This Shabbat, we read the Torah portion of Korach in synagogues across the world. It is also “Gimmel Tammuz” (the 3rd day of the Hebrew month of Tammuz), the Rebbe’s 21st yahrzeit.
A brief synopsis of this week’s Torah portion: Following on the heels of the incident with the Spies (see last week’s essay), controversy erupts. Our sages say, “What is a controversy that is not for the sake of heaven? It is the controversy of Korach and his whole faction” (Ethics 5:17).
Korach, Moses’ first cousin, leads a rebellion against the leadership of Moses. Korach and his 250 followers accuse: “You take too much honor upon yourselves, for the entire congregation is all holy, and G-d is in their midst! Why do you raise yourself above G-d’s community?” (Numbers 16:3).
What was Korach’s complaint? He was not opposed to hierarchy within the Jewish community. He didn’t want to negate the priesthood, for example, he just wanted to join it. Rather, Korach was asserting that since the purpose of Judaism is to carry out the mitzvot (commandments), it makes no difference who a person is. The act of doing a mitzvah is the same, regardless of who does it.
Unsure how to react, Moses consults with G-d, who tells him that He will conduct a test that will demonstrate who is worthy of holding the highest positions.
Moses then tells Korach and his company, “In the morning, G-d will make it known who is His (for Levite service), and who is holy (for priesthood), and He will draw them near to Him.”
Why did Moses tell them to wait until morning? Couldn’t they have settled it right away?
Here are three answers. The first two are from Rashi, the third is from the Rebbe:
1. Moses wanted to give them time to recant their position;
2. By saying that they should wait until morning, Moses was hinting that G-d’s division of the Levites, the Priesthood and everyone else, was as fixed as the distinction between night and day. Neither could be changed.
Before I share with you the Rebbe’s answer, I am compelled to wonder: Why do we need a third answer? What is lacking from the two answers I just presented?
1. How long does it take to recant? A minute? A day? As there is no fixed amount of time, waiting until morning is either not enough, or it is too long, or perhaps just right.
2. Since the controversy took place during the day, then if Moses’ intent was to allude to the fixed division between day and night, he could have merely waited until the evening; it does not seem necessary to wait until the following morning.
Thus, we have two answers that may leave us wanting more. I thus introduce to you the third reason:
As mentioned, Korach was distraught that since when it came to the actual performance of a mitzvah — and as our sages tell us, “Action is the main thing” — every Jew is identical. Why, therefore, should Moses be elevated above everyone else?
Moses’ response: Morning.
It is not enough to do the mitzvot, but they must be done like the “morning,” that is, they must shine like the brightness of morning.
Thus, there is indeed a difference between the mitzvot performed by Moses and those performed by everyone else; Moses’ mitzvot are always like “morning.”
* * *
When the Rebbe passed away 21 years ago, Lubavitch — and dare I say, the entire world — was in mourning. Yet in the years since that fateful day, we have endeavored to transform mourning into morning. Darkness to light. Sadness to joy.
The Rebbe set up a global network of his representatives, and empowered everyone he encountered to make the world a better place. He offered a clarion call to brighten our lives, and the lives of those we encounter, with the light of Torah and mitzvot.
True, we have many challenges today. However, if we keep the goals that the Rebbe set us constantly in mind, the future is bright. Bright as morning.