Korach: Master’s Words, Disciple’s Actions

 It is not whether your words or actions are tough or gentle; it is the spirit behind your actions and words that announces your inner state. — Ching Ning Chu

The events in the Torah portion of Korach, the rebellion that Korach led against Moses, occurs after the Sin of the Spies and the decree of 40 years of wandering in the desert. That generation of Israelites, known as the Generation of the Desert, would never cross the Jordan River, would never enter the Promised Land. Their children are the ones who would fight the battles, conquer the land, see the promise fulfilled.

The Berdichever explores some interesting differences between the Generation of the Desert, under the leadership of Moses, and the generation that entered Israel, under the leadership of Moses’ disciple, Joshua.

He takes his cue from the Hebrew word for desert (Midbar) which has the same root as the word “speaks” (Medaber) and demonstrates a deep connection in our story. Moses, the leader of the Generation of the Desert, accomplished things primarily via speech. In this week’s reading, Moses speaks, and God causes the earth to swallow the rebels. Moses is the great orator. He speaks with God. He speaks the word of God to the nation of Israel. Ironically, even though when we first meet Moses, he states his suffering of a speech impediment, he subsequently speaks more than any other person in the Torah. Moses undoubtedly has a divinely-powered faculty of speech.

Joshua on the other hand, the leader of the generation that entered Israel, is a man of action. When Israel fights Amalek shortly after their departure from Egypt, it is Joshua who leads the actual fighting. He continues to lead active battles when they enter Israel.

However, there is one curious exception. When Joshua conquers Jericho, the first city they encounter after crossing the Jordan, they conquer it exclusively by the sound of their voices and Shofar blasts. After a siege of seven days and an enforced silence upon the Israelite troops, Shofar blasts and the cries of the Israelite soldiers cause the walls of Jericho to come tumbling down, decisively ending the siege without one armed strike.

The Berdichever explains that the miraculous conquest of Jericho was in merit of the Sabbath. The “audio” attack of Jericho occurred on the Sabbath. He quotes the Kabbalist, Rabbi Isaac Luria (the ARI), who elaborates as follows: The elevated, superior “mind” of the master (in this case, Moses), is not generally within reach of the disciple (Joshua). Moses’ mind was so powerful, so refined, that he was able to affect the world just by the power of speech. Joshua was not at the same level as Moses (the classic comparison is that if Moses was the sun, then Joshua was the moon). Joshua affected this world as most mortals do – through action. However, the Sabbath has a special quality which allows the disciple to grasp the mind of the master. It allows the disciple to possess, even if for a limited time, some of the powers, some of the capabilities of the master.

Joshua uses his master’s powers of speech to supernatural effect by causing, just with sonic waves, the walls of Jericho to fall.

May we realize the underlying powers of both speech and action and always use them for good.

Shabbat Shalom,

Ben-Tzion

Dedication

To our daughter, Tiferet, on her graduation and moving on to high school! Mazal Tov!

About the Author
Ben-Tzion Spitz is the former Chief Rabbi of Uruguay and a candidate for the Knesset for the Zehut party. He is the author of three books of Biblical Fiction and hundreds of articles and stories dealing with biblical themes. Ben-Tzion is a graduate of Yeshiva University and received his Master’s in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University.
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