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The World is Going Down the Drain, Fast…. Korach 5777

Nanny Sentenced To 17 Years In Prison For Toddler’s Death!

Missing 14-year-old girl’s body found in Texas landfill!

Teens charged in carjacking of 3 elderly women!

Trucker who hit, pushed man in wheelchair won’t be charged!

Local landscaper Drowns In Cesspool!

Mom charged with murder in baby’s death!

North Korean dictator uses twisted execution method to instill fear!

What do all these have in common? They are today’s headlines from newspapers around the country. It seems like only the crazy, gory, or terrible make headlines today. Where are these headlines?

Father takes off from busy work schedule to build a tree house with son!

Teenager offers to tutor two underprivileged middle school students for free!

Housewife bakes cakes and gives them out at homeless shelter!

If we read these kinds of headlines every day, I believe we would be a better nation. Everything we read or see has an effect on our souls. (This idea is of course what drives the multi billion dollar advertising industry.) The Sages teach us that the eyes are the windows to the soul. The more good our eyes see, the better our souls will be, as goodness will be what is shining into our windows, not immorality, cruelty, and morbidity.

Ashoka a ruler in India in the third century B.C. E. was very clued in to this concept. After leading bloody wars that killed and maimed hundreds of thousands, he converted to Buddhism, and spent the rest of his reign promoting non-violence. One of his ploys was to sculpt massive boulders with positive messages and place them throughout his kingdom. He understood that people seeing these messages would become more positive.

I recently went to Seattle for the weekend, and I was blown away by some of the people I met there. I would like to report on some news that I observed there, which hopefully will have an inspirational and positive effect on your life.

Man expends a significant percentage of his resources building a Torah legacy!

A 60 year old Seattle man, who works hard as a concierge in a local Best Western, shuttling people back and forth from the airport, and helping them find their way around the city, has decided to make a lasting impact on his community. Realizing that he has no Jewish children to build his legacy, Bob decided to dig into his retirement savings and buy a Torah scroll that will carry on his legacy forever.

Typically, Torah scroll donors are very wealthy individuals who can afford to give the 30-50 thousand dollars that a scroll costs. But Bob, if not wealthy in terms of dollars in the bank, is rich with Jewish values. His legacy will be studied, read, and carried proudly for generations of Seattle Jews.

Young man steps it up, reaching one milestone after another, becoming a hometown hero!

Victor, who just turned 20, didn’t have it easy growing up. He was orphaned at the age of ten, with the sudden passing of his father. Living in an economically challenged neighborhood filled with crime, he had trouble finishing school, and soon forgot about education. After getting involved with the West Seattle Torah Learning Center, his life began to change dramatically. He first discovered his Jewish heritage, something he had no knowledge of as a child. Soon after, he turned down two job offers although he could desperately use the money, because they would entail working on Shabbos.

Eventually he found a job with a security company where he works today. But the growing did not stop. Determined to reclaim his education, he studied for his GED, which he just passed last week. This Tuesday, he attained yet another milestone, getting his Bris Milah, and joining the covenant of Abraham in a supreme act of sacrifice and self-realization. Our hats are off to you, Victor.

Two young girls go on a strange diet in their quest to be more Jewishly involved!

Meagan and Amanda are two Seattle pre-teenagers who recently discovered their Jewish roots. Fascinated by what they were learning, they made a decision to lead more Jewishly involved lives. When Pesach arrived, they decided that they were going to eat no chometz, no leavened foods. The only problem was that they didn’t know what was considered leavened and what was not.

Not wanting to bother anyone, they decided that for the entire eight days of Pesach they would only eat matzah, the one thing they were sure wasn’t chometz!!! (Their father is a doctor and he approved of this diet, being that it was only a one-time, short term diet.) I’m sure that by next year their Pesach diet will be quite different, but in the meantime, Amanda and Meagan have my vote for American Idols of the Decade!

Alright, I got the reporting bug out of me, and probably won’t come back to this reporter alter-ego for a little while. However, I hope that this news will enlighten, inspire, invigorate, motivate, stimulate, provoke, prompt, propel and spur you on to growth and reaching for new heights like the Heroes of Seattle!

But it goes a bit further. We are all reporters. We all share information constantly with the people around us. We all know people who have an endless stream of negative headlines coming out of their mouths; they are only too happy to tell you who just got divorced, what’s wrong with the system, how bad the weather is, and why the world is going to pot. Then there are the best kind of PR people, Positive Reporters. They are filled with joy because it’s a beautiful day outside, because they just went to an amazing Pre-1A graduation party, because they just found out that X had a baby or Y got into medical school, and they want to share their joy with you.

We are much healthier when we choose to spend more time with positive people than with negative people. I often recommend people to have frank conversations with negativity spouters in their lives, telling them that it drags them down, and either they need to start filling their conversation with more positive topics or they will have to spend less time together.

The Mishna in Ethics of Our Fathers tells us (1:15): “Shammai says: Make your Torah study a fixed practice, say a little and do a lot, and receive everyone with a cheerful face.” Shammai recognized that we are all broadcasting, even with our facial expressions, and our broadcasts affect other people. So let’s follow Shammai’s lead, and not only greet people with a cheerful face, but with cheerful conversation as well. You can make the world a better place, and this is a great place to start; by becoming a broadcaster of positivity.

 

Parsha Dvar Torah

In this week’s Parsha we read of the rebellion of Korach, a man driven by his blind desire for honor. We read of the terrible fate that befell him and his cohorts for bringing divisiveness to the Jewish people. Let us focus on the ketores, the incense that twice plays a vital role in our parsha.

When Korach brings 250 leaders with him, all claiming that Moshe and Aaron should step down, Moshe tells them that ketores will test them. The next day every man should bring a fire pan filled with ketores, and Aaron the High Priest will do the same. G-d will show whom He favors by sending down a fire from heaven to light the ketores of the chosen one, while everyone else will die. Sure enough, the next day the test is performed, a heavenly fire comes down and ignites Aaron’s ketores, and at the same time a fire burns the other 250 rebels to death.

Later in the Parsha, the Jewish people gather around Moshe and Aaron, accusing them of killing people from G-d’s Holy Nation. (They don’t seem to get it, do they? Moshe and Aaron clearly seem to have the winning team, but you always have people rooting for the “underdog”) A plague breaks out amongst the people, and they begin dropping like flies. Moshe tells Aaron to hurry out with the ketores as a plague has started. Aaron brings out a firepan filled with burning ketores and by this act he stops the plague.

What exactly is the nature of this ketores? Is it a killer, as it killed 250 men, or is it a savior, as it stepped into the middle of a plague and halted the dying? Why is it that the same item is used both ways in the same Parsha?

One answer is that the ketores represents the idea that no thing in this world is essentially either good or bad. Good or bad are only defined by our reaction to those things. Wealth is neither good nor bad. We all have seen people whose wealth has ruined them and their families. We have also seen people who have used their wealth properly, bringing greatness to them and their families. So what is wealth, good or bad? In that same vein, is the internet good or bad? Is free speech good or bad? Is being smart good or bad?

Even something as seemingly deleterious as cancer can’t be classified as good or bad. I worked with people suffering from cancer for years. I have seen people who have changed their entire lives for the better after living through cancer. I have seen others who unfortunately passed away, but who, during the time of their illness, reached greatness unimaginable to most people of their age or of any age, for that matter. Of course, there are also those who succumb not only to the illness, but also to despair, anger, rage and disillusionment. The message of the ketores is this duality, that every object in the world contains the possibility of bringing salvation or desolation. Our actions, and our actions alone, merit the titles Good and Bad.

But why is the ketores specifically singled out to teach us this lesson? The ketores was made of many different spices. One of them was known as chelbona, and the Sages tell us that it had an exceedingly foul odor. Yet, when mixed with the other spices, it actually benefited the overall fragrance of the ketores. The chelbona is neither good nor bad; it depends on what you do with it. The very makeup of ketores contained a proof of this concept, and hence it was used to show us this powerful message.

 

Parsha Summary 

This week’s entire Parsha focuses primarily on one story, the story of Korach. Being from the tribe of Levi, Korach had an elevated status compared to most other Jews, but he wanted more power and honor. There are several opinions in the commentaries as to what exactly he wanted. Some say that he was a firstborn, and was angry that the Temple service had been taken from the firstborns and given to the Kohanim. Others say that he wanted to be the Kohen Gadol, or the leader of the Kehas clan, a job given to his younger cousin. Regardless of what exactly he was after, we know exactly how he went about getting it, and it is a perfect study in undermining authority.

Step #1 Gather a large group of followers (a.k.a. rabble), with as many famous people as possible (Yes, this is why you constantly find actors and musicians speaking out on areas of politics where their knowledge is nebulous). Step #2 Feed them well. Step #3 Make mockery of anything the other side holds sacred. Step #4 Publicly challenge your opponent.

Let’s see how Korach did this. Step #1 He gathers 250 leaders from his neighboring tribe, Reuben, among them some noted trouble-makers named Dasan and Aviram, who already had an entire file at central booking for their previous run-ins with authority. Step #2 He feeds them a delicious meal where the wine flows like right-wing rhetoric from the mouth of Rush Limbaugh. Step #3 He starts mocking some of the laws of the Torah which Moshe had taught, thus implying that the entire Torah could have been made up by Moshe. Lastly, step #4, Korach challenges Moshe publicly, claiming, “We are all a holy nation, so who do you think you are to exalt yourselves (Moshe and his brother Aaron) over us?

Moshe falls on his face before them in humility, and begs them to change their mind. Upon being rebuffed, he says “O.K., lets take this one outside. Tomorrow morning everyone should bring a fire pan with incense. G-d will miraculously bring down fire in just one pan, and everyone else will die. But remember, sons of Levi, you have so much already, why are you demanding more? Be happy with your lot.” (Here is an incredible lesson. All 250+ people knew that only one person was going to emerge standing, yet they all showed up in the morning, each sure that he would be the single winner. When arrogance and jealousy get the better of you, it is clear that you lose the ability to think clearly!)

That afternoon, Moshe, the paradigm of humility, attempts to end the rebellion peacefully by going personally to the tents of Dasan and Aviram to beg them to retract their evil mutiny. They reply with an emphatic “Even if someone were to gouge our eyes out, we would not make peace!” The next morning Moshe delivers the following ultimatum; “If these men die normal deaths, you will know that G-d didn’t send me, but if the earth opens its mouth and swallows these people alive, then you shall know that I did everything I did by the word of G-d!”

Moshe tells everyone to step back from the camp of Korach, in order to save themselves from sharing in his punishment. Sure enough, the earth opens wide and swallows up not only Korach, Dasan, Aviram, and their familes, but also everything they owned in this world, down to the last bobby pin. The 250 men did not fall into the earth – the same fire they were hoping was going to prove their supremacy over Moshe and Aaron comes down and enters their nostrils, and kills them instantaneously. This shows us the horrific results of machlokes, or divisiveness. It not only destroys the original antagonist, but also his family, and anyone around him. The fire pans of the 250 rebels were taken and beaten into sheets which were then placed on the altar in the Temple to remind everyone never to try to usurp the leadership positions that G-d dictates.

In response to this event, the people complained to Moshe and Aaron, saying “You killed the nation of G-d” (obviously, they hadn’t learnt the two key lessons of the story of Korach: that one is better off not rebelling against Moshe and Aaron (it does terrible things to your life expectancy), and that G-d is the one running the show here, not Moshe and Aaron.) A plague erupts in the camp, executing the people who were slandering Moshe and Aaron. Moshe tells Aaron that he should quickly bring a fire pan of incense and walk amongst the people to stop the plague. (Moshe learnt this trick from the Angel of Death when he went up to heaven to receive the Torah.) Aaron does so, and the plague stops.

G-d tells Moshe to conduct one final test to demonstrate to everyone that Aaron is the one picked by G-d to be the Kohen Gadol. Aaron and the leaders of the twelve tribes all bring their staffs. The staffs are deposited in the Temple, and everyone waits to see whose staff would blossom. Sure as turkeys hate Thanksgiving, Aaron’s staff is the one in full bloom the next morning. Now the people are shaken up, and express their fears (not complaints) to Moshe, that anyone who gets too close to the Temple will die! Moshe allays their fears by explaining that it is the Kohen’s job to ensure that people don’t go beyond their proper places. As the leaders of the Jews, their duty is to bring people as close to G-d as they can, but also to remind them that one must be careful with that which is holy. Judaism is a system of living, which expects one to understand the importantce of structure and boundaries.

The final portion of the Parsha discusses the various gifts given by the Jewish people to the Kohanim and Levi’im in return for their dedication to the Jewish people. The tribe of Levi received no portion in the Holy Land (save a few cities), in order that they devote themselves to promoting spirituality. In return, we are commanded to help support them. The Torah here lays down the idea that it is incumbent upon a society to support those charged with facilitating its spiritual growth. The same way we understand that we must pay taxes to support those who keep our streets clean and safe, we must also support those who keep our spirit alive and healthy. That’s all, Folks!

 

Quote of the Week: “The really happy person is the one who can enjoy the scenery on a detour.”- A. Gombiner

Random Fact of the Week: Due to gravitational effects, you weigh slightly less when the moon is directly overhead.

Funny Line of the Week: I changed my password to “incorrect” so whenever I forget it the computer will say, “Your password is incorrect.”

Have a Marvelous Shabbos,

R’ Leiby Burnham

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