dine with him.  R’ Yannai brought him to his house, and after honoring him with food and drink, R’ Yannai began to test the man’s knowledge in Torah, Mishna, and Gemara, but he did not find him knowledgable.  Eventually, R’ Yannai asked his guest to lead Birchas Hamazon, but event this simple task was beyond the level of his guest!  R’ Yannai compared his guest to a dog, saying: “The dog ate the bread of Yannai.”  The man arose, grabbed R’ Yannai, and said to him: “My inheritance is in your possession, and you are withholding it from me, because one time I was passing a school and I heard the voices of the children saying: ‘The Torah that Moshe commanded us is the inheritance of the Congregation of Yaakov.’  Forcefully bolstering his point, the man concluded: “Does it say the inheritance of Yannai or the inheritance of all of Yaakov?!”  Just as the smallest error in one letter of a Sefer Torah impacts all of the Sefer Torah, every individual Torah portion of each Jew affects even the greatest Torah scholar.  Perhaps this relates to R’ Chanina’s words in Tannis 7a: “I have learned much from my teachers…but the  most from my students,” as the infinite possibilities and numbers in students provide more opportunities to share Torah portions than the portions of a few teachers.  The portions of teachers may be larger qualitatively, but given that the Talmud recommends having only a few teachers, the quantity of Torah portions shared pales in comparison to those of students. 


While Korach’s intentions and character may be questioned, his cries against leadership were not empty or baseless claims, and on the contrary, Korach espoused the ideal of collective ownership of Torah.  It is only due to the practical concerns and limitations of our world that Jewish leaders become a necessity, and while Korach may not have been wrong on ideological terms, he was wrong in practical terms.  The reality is that some people will be less knowledgeable than others and they will require leadership, and it is only from this clash between ideal and practical that Jewish leadership emerges.  It is for this reason that it is the “outsider,” Yisro, who advices us on the virtues of establishing many leaders, because this may be necessary, but it is remains something “foreign” and uncomfortable for our people who all share the inheritance of Torah.  

When ideals clash with practicalities, it seems like practicalities always win and ideals suffer in subdued silence until they flicker and die, but that is not the way it should be.  We strive to maintain our ideals despite the constraints of practical life that force us to take a different direction, and by maintaining our ideals, we can “be” people elevated beyond our physical limitations.  When Korach was told “Rav Lachem,” the implication was that since his ideals did not work practically, he should give them up and despair of seeing them as truths, but in truth, Korach should have been encouraged to maintain his ideals and still accept the way reality would look.  Instead of being encouraged to keep his ideals, he was squashed and told his ideals were beyond him, and Moshe was therefore later punished with that same lecture of “Rav Lecha” when he wished to live his ideals and enter Israel.   

Mon, November 29 2021 25 Kislev 5782