Korach is one of the most intriguing parshiyos of the Torah. We read it, study it and wonder how Korach could have been foolish enough to take on Moshe and Aharon. The question of “Korach shepikei’ach hayah mah ra’ah leshtus zeh” is discussed in the Medrash and by dozens of meforshim and darshonim, and yet it perplexes us anew each year when Parshas Korach is lained.
Really, how could Korach have been so foolish?
There are so many answers given, and they are all certainly true and bear lessons for us in our daily lives. Korach’s ego drove him. His negius, his personal agenda, caused him to miscalculate.
Perhaps we can add another explanation: His jealousy caused him to be a bitter and unhappy person. “Ein odom choteh ela im nichnas bo ruach shtus.” He became so angry and indignant that he became deranged. Nothing was good enough. Nobody was good enough. He found fault in everyone and with everything.
His ego couldn’t be satisfied and he found no pleasure. There was no rest from his torment. It was a shtus that overcame him and drove him to his early demise and eternal shame. It could have begun simply with a small smirk, an offhanded flippant comment, which festered and grew until his entire personality was one of bitter resentment and quarrelsomeness.
Other sad, unfulfilled people fell into Korach’s grasp until there were enough individuals under his spell to enable him to lead a revolution to actualize his fantasies.
Many who hoped to bring happiness and joy into their lives were misled into thinking that Korach’s leadership would lead to utopian bliss. Ohn ben Peles, however, was saved by his wife from eternal damnation. He had believed that he would gain were Korach to assume the leadership position, as he had been his friend. She reasoned that regardless of whether Korach or Moshe would emerge as the leader, Ohn’s life wouldn’t change. It didn’t pay to put his life on the line for an insidious campaign that would yield him no benefit. Regardless of who was on top, he would still be just another disgruntled voice among many.
Perhaps the realization of life as she explained it restored a measure of joy to Ohn. Maybe she succeeded in explaining to him the reason for his morose feelings and he was able to overcome them without resorting to the anti-social behavior that doomed his friends and colleagues. What we do know is that because of his wife, he was saved from the “shtus” that consumed the others. In fact, Chazal attach the posuk of “Chochmas noshim bonsah beisah” (Mishlei 14:1) to this tale, conveying that female wisdom and perceptiveness builds the home. Shtus, ego, bitterness and divisiveness destroy people and their homes. Chochmah, wisdom, maintains the home and the people who dwell in it.
Her wisdom is addressed to us as well. We can look around and concentrate on the many challenges, difficulties and failures that abound. Life provides ample amounts of pain, worry and fear. Yet, we must concentrate on the positives, finding reasons for happiness and joy, despite the murkiness. Just as there are bad people, there are also many who are good. Despite the darkness around us, there is also light and plenty to be proud of.
Complainers never win. They are never really happy. They don’t build. They don’t create. They don’t contribute. They are on the outside looking in, complaining.
After decades of research and many clinical trials, researchers at the world-renowned Mayo Clinic think they have found the key to being happy. The media reported on this major development.
The report states, “If we learn to command our thoughts, shifting perspective away from the negative, and embrace the positive, we will be happier.”
“You can choose to live focusing on what is not right in your life,” said Dr. Amit Sood, who led the research.
“Resiliency has everything to do with happiness,” Dr. Sood said.
The report concludes, “And perhaps one of the biggest hindrances to being happy is too much thinking about one’s self.”
What their research has uncovered should be nothing new to us. The findings are literally lifted from the teachings of Chazal, drilled into us through the study of Torah and mussar classics and the subject of untold shmuessen. We have been hearing it forever, but perhaps a little reminder is always good.
The Brisker Rov, Rav Velvel Soloveitchik, would visit the Polish resort town of Krenitz in the summertime. While there, he came to know a young, brilliant Chassidishe bochur, Rav Avrohom Landau, who went on to become the Strikover Rebbe.
During the early days of World War II, the rov sought refuge in Warsaw. Separated from his wife and several of his children, he was weighted down by concern and worry for them. They were clearly in danger and there was little he could do to enable them to join him.
During that period, he met up with that Chassidishe bochur. They were walking on the streets of Warsaw when the rov suddenly stopped. He turned to the future rebbe and said, “The posuk states, ‘Odom ki yomus ba’ohel.’ Chazal derive a drash from the wording of the posuk and declare, ‘Ein haTorah nikneis ela bemi shemeimis atzmo aleha.’ The literal translation is that the Torah belongs to those who kill themselves in its pursuit.
“The Torah is described as the ‘eitz chaim,’ the tree of life, sustaining those who study and follow it,” continued the rov. “If so, what do Chazal mean when they say that the Torah belongs to those who kill themselves for it?”
With that question in mind, the rov turned to this bochur and said, “Chazal say that someone who wants to live must die. I understand their lesson to mean that a person cannot allow natural feelings of anxiety and unease to debilitate and break him, as doing so would prevent the person from being able to properly serve Hashem. Therefore, in order to be an eved Hashem, a person has to keep his focus away from thoughts that worry him and focus on happier things. We can only live if we put aside and kill worrisome, distracting thoughts.”
That’s only half the story.
The Brisker Rov never did get reunited with his wife and the children who were with her. They remained trapped, and as hard as he tried, he was unable to secure their release. Along with millions of others, they perished in the dreadful inferno.
He made it to Eretz Yisroel with five sons and two daughters, to whom he was a single parent. He took a leading role in rebuilding the shattered Torah world and carried a lonely torch of truth in a grey world. He had every reason to feel stress and contrition.
However, in a letter written during that era, his talmid and relative, Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro, wrote, “We learn every day at beiso ha’aliz shel haGriz, the joyous home of the Brisker Rov.”
Despite all the reasons for depression and despair, the Brisker Rov, transplanted in a new country away from family members, talmidim and townspeople who perished along with an entire world, succeeded in living. He was the “odom ki yomus ba’ohel” paradigm in the traditional understanding and according to the way he explained the concept to the Chassidishe bochur in Warsaw.
Every morning, when we awaken, we recite several brachos. As we begin to daven Shacharis, we give praise to Hashem for granting the rooster the ability to differentiate between night and day.
Every morning, the rooster awakens at dawn and announces the arrival of a new day. Rav Aryeh Levin once explained that if you would take a rooster from Yerushalayim to a city anywhere in the world, it would adapt immediately to its new surroundings and awaken at dawn in that locale.
It makes no difference where it was yesterday and where it will be tomorrow, said Rav Levin. The only reality the rooster knows is today, and it sings the song of today. That’s the message of this opening brochah. Hashem imbued the rooster with this sense to live today. That brochah is a pertinent reminder to us every day.
We have to deal with the day we have. We should not create anxiety by concentrating on the past and becoming consumed by thoughts of, “What if?” or irrational fears of the future. We must deal with reality and do our best to survive, succeed and sing as the rooster does.
The great builder of Torah, the Ponovezher Rov, Rav Yosef Shlomo Kahaneman, who lost so much in the Holocaust, arrived on the shores of Eretz Yisroel and began rebuilding the world of Ponovezh that was lost. People mocked him, thinking that the tragedies he experienced had driven him insane. How could he possibly undertake to build a giant yeshiva? Didn’t he know that it was all gone and that there’s no way that way of life could ever be recreated?
He would often reflect upon the hardship and suffering of those years.
Once, when he heard people wondering if he was in control of his faculties, he said, “The pain and sorrow are enough to drive a man insane. Sometimes, you see a meshugene, an emotionally disturbed individual, and you watch him standing on a street corner throwing stones at passersby, spreading his pain, intent on causing destruction.
“I also threw stones in the street. I threw them one on top of another. As I threw them, the pile grew and grew until it became a yeshiva!”
People write us letters, wondering why we don’t have articles about cognitive restructuring, reframing and positive therapy. Thankfully, I had never heard of those terms and had to look them up.
We don’t need the Mayo Clinic to teach us how to be happy. “Uleyishrei lev simcha” is not just a phrase. It’s our way of life.
We seek to become yishrei lev, enabling us to walk with an upright attitude and approach, allowing the blessing and joys of life to uplift and encourage us so that we do not become sidetracked by the inevitable challenges. We study Torah to be productive, optimistic, confident, successful and besimcha.
Last week, I attended the wedding of my cousin, Moshe Boruch Levin, to Liba Tabak at Bell Works in Holmdel, New Jersey. As befitting these wonderful families, there was a huge crowd. There were many great people there that night, but there was one scene that stuck in my mind. The band was playing a song that the kallah’s father had composed to the words “Veyizku liros bonim uvnei vonim oskim baTorah uvemitzvos al Yisroel shalom.” There was a large crowd gathered around one particular table. What was the commotion? Two of the world’s greatest Torah giants, one from this country and one from Eretz Yisroel, were sitting next to each other, engaged in a warm, vibrant conversation.
Rav Berel Povarsky and Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel were smiling as they spoke. They weren’t trading stories. They were delving into deep conversation regarding a number of sugyos in Shas. A dozen people stood behind and around them, trying to glean words of chochmah from the great chachomim.
The two roshei yeshiva were experiencing intense simcha as they spoke. Those listening were experiencing simcha and those watching the scene were also b’simcha. It was the joy of fulfillment, the joy of two people from opposite ends of the world united by Torah.
The knowledge that anyone who taps into their chochmah is attached to the wellspring of eternal knowledge and bliss brings simcha to anyone who seeks to build as the Ponovezher Rov and the Brisker Rov did.
Let us use the chochmah we possess to engage in pursuits that unite, not divide; that build, not destroy; that bring joy, not bitterness; that bring intelligence, not shtus, so that we will be genuinely happy and thus properly prepare the world for the return of Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon Hakohein at the helm of our nation once again. Amein.
PHOTO: REUVEN KAPLAN