Mei HaShiloah on Korach

Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Ishbitz (Izbica) d. 1851 wrote a few homilies on Korach that stand out for their uniqueness. I used to think about these positions. Now I return after a hiatus and ask: Why did he say them and to who? And what do we see in them?

In the first piece, we have Korach who is ordinarily seen as a bad guy, portrayed here as having a greater realization of the Divine will. Fear of God here mean attempting to see things from God’s perspective. The realization is that everything we do is God’s will. Saints and sinners, skeptics and heresy hunters, Roshei Yeshvia and those who text on Shabbos are all equally doing God’s will. The answer that he receives is that humans cannot live this way. We cannot deal with reality so we need the illusion that these differences matter. He then gives a second answer that God wants our worship and we would not engage it worship if it was all illusion.

I assume that he wants everyone to do doing God’s will because in some way he feels the hierarchy is not correct. But his Matrix type answer is not our instinctive desire to know true reality. Finally, his separation of Fear of God by knowing God’s will from the worship of mizvot is most intriguing. How does it sound to my readers?

“And Korach took…” [Num 16:1].
The midrash asks: “Why is the chapter of Korach adjacent to that of tzitzit? Because Korach took a tallit that was entirely blue and asked, “Is it exempt or is it required [to have tzitzit]?” (Numbers Rabbah 18.2)
The color blue (tekhelet) signifies fear.
Korach argued that since he understood the fear of God with great clarity realizing that all is in the hand of Heaven, even fear of God.
If so, how can a person do anything against God’s will, since [human] will and acts are all from God?
How then can he do anything against [Divine] will?
For this reason [Korach] argued that [his tallit] is exempt from tzitzit, because tzitzit serve to remind one of fear.

In truth, God’s will in this world is not visible to human eyes.
As stated in the Talmud (Hagiggah 13b), that Ezekiel prayed concerning the face of the ox, to turn it into a cherub. For the ox alludes to greatly clarified wisdom; in the depth
[of understanding] all is in the hands of Heaven, and man’s [free] choice is no thicker than a garlic skin, only according to his own perception.
For God has hidden His way from human beings, because He seeks man’s service, and if all were revealed to him, service could not flourish.
Mei ha- Shiloah (Korach Vol. I, p. 154)

The second one is a corollary from the first, if everybody is really doing God’s will then the true Jewish position is complete equality between Jews and the answer is that we will acknowledge this in the messianic age. So we have to be hierarchical until then but know that we really accept equality.
So if this an accepting of the hierarchical system or breaking out? Can we life in anticipation of the messianic age?

“The entire congregation is holy, and God is in their midst; why then do you lift yourselves up above the congregation of the Lord.” (Num 16:3).

Korach makes the claim that there is no hierarchy in Israel where one individual ought to be set higher than his fellow man, for God is in the midst of the entire congregation.
This is because God dwells within everyone equally, as it is written (TB, Taanit, 31a) “In the future, the Holy One Blessed Be He will make a dance for all the righteous.” “Dance” refers to a circle, in which no one is closer [to the center] than his fellow man. Korach claimed that this vision was already realized at the time.
Mei ha- Shiloah (Korach; Vol. I, p. 155)

How would you use it in a sermon today? What was the original meaning and would we be using it in the same sense?
I know what I wrote a decade ago. What does it mean now?

3 responses to “Mei HaShiloah on Korach

  1. steve mcqueen

    I studied this sefer last year, it is not simple. In addition to trying to fathom what he was meaning I also wondered about who is audience was at the time. One of the keys I used was the realisation that his teachings were so precious to his student that the student carried around fragments for years and after the Rebbe’s death made the effort to collect fragments from others to produce the book. (I am trying to recall what is said in the intro as to how the sefer was put together). So his teachings made a major major impact on the students, which means they must be saying far more than a simple commentary on current events in the Jewish world would reveal. The only thing I can think of that would have such an impact would be if the teachings were a highly effective tool in avodat Hashem, and working backwards from that position often allowed me to get a little it of what was going on.

    Another point – he often says how every Jew has a fixed position in spirituality (if i have understood this correctly) so the reference to hierarchy must refer to this wider theme. IIRC, his view of the hierarchy very much goes against modern ideas of how anyone can make anything of themselves.

  2. I have a fond memory of you teaching this to my ninth grade Maimonides class some 18 years ago. The way I recall you taught it then – filtered through my hazy ninth grade understanding and refracted through retrospection – was that the Ishbitzer was engaged in a wider project to rehabilitate the bad guys of the Good Book, and at the same time to completely turn our perception of who is good and who is bad on its head.

  3. Sounds like a derivative of (scientific?) determinism.

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