Parshat Korach 5776 – 2016

This dvar Torah is in memory of my mother Pearl Roth Oliner Frydman z”l on the occasion of her 16th yahrzeit.

In the sixth aliyah of our parsha, HaShem instructs Aaron in the responsibilities and privileges of the Kohanim and Levi’im. As part of this, HaShem describes certain parts of the korbanot (sacrifices) that are to be set aside specifically for the Kohanim and their sons and daughters. Then HaShem says,

בְּרִית מֶלַח עוֹלָם הִיא

“This is an eternal covenant of salt.” (Numbers 18:19)

This covenant of salt between HaShem and the Kohanim is connected with HaShem’s instructions in Parshat Vayikra, where HaShem says,

עַל כָּל קָרְבָּנְךָ תַקְרִיב מֶלַח

“With every sacrifice, bring salt.” (Leviticus 2:13)

Earlier this week, Yechiel [1] reminded us that after the destruction of the beit hamikdash, our table has become the mizbe’ah, the altar. The eternal covenant of salt that HaShem bequeathed to the Kohanim in this week’s parsha is now a covenant in which we each partake when we eat our bread with salt after reciting hamotzi.

This week’s parsha goes on to say that HaShem tells Aaron,

(לֹא תִנְחָל וְחֵלֶק לֹא יִהְיֶה לְךָ בְּתוֹכָם. (במדבר 18:20…

This refers to the fact that the Kohanim would not inherit land and would not receive a portion of land when the Israelites entered eretz hakodesh (the Holy Land; the Land of Israel).

HaShem goes on to say,

אֲנִי חֶלְקְךָ וְנַחֲלָתְךָ בְּתוֹךְ בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל

“I am your portion and your inheritance among the children of Israel.״ (Numbers 18:20)

Our parsha begins with Korach saying to Moshe and Aaron “rav lachem” “who do you think you are?! Here, in the sixth aliyah, HaShem is increasing Aaron’s role to the highest possible level, namely that Aaron and his descendants are HaShem’s portion and inheritance.

In this week’s parsha, only the Kohanim are chosen, but later in Parshat Va’Etchanan, Hashem declares the entire House of Israel to be am kadosh and am segulah — a holy and chosen people. (Deuteronomy 7:6)

How do we understand this in light of the punishment of Korach, Datan, Aviram and their supporters? How do we understand our own chosen-ness while remaining  humble?

In his Dvar Torah on this week’s parsha, Rabbi Dov Linzer [2] writes that Kedusha is a state of becoming and it is an elusive destination always to be reached for, yet never to be grasped. Kedusha is a goal that inspires us to grow and become closer to HaShem, but as soon as we believe we are holy and entitled, we fall prey to the Korachs of the world. Rav Linzer says that it is our task to reject Korach’s assertion that we are all holy. Instead, we must embrace the Torah’s mandate to become holy without ever declaring that we have completed the process.

When we immerse in the mikveh for conversion or taharat mishpacha, we declare kasher and not kadosh. We recite Kiddush, Kedushah and Kaddish and there are many other examples, but we do not declare ourselves to be the fulfillment of the holiness to which these prayers and rituals bring and guide us.

Kasher is a madrega, a level, that we must achieve in order to eat, and in order to transform our state. Kedusha is a goal toward which we rise, literally, on our toes as we emulate the angels, but as long as we live in this world, we may never acknowledge our own holiness, or our own chosen-ness, as being completely fulfilled.

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[1] Yechiel Shalom Goldberg, PhD. is a financial planner with Fraser financial Group and a master teacher at Congregation Bnai David-Judea in Los Angeles.

[2] “Being Holy or Becoming Holy,“ by Rabbi Dov Linzer, Norman and Tova Bulow Rosh HaYeshiva Chair, Yeshivat Chovevei Torah. http://files.ctctcdn.com/49c02d16001/e453fd96-f8f3-482d-80aa-cc2ab0d140f7.pdf