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Parsha Korach

07/04/2019 11:02:59 PM


In the aftermath of Korach’s rebellion and destruction, the latter half of the Parsha discusses the 24 Priestly gifts.  Explaining the Torah’s sequence, Rashi explains that the Priestly gifts were God’s way of affirming the Kohamim’s positions and rightful entitlement as leaders of the nation.  There is a somewhat alternative approach that is rooted in the laws of how the “Yisroel,” the regular Jew, is obligated to give the Kohen these special gifts.  Although there are various differences between all the gifts, many of them share the concept of having two parts to the mitzvah, first the “Hafrasha”= tithing or designating the Kohen’s portion, and then the “Nesina”-transferring the portion to one specific Kohen.  There is much analysis in the Rishonim about whether these are two parts of one mitzvah or actually two separate mitzvos, but irrespective of that dispute, it is clear that the first act of designation changes the primary ownership of the portion.  Once the portion is destined for the Kohen, it is no longer in the jurisdiction of the original owner and the Kohanim now have rights and claims to that portion.  Although the Kohanim’s rights are conclusive after the act of designation, the Gemara teaches that no Kohen can forcibly take the portion from the Yisroel’s possession, because the Yisroel retains one aspect of control to the designated portion- the right to decide which Kohen should be the recipient.  It is this deciding power of the Yisreol that makes the actual transfer of the portion so crucial, because even after the Yisroel has relinquished ownership of the portion, the Torah gives him a job/right of picking one Kohen and handing him the portion.  The source of this prerogative is back in Parshas Naso, right before the laws of the Sota woman, where the Torah’s difficult word usage prompts this interpretation.  

The Gemara in Brachos 63a wonders why the laws of the Sota woman are preceded by this law that the Yisroel picks which Kohen receives his gifts, and the Gemara says that a person who wrongfully does not hand over his gifts to the Kohen will eventually meet the Kohen when his wife will seclude with another man and a Kohen will administer the Sota process of drinking the bitter waters.  Simply understood, the ironic twist of this punishment is that there is no avoiding the Kohen, and if you don’t visit him with your gifts, God will punish you and the Kohen will “visit you” and give your wife the bitter waters when she is suspected of committing adultery.  From a different perspective, perhaps the point of the Torah leaving the Yisreol with the right to decide who should receive the gifts is to foster relationships between the Yisarelim and the Kohnaim.  Instead of the Kohanim being a sacred sect of the nation who could dangerously remain aloof and unapproachable to the regular Jew, the Torah advanced a system of direct giving, and specifically giving by choice, that would establish direct interaction and communication with Kohanim.  Moreover, the Yisroel’s prerogative indicates that it is the people who are upholding their leaders and not that the leaders are eligible to take “taxes” from the nation.  A culture of giving and receiving is quite different from a culture of taxing and paying, and this difference is highlighted in the law that the Yisroel chooses who receives his gifts and thereby uses the gifts as a means to build relationships with Kohanim.  Given this idea, failing to give the Kohen his gifts after they are already designated is indicative of a lack of desire to have a relationship with a higher spiritual leader.  One who wishes to achieve closeness with a Kohen would grab the opportunity by giving the Kohen his gifts, and the sin of keeping the Kohen’s gifts at home is tantamount to rejecting the relationship with Kohanim.  In juxtaposing this law to the laws of the Sota woman, the Torah is teaching that those who rebuff connections with leaders will unfortunately come to need leaders in times of emergency and crisis.  Maybe there is no direct cause and effect between holding the Kohen’s gifts and a marriage where the husband suspects his wife of adultery, but a true relationship with a Kohen is definitely a powerful tool that lowers the likelihood of having one’s marriage reach such a state.  One who takes advantage of the chances to achieve connection with a Kohen is simply given a higher chance to succeed in all areas of life, and to emphasize this message, the Torah illustrates the Sota scenario as an example of the tragic possibilities of humanity that naturally suggest the importance of connecting to a Kohen.

 Behind all the emotional issues at play in Korach’s rebellion, Korach’s overall point of democracy and “is the entire people not holy?” leave behind a question unanswered, because democracy is a very much a Torah theme.  In following the story of Korach with the Priestly gifts, the Torah addresses how Kohanim do not contradict the traces of truth in Korach’s argument.  Firstly, it is the Yisroel who supports the Kohen, and this monetary arrangement shows that the people make the leaders and empower them.  Additionally, the Kohanim are not rulers over the nation, but rather spiritual guidance that can hopefully help in every aspect of life.  The Torah establishes leaders and strong lines of demarcation that distinguish them from the rest of the people, but at the same time, the Torah encourages closeness to these leaders that comes through direct interaction of the Priestly gifts.  

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