The other day I was introduced to a successful businessman who was interested in studying Breslov Chassidut together. In order to get know each other, we shared our backgrounds, and he said something that has stuck in my mind ever since.
My newfound chavruta explained that although his wife and children were making headway in their spiritual journeys, his growth was stunted and even retarded because he enjoyed the pleasures that his wealth provided. Was this a valid excuse?
Logic is something that we value as being supreme. Unfortunately, it is oftentimes the preferred vehicle of the yetzer hara (evil inclination). This is because logic is a byproduct of the mind, but the mind is limited by its mental capacity and perceived reality.
Korach is the ultimate example of this flaw. Korach himself was a brilliant Tzaddik and leader, yet his logic led him to be swallowed up alive. He made the following argument: The Torah calls for one string of techeilet (sky-blue wool) to be added to the three white tzitzit strings on each corner of a garment. (Today, in the absence of techeilet, we put four white tzitzit-strings on each corner.) If one string of techeilet permits the wearing of a four-cornered garment, then surely a garment made completely of techeilet would not require tzitzit! Similarly, if one tiny white blemish renders a person a metzora (see Leviticus 13:10-11), how can someone covered from head to toe with a white blemish be considered pure? (ibid., 13:13).
Spiritually, his arguments are profound. Every day we recite the blessing on the tallit: “who has sanctified us and commanded us to wrap ourselves with tzitzit.” We don’t say “to wrap ourselves with a tallit” because the spiritual power of the techeilet/tzitzit is so great that they upgrade the entire tallit garment to their level of sanctity. Korach therefore argued that an entire garment made of techeilet should certainly have awesome holiness and not require anything further. His reasoning was based on viewing the entire Jewish people as equal – after all, hadn’t everyone experienced prophecy? What more is there? We are all like the superior garment made entirely of techeilet; why should Moses be the lone techeilet string? As Korach said to Moses and Aaron, “The entire assembly is holy…why do you raise yourselves above us?” (Numbers 16:3).
But Korach made a terrible mistake. For even if, logically, a garment made of techeilet is superior, there is no such thing as a “perfect” garment. Even the greatest of Tzaddikim must always grow and improve. No one can ever say, “I made it.” Every Jew, from Moses to Moe, has his own unique challenges that he can overcome only through the Torah and mitzvot – through the strings of techeilet/tzitzit that God has commanded us.
Korach erred the other way around, too. If a little blemish causes a person to become a metzora, certainly becoming white all over means you’re eternally doomed – all hope must be lost! Was he right? Like my chavruta, if one feels so far, if he is entirely absorbed with the frivolities and pleasures of life, can he ever change?
Yes, he can!
No matter where a Jew has fallen, there is always hope. As long as we call out to God, hold on to our faith, and do what we can, we can transform even the lowest descent to the greatest ascent. As the Torah teaches, someone who is completely covered by a white blemish can be pronounced pure! Korach’s logic was flawed because he couldn’t grasp the kindness of God. No matter how high or low we find ourselves, the Torah is our means to reach a greater closeness with God. As long as we aren’t fooled by false logic and follow the counsel of the true Tzaddikim, every one of us can always come closer. Amen!
Based on Likutey Halakhot, Shiluach HaKen 4