Parashas Korach

This week’s parashah includes an episode where the Jewish People were stricken with a plague, and Moshe told Aharon to offer incense to halt it. How did Moshe know that incense has the power to halt a plague? The Gemara reports that he learned this fact at Mount Sinai. In Shabbos 88b-89a, the Gemara discusses Moshe’s ascent to Mount Sinai to receive the Torah. The angels initially opposed him, arguing that a man had no right to take this holy treasure, but after some interchange, they assented and reconciled with him. The Gemara relates: “Immediately each of the angels befriended Moses and gave him something. Thus it is written (Tehillim 68:19): ‘You ascended on high, you captured a captive, you acquired gifts on account of a man’ – as recompense for their having called you ‘a man,’ you took gifts. Even the Angel of Death gave something to him, as it is written (Bamidbar 17:12-13, in our parashah): ‘He [Aharon] placed the incense and atoned for the people. He stood between the dead and the living, and the plague was halted.’ If the Angel of Death had not told Moshe that incense had this power, how could he have known?”
The Maggid discusses this Gemara in his commentary on Shemos 19, which deals with the Giving of the Torah. He asks: What kind of gifts did the angels give Moses? The one gift the Gemara identifies is the Angel of Death’s gift. By analyzing this specific gift, the Maggid elucidates the nature of the rest of the angels’ gifts.
The Jewish People are meant to promote their well-being by following the Torah, but from time to time people get confused and transgress the Torah’s dictates. When a person commits such a sin, he is liable to be punished with afflictions. Hance, in His kindness, Hashem prepared ways for people to gain a cure from afflictions. The general cure is repentance. But along with this, there are many special omens through which a person can escape the incitements of the Heavenly accusers.
For example, our Sages say (Pesachim 111b): “The angel of sustenance is called Nakid (cleanliness); the angel of poverty is called Naval (filth).” Thus, by being careful about cleanliness when handling bread, one can escape from the angel of poverty. Our Sages describe many other similar special omens throughout their writings. In the same vein, an offering of the holy incense that was used in the Mishkan and the Beis HaMikdash has the special power to ward off a plague, for it is the nature of the angel appointed over plagues to flee from the holy incense. As a general rule, each angel is aware of his nature and powers, and recognizes the special omen before which it must flee.
These special omens are not recorded in the Torah, because those who keep the Torah scrupulously do not need special omens to escape misfortune. The Torah does indicate the special power of incense, but this is only through inference from the episode from our parashah that the Gemara cites. The Torah does not contain any explicit special prescriptions for escaping particular misfortunes. The Maggid suggests that the gifts that the angels gave Moshe were precisely these special omens.
The Maggid then sets out to explain what value these gifts had to Moshe. Given that Moshe kept the Torah scrupulously, he would never need to resort to these special omens. Of what use, then, were they to him? A hint to the answer can be found, the Maggid says, in the Gemara’s statement that the angels gave Moshe the gifts as recompense for their having called him “a man.” He brings out the point with a parable.
A certain very rich man made a match for his only daughter with a young man of extremely fine character. But before the wedding, a rumor was spread that this young man suffered from various hidden physical ailments of a serious nature. The rich man’s joy was dashed, and he was greatly pained that he had made a match for his daughter with such a sickly young man. A few days after the wedding, the groom found out about the rumor, and he proved that, on the contrary, he was perfectly healthy – so much so that he could be expected to remain free of all illness his entire life.
The bride’s father was very happy, and he made a great feast, where he and his guests drank to the point of getting tipsy. In this state of elation, the rich man said to his son-in-law: “Go through my house, look over all my choice vessels, and take whatever you like.” The groom looked the house over, and found some fine and attractive vessels filled with costly medicines. He knew it would be embarrassing to ask for these vessels, since people had suspected that he was very sick. And so he justified himself as follows: “I want to make it clear that I have no need for these medicines whatsoever. But you had made up your mind that I was sick, and were ready to bear the expense of providing medicines for me. Why should I lose out on them now? True, I don’t need them, but I can give them to others who do need them and do them a great favor.”
A similar sequence of events took place in Moses’s encounter with the angels. When Moses went up on high to grapple with the angels in the upper worlds, the angels thought it bizarre. They were moved to exclaim incredulously (Tehillim 8:5): “What is a mortal that You are mindful of him?” But afterwards they saw with their own eyes that Moshe was a man of God, a spiritual giant just like the angels on high. They then sought to appease Moshe with the gifts that they gave him. In truth he had no need for these special omens. Yet he was entitled to receive them because the angels had previously made up their minds – by calling him “a man” – that these omens were suited for him. And so he took them, in order to do a kindness by giving them to those who need them.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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