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Home » Free Choice, Korach

Korach: Turn the Other Cheek

Submitted by on June 11, 2007 – 5:37 pmNo Comment | 1,545 views

Taking Offense

Have you ever noticed that it takes years to gain maturity and only moments to discard it? I have  witnessed grown men and women regress to childlike behavior, when thrust into an argument. Barbs are exchanged, passions rise; before you know it otherwise balanced adults carry on like children. Why? Because they were offended by something someone said.
Such behavior is easy to criticize when witnessed from the outside, but deep down we know that we too are susceptible. We each have vulnerabilities that we don’t want exposed. When these sensitivities are probed, we respond with passion and even immaturity. Emotional reactions are easily triggered, but nearly impossible to control. Yet, the Torah demands precisely that.

Moses

Moses was exemplary of such inner discipline. Leaders are rarely without detractors and in that regard Moses was not different. Of his many detractors, Datan and Abiram stood out as intractable enemies.
From the very beginning these two men  were the bane of Moses’ existence. As a young prince, growing up in Pharaoh’s palace, these two Jews betrayed him before Pharaoh, forcing Moses to flee the country. (1) When Moses introduced the heavenly manna to Israelites in the desert, these two men stirred up trouble by challenging the rules under which the Manna was offered. (2)
Datan and Abiram  utilized every opportunity to challenge Moses’ authority so when they joined Korach’s rebellion against Moses it was hardly a surprise.
Yet we learn that Moses, in an incredible display of humility and self discipline, invited Datan and Abiram to dialog with him. When they mocked and refused his invitation, Moses didn’t take offense. He believed in “turn the other cheek,” so when he saw that they wouldn’t come to him, he humbly went to them. (3)
Moses, the leader of Israel, challenged repeatedly, had every right to cast them out and punish them, but he wouldn’t hear of it. How did he manage such discipline? What is the magic potion that counters the rise of the ego and enables you to turn the other cheek? What incredible self effacement!

Anger and Faith

I’ll be honest here and confess that there is no magic potion. It was not a pill that Moses took, but the perspective he brought to his interactions with others. turn the other cheek
Our sages equated anger with the cardinal sin of idolatry. Moses must have reasoned that since the sin of anger is so grievous as to be equated with idolatry and since we are required to sacrifice our lives to avoid idolatry, surely we are required to sacrifice our ego and rein in our tempers to avoid anger. (4)
It remains to us to explain the connection between anger and idolatry. We must be prepared to die in defense of our faith, this is true. But to equate a rising temper with idolatrous worship, to ask us to make a herculean effort to avoid anger as we would to avoid idolatry, requires an explanation.

The Master Plan

Divine providence is a central tenet of our faith. We believe in a personal G-d, who guides the universe and, who is intimately engaged in every facet of our lives. He knows if we are happy or sad, healthy or ill, wealthy or poor. He not only knows it, but actually orchestrates it.
We would not be poor if G-d did not will it nor would we be wealthy if G-d did not will it. The doctrine of divine providence posits G-d as the root cause for all, even the insignificant, details of our lives.
Everything works in accordance with his grand design; nothing is coincidental. G-d determines whether I catch the green light on my way home from work or get stuck at the red light. G-d determines whether I trip and stub my toe or make it home safely. The divine master plan is all encompassing.
Every decision involves painstaking deliberation because every decision affects the overall scheme of history and even creation. If I can’t find my blue suit before an important meeting, there is a reason. We believe this reason is determined by the cosmos ; the decision was made at the moment of creation.
Even insignificant facts affect the master plan. This may sound ridiculous on a logical plane, but that is  because we are not privy to divine logic. If we understood G-d’s way of thinking we would understand why G-d directs meticulous attention to every detail.

A Divine Affair

If I accept that every occurrence is deliberately planned and executed by G-d, then everything that happens to me is also planned and executed by G-d. There is no difference in this regard between stubbing my own toe or being hurt or offended by another. Neither could happen if G-d had not willed it and If he willed it, who am I to object or take offense? (5)
I know. I know. You’re thinking, “Rabbi, what about free choice? Didn’t the person, who hurt me choose to hurt me? Are you saying that G-d forced him to slight me or to take a slug at me? Is he not accountable for his actions?”
You’re right. Your interlocutor was not forced to hurt you, he chose to hurt you. But he wouldn’t have succeeded had G-d not first determined that (for some reason, not necessarily related to you, but related to the divine master plan linked to the cosmos and to creation) you were meant to be hurt today.
Your interlocutor didn’t have to be the executor of G-d’s plan. His choice to hurt you was sinful and for that he will have to offer an accounting before G-d. But that is between him and G-d; neither your affair or your concern. You have no cause to be upset with him over that. Your concern is that you were hurt today. Don’t blame your interlocutor, blame G-d.
If you blame your interlocutor and grow angry with him, you deny the divine origin of your pain. You  banish G-d from this occurrence and declare that he had no hand in it. We believe that G-d is omni present and cannot be banished from any time or space. Banishing G-d from what transpired is, in a word, heresy. It is tantamount to idolatry, which is why our sages equated the two. (6)
We now see why Moses never grew angry over Datan and Abiram’s audacity. He was disheartened by their taunts, but he took comfort in the knowledge that his distress served a heavenly cause by aiding the divine master plan. As to Datan and Abiram’s insolence, well Moses never took that personally. That was between them and G-d. For them, Moses felt only compassion.

Footnotes

    1. In the process of defending a Jew from Egyptian aggression, Moses killed an Egyptian slave-driver. Datan and Abiram reported Moses to the authorities and Moses was sentenced to death. See Exodus 2: 11-16 and Devarim Rabba, 2: 27 for details on Moses’ miraculous escape.
    2. Moses relayed G-d’s instructions that the Manna must be consumed on the day it was collected. Datan and Abiram refused to accept this and challenged Moses. They deliberately left over Manna for the next day and the Manna grew putrid. See Exodus 16: 20. Shemot Rabbah, 25: 10. 3.Exodus 24: 12-15.
    3. Exodus 24: 25. Midrash Tanchuma, Parsha Korach, #3.
    4. Bab. Talmud Shabbos, 105b. Zohar, Genesis, 27b.
    5. We surely have no cause to grow angry with G-d. G-d’s intention was not personal, it was related to the master plan of creation. Aiding the master plan of creation is beneficial not only to all of creation, but also to ourselves. In a round about way, our own pain comes back to benefit us personally.
    6. For further elucidation see Iggeret Hakodesh, ch. 25 (R. Schneur Zalman of Liadi, founder of Chassidus Chabad, 1745 – 1813).

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