Parashat Korach: Aaron in the Midst of the Congregation

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Jun 23, 2009
Numbers 17:16-24 states the following:

The L-RD spoke to Moses, saying: Speak to the Israelite people and take from them- from the chieftains of their ancestral houses- one staff for each chieftain of an ancestral house: twelve staffs in all. Inscribe each man's name on his staff, there being one staff for each head of an ancestral house; also inscribe Aaron's name on the staff of Levi. Deposit them in the Tent of Meeting before the Pact, where I meet with you. The staff of the man whom I choose shall sprout, and I will rid Myself of the incessant mutterings of the Israelites against you.
Moses spoke thus to the Israelites. Their chieftains gave him a staff for each chieftain of an ancestral house, twelve staffs in all; among these staffs was that of Aaron. Moses deposited the staffs before the L-RD, in the Tent of the Pact. The next day Moses entered the Tent of the Pact, and there the staff of Aaron of the house of Levi had sprouted, it had brought forth sprouts, produced blossoms, and borne almonds. Moses then brought out all the staffs from before the L-RD to all the Israelites; each identified and recovered his staff.

What is the point of the phrase "among these staffs was that (the staff) of Aaron?"

I heard Rabbi Fabian Schonfeld, the Rabbi of the Young Israel of Kew Gardens Hills, give the following derashah based upon this phrase in 1975. The point was, he declared, that the staff of Aaron was not separate from that of the rest of the staffs. If it was in a separate, secluded place, it would have been easy for the leaders of the other tribes to exclaim, "Of course, davka the staff of Aaron sprouted! It was in a special, unique place that was more propitious for blooming. But we (and our staffs) are not in a special, secluded place! It is not possible to bloom in the place where our staffs are!"

The musar haskel from this interpretation is obvious. As Jews, we possess an obligation to help our fellow Jews spiritually, as well as physically. If one studies Torah in one's own daled amot without reaching out to fellow Jews, if one is not "among the other staffs," one cannot impact on the other Jews who are in a different place. They will be left bereft of Torah, and use as an excuse the complaint that their place was not one suited for Torah and mitzvoth.

Yeshiva University's ideology is precisely one of "among the other staffs." We engage the world, hoping to demonstrate that one can attend university, become a member of the technologically advanced and scientifically superior Wesetern civilization, and at the same time become a talmid hakham who can understand an Avnei Miluim and the Hiddushim of R. Akiva Eger and R. Chaim Ha-levi Soloveitchik.

In Israel as well, the ideology of the hesder yeshivot is that of "among the other staffs." Young Yeshiva boys who combine their years of Torah study with a stint in the army demonstrate to the secular hiloni population of Israel that it is indeed possible to be a shomer Torah u-mitzvoth, indeed, a talmid hakham,and a participant in Israeli life.

I would add the following. There is a well known tale about a dispute between the Vilna Gaon and the Maggid of Dubno. According to this tale, the Maggid of Dubno gave the Vilna Gaon musar for learning his Torah in his own secluded kloyz, without having any influence upon others. The Vilna Gaon, of his part, purportedly responded that one des not have an obligation to produce magic tricks in order to become a talmid hakham. The more basic imperative for a Jew is to become a talmid hakham. And if the only way to accomplish this is to learn in seclusion, without having any effect upon others, so be it.

But at the end of the day, the Yeshiva University ideology (and that of the Yehivot hesder) is that of the Maggid of Dubno. Our responsibility is not only to ourselves. It is to the tzibbur, to kelal yisrael. We have an ahrayot to every single Jew. Therefore, one must plant one's staff among the other staffs. And we pray to God that our efforts will bear fruit.


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