By: Rabbi Moshe Goodman, Kollel Ohr Shlomo, Hebron
Inviting the Holy Presence in Our Holy Land
In various places our Sages homiletically examine a word in the Torah by using its letters in various orders and permutations. It seems that, in regard to the episode of Korah, the letters for the verb root of tithes, maaser, ayin, shin, resh, discussed at the end of this parsha, take a special role. The “first tithe,” maser rishon is the gift given to the Levites, and it is clear that this parsha wishes to teach us through the laws stipulated about this gift in juxtaposition to the rebellion of Korah, from the tribe of Levi, the proper place of the Levites in relationship to the Kohanim and the rest of Israel. A different order of the letters ayin, shin, resh bring us to the word “shoer”, shin, ayin, resh, “a gate keeper.” Our Sages teach that the Levites had two primary duties, “gate keepers” of the Sanctuary, i.e keepers of the Sanctuary and its vessels, or “singers” for the Service therein. Our Sages also teach that Korach was a carrier of the Holy Ark, one of the vessels in the Mishkan, which means he held this duty of “gate keeping.” Interestingly, another permutation of these letters spells “eres,” which means bed. In the book of Melachim (II, 11, 1-3) it is said that Yoash was hidden in “room of beds,” which our Sages interpret to mean to be the Holy of Holies, location of the Holy Ark (the connection between the Ark and the bed requires a much deeper study which is out of scope of our discussion here), the vessel which Korach carried. Yet another permutation of these letters brings us to the word “rasha,” a wicked person. Indeed, the only places in the Torah where specific people are defined as “wicked people” is in this parsha in regard to the followers of Korach and also in regard the “two fighting men” in parshat Shemot identified by our Sages to be Datan and Aviram, to become the future followers of Korach.
Another permutation of these letters spells “ra’ash,” which mean an earthquake. Just as in an earthquake, Korach and his followers were “swallowed” into the abyss of the earth. Another permutation of these letters spells “sarua,” which means dislocated falling thigh, mentioned in the Torah (Vayikra 21, 18) in context of a blemish that invalidates a person from serving in the Beit Hamikdash. Interestingly, the “falling thigh” is mentioned in the context of the Sota, who if found guilty of adultery, finds her death through a “falling thigh.” Rebbe Nahman indeed teaches (Midot, Meriva 2, 3) that by controversy, so associated with Korach, one falls into the desire of adultery. Also, the permutation of these letters spell “se’ar,” hair. Our Sages explain the background of Korach’s revolt being related to the shaving of all his hair, as the Leviim were commanded, and Korach’s wife incited him against Moshe who had shaved Korach’s hair. In opposition to Korach’s wife who ruined her husband by complaining about his hair, On ben Pelet’s wife saved her husband by revealing her hair when Korach’s followers came to take her husband as part to offer incense; the followers were deterred from this immodest gesture and left On ben Pelet drunk in his bed (Sanhedrin 109b).
What does all this mean? We see the intricacy and mastery of how Hashem runs the universe, that the same letters can be used for the good or misused for evil and punishment. A full analysis of what we discussed here should take numerous pages, but meanwhile we hope that the reader will continue contemplate the deeper meaning of these permutations and their relationships to grasp some of the beauty of the Torah and the Holy Tongue. Hebron too is the “sha’ar” , the gate and threshold of Gan Eden. It is here also that we see the dominion of the Kohanim over the Levites as this city is listed at the top of the Kohanic cities before the Levite cities in the book of Yehoshua.
Real Stories from the Holy Land #323
“One time three people (Arabs) descended into the Cave of the Patriarchs and two were burnt immediately, while the third cried out intensely. Then, the people asked him why he cried out and he explained why, and then he too was burnt. From then onwards the Arabs did not continue to descend into cave…”
Sources: Sefer Hebron p. 265
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