By Rabbi Moshe Bloom
Torah VeHa’aretz Institute
When a major general is told that he will not be promoted to be the next chief-of-staff, he feels deeply disappointed—sometimes to the point of resignation. For some reason, lower-ranking soldiers do not feel they were slighted in any way. It seems that it is precisely when a person is already at a higher level than the rest of the population that he is pained if he cannot climb even higher—even if he has already attained much more than others.
This, it seems, is Korach’s story. Korach was a Levi charged with the most sacred components of the Levitical service—he was one of the bearers of the Ark! The Levite commando unit, indeed. In light of his high-ranking position, he wanted to scale the next summit: to become a kohen. Because he was not able to achieve this position, he argued, everyone should be on equal footing, “Since the entire congregation is sacred.”
If we could probe the depths of Korach’s soul, we would understand his pain. Everyone wants to fully express their talents and abilities; if they are told to stop just when they have progressed tremendously, anyone would be left smarting. Everyone has this feeling sometimes. How should we cope in such cases?
Of course, we can always say, “This is G-d’s will, so there’s nothing to argue about. G-d is the one who decides which role each person will be given. You were assigned a specific role—that and no other. This is the truth, so accept it.” While this is entirely true, the heart often has a difficult time accepting it. “Why did he achieve more, to draw closer to G-d, but I am told to stop in my tracks?”
The Drive For Self-Actualization And The Desire To Rectify The World
The answer lies in the relationship between two drives in man’s soul. One is the drive that motivates man to actualize himself. This is a wonderful, lofty drive, which ensures that man’s hidden potential will manifest itself and be used to rectify the world. There is another drive, though: man’s aspiration to serve a higher purpose, to be part of the tremendous project of rectifying the world. The proper order is that our primary motivation should be to make the world a better place. What should follow is our desire to actualize our potential. When this order is reversed and self-actualization becomes the driving force, the situation turns dangerous. We see this happen often in various situations—especially in politics, but not only there. We see how, in their burning desire to advance themselves, people trample on basic values and beliefs that they themselves had espoused until not long before. They easily find an appropriate—but patently false—excuse, which coordinates between their personal desire for self-advancement and the ideology that they preach.
However, even when the desire to rectify the world is in the driver’s seat, people might attempt to improve the world as they see fit. This can also be extremely destructive; just look at Communism (and most “isms,” for that matter). To avoid this pitfall, man must subjugate himself completely to G-d’s will, knowing that this is the only way to make His world a better place.
It is only when we have struck a certain harmony within that we can perform the specific task we are charged with in the greater picture of rectifying the world. When this is true, it doesn’t matter what outpost the general tells him to guard; he can fulfill his potential to the utmost through performing his job there, in the best way possible. Had Korach truly understood his role, and internalized that his position was the best way for him to fulfill his job in life, he never would have looked for other “higher ranking” positions.
Ma’aser: Revealing Sanctity In Less Glamorous Places
What is truly the job of the Levi’im? It seems we can find the answer in the gift that they receive as compensation for their service: ma’aser rishon, the first tithe. While this gift is the property of the Levi’im, it is not sacred. In contrast to terumah, Levi’im can give ma’aser rishon to anyone they please, and everyone can partake of it. Ma’aser rishon can even be eaten by someone impure and when the ma’aser itself is impure. Terumah, on the other hand, must be pure and consumed in a state of purity. Despite all this, ma’aser rishon is still called terumah by the Torah: “For it is the tithes set aside by the Israelites as a gift (terumah) to the L-rd that I give to the Levites as their share” (Bamidbar 18:24).
Ma’aser rishon expresses sanctity, but it is the sanctity of the mundane. It can be sold anywhere and to anyone; nevertheless, its inception is sacred. This is no shameful matter or a lesser honor—it is simply his job. Carrying the vessels of the Mishkan, guarding the Temple gates, and singing might seem less exalted, less sacred, and perhaps even less “important.” But in this manner it is possible to arrive at the summit of their self-actualization, and in this way become full participants in rectifying the world—no less than anyone positioned at a different outpost.
One of Korach’s descendants was Shmuel HaNavi, who “entered the service of the L-rd under the priest Eli” (Shmuel I 2:11). Shmuel did not attempt to become a kohen; he simply performed his personal duties to the best of his ability. It is no wonder that he merited to renew prophecy and became one of the greatest prophets, as great as Moshe and Aharon put together. And no one was more fit than he to anoint the first kings of the Jewish nation, which was a new stage in the redemption of the Jewish People in its land and in the revelation of G-d’s kingship in the world.
Rabbi Moshe Bloom is head of the English department of Torah VeHa’aretz Institute. Torah VeHa’aretz Institute (the Institute for Torah and the Land of Israel) engages in research, public education, and the application of contemporary halachic issues that come to the fore in the bond between Torah and the Land of Israel today. Recently, the Institute opened an English department to cater to the English-speaking public living in Israel and abroad. For additional information and inquiries, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 972-8-684-7325.