A Guest Post by E. Fink
The next in a weekly dvar Torah series by Rabbi Eliyahu Fink, Rabbi at Pacific Jewish Center in Venice Beach California.
This week we read the story of Korach and his rebellion. The rebels were unhappy with the distribution of power in the Israelite camp and made their voices heard. Technically, Korach and his followers were mored b’malchus, they rebelled against the defacto king of the Jewish people in the desert, Moshe. They attempted to undermine Moshe and the system of Kohanim and Leviim as it was implemented in the Mishkan and religious life of the Jewish people. The roots of their sins are many and the opinions run the gamut of social and religious ills.
God tells Moshe to test the veracity of the rebels by offering incense. A fire comes and consumes the rebels against the Kohen and Levi system. Just before the fire comes, God instructs Moshe and Ahron to separate themselves from the midst of the rebels. It appears that in order for God to succesfully smite the rebels, Moshe and Ahron need to get out of the way.
The Ramban is troubled by this detail. God can certainly save Moshe and Ahron from death even if they are right in the middle of the rebels! Why must they separate.
Reb Tzadok from Lublin writes that even when one sees that they have Divine assistance in their actions it does not mean that God has “signed off” on their actions. One could see or even experience God’s help and yet be doing the wrong thing. This is because God responds to mesiras nefesh, behavior that indicates one’s willingness to sacrifice their time, personal pleasure and even their life, for a cause. Remarkably, God’s response is not limited to causes that are “right”.
Korach had an altruistic motive. According to Reb Tzadok, Korach was ahead of his time. He was living in a world where each person’s kedusha was limited. But he wanted to be living in a future time, where everyone would have equal kedusha. He wanted it so badly, he knew he was going to die for his cause. He was willing to do whatever it takes. That was mesiras nefesh. His cause was flawed, but he still had mesiras nefesh.
God tells Moshe and Ahron to separate from Korach’s rebellion because Korach’s mesiras nefesh was recognized by God and could have cause the demise of Moshe and Ahron had they stayed intermingled with Korach and his rebels.
I find this to be a profound message in two ways. First, sometime it seems to us like the “universe” is helping us along, or God is giving us direct assistance, and we think that we must be on the right track. “Not so fast”, says Reb Tzadok. God gives assistance to those who are moser nefesh. Not necessarily those who are right. Second, the importance of mesiras nefesh in our avodas Hashem. It is worth noting that a Jewish life is going to be different than a secular life. When we do whatever it takes and we sacrifice time, status, money, pleasure all in deference to Judaism we are tapping into the great power of mesiras nefesh and hopefully it will bring us Divine assistance in our lives.