Parshas Korach 5758 - '98

Outline Vol. 2, # 34

by Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein

Show of Force

Korach, Doson and Aviram initiated a rebellion in the desert. Moshe asked to meet with them, but they refused. Akeidas Yitzchak described how, in Korach’s opinion, only one party could possibly succeed. Either Korach and his men -- or Moshe. There was only room for one point of view. Whoever lost the struggle, would certainly perish. Like a man challenging someone to a duel, Korach was willing to die -- as long as his challenge could be initiated.


Parts of the world today are experiencing unprecedented technology and commerce. One result is the appearance of business instruction material focusing on character development and interpersonal relationships. While economist Ayn Rand had written “The Virtue of Selfishness” in the last generation, Stephen Covey teaches “Principle-Centered Leadership.” A by-word today is “empowerment” -- employees should be trained, then entrusted with self-management, the ability to make sound decisions on their own.

Covey explains that being either dependent, or independent, is not the ideal; rather, interdependence -- each individual working together with the whole -- is the key to successful endeavor. He shows how, very often, we engage in “win/lose” situations. This is the essence of bickering, angry confrontation -- we may lose, but the battle must be waged...

A “win/win” attitude, however, implies that everyone can gain from interaction. It merely takes the broadness of mind to empathize with the other’s attitude.

Could one challenge Moshe Rabbenu, the Giver of the Torah, with a “win/win” attitude? The suggestions of Yisro (Moshe’s father-in-law) and the daughters of Tzalaphchod, show that Moshe was indeed approachable for dialogue. Moshe, was, after all, the humblest of men...

“In the place where you find Hashem’s greatness, there you find His humility.” Looking closely, we can see that Hashem, too, instructs us to have an “interactive” relationship with Him. Tefilah -- prayer -- is a dialogue; so is Torah study. In fact, life itself is an ongoing, interactive dialogue with Hashem.

Freewill and Prior Knowledge

The subject of man’s having choice, even though Hashem knows everything -- and thus how we will choose -- is a complex topic. Here, we will deal with Rav Yerucham Levovitz’s comments from last week.

The debate concerning prior knowledge restricting freewill, entered the realm of scientific controversy in the present century. Einstein, taking the traditional view of science since Aristotle, argued that everything was predetermined, and thus, there was no room for human choice. The developers of Quantum Mechanics showed that the movement of subatomic particles could not be known in advance; thus, they argued, flexibility in certain realms can exist.

Einstein’s argument was that nothing has been left up to chance.

The either/or debate left no room in between. No chance = no choice (Einstein: since there is nothing left up to chance, there is no room for human choices.) Choice = chance (Quantum Researchers: Particle movement seems random; there is room for human choice.)

Rav Levovitz, however, agreed with neither point of view. There is nothing left up to chance. Everything is either left up to universal causality, or to human choice. There are two choosers: Hashem, and mankind. Actually, the Talmud states the same thing: “Everything is in the hands of heaven except the fear of heaven.” That is, everything is determined -- except for man’s basic choices.

How can this situation exist? How can it be, that everything is determined except for one thing, man’s choice? For if so, the one variable could affect all the most carefully laid out plans!

Three years ago, we showed that Ramban and the Shlah (Rav Yeshaya Halevi Horowitz) discussed Hashem’s knowledge in terms that left room for man’s choice. (Savannah Kollel Insights, Vol. 7, # 47):

Rav C. Chavel, in his annotations to Ramban’s Commentary on the Torah, quotes the Shlah's analysis: "Hashem’s will includes opposites, all paths are within. Choice is given to man to arouse whichever power he chooses... Before man chooses, these paths are already prepared for him... The indication for this idea is the verse, 'See, I place before you today blessing and curse...' meaning to say that all the possibilities lay already prepared..." (from C. Chavel, Commentary on the Torah, [Hebrew edition], Hashmatos v'hamiluim to parshas Vayeilech).

The Shlah felt that his own ideas were alluded to in Ramban’s terse expression: "Knowledge of the future is the knowledge of potential..." (Commentary on the Torah, Deut. [Devorim 31:21].)

In that issue, we discussed how the philosopher William James arrived at a similar conclusion, 700 years after Ramban, and 350 years after the Shlah! (See also: Tiferes Yisrael to Pirke Avos, chapter three, Mishnah 19; Ramban, Akeidas Yitzchak, parshas Vayeira.)

This is the interactive world in which we live. All the paths are carefully prepared, but it is for us to choose which paths to take. Certain areas are left open for us: the ultimate destination is determined, but the direction of the journey is up to our discretion.

Surely, Judaism is full of this thinking. We are told that mankind is judged every year at Rosh Hashanah; the Talmud says that man is judged every day, every hour. Why would we constantly be judged, if everything was completely determined from the start? It must be that Hashem created the world with an interactive format: we can choose, err, improve, plead our case.

The idea of “Hashgacha Pratis” -- divine supervision -- implies the same. Why would Hashem watch us, protect us, etc. if everything had already been completely decided? Elsewhere, Rav Levovitz states emphatically that the “Hashgacha Pratis” is absolute, over every creature and entity. Hashem supervises. He is always present, and ready to discuss the situation. He doesn’t coerce anyone, but wants the employees to be “empowered.”

Of course, this is all analogy. Maimonides states emphatically that we cannot understand this issue clearly. The implication regarding human relationships is clear, however. Discussion carries further weight than confrontation.

Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein
Kollel of Kiryas Radin
11 Kiryas Radin
Spring Valley, NY 10977
Phone: (914) 362-5156
E-mail: [email protected]

Good Shabbos!

Text Copyright © '98 Rabbi Yaakov Bernstein and Project Genesis, Inc.

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