Are We There Yet…?- Rabbi Barry Gelman

Are We There Yet….?

Is our Judaism something that causes us to aspire to certain goals or does it cause stagnation and the belief that one has arrived at their final destination.

Yehsayahu Leibowitz points out that it is not a coincidence that the word “holy” appears at the end of last week’s Torah reading, Parshat Sh’lach and at the beginning of this week’s Torah reading, Parshat Korach. For him, the two uses of the word is meant to focus us in on the different ways it is used.

At the end of Parshat Sh’lach, the Torah states: “So that you remember and perform all My commandments, and become holy to your God.” Leibowitz stresses that this verse represents an aspirational approach to holiness in that the purpose of the Mitzvot is to help a person achieve holiness.

Korach, on the other hand hands declares: “…the entire assembly  – all of them – are holy.” What Korach is saying is that holiness is a given and exists simply by virtue of the fact that one is a Jew.

On one level, Korach’s claim of innate holiness is empowering as it bespeaks a special status and perhaps a desire to live up to that rank.

Leibowitz, on the other hand, warns that such an approach cheapens holiness, as it need not be earned. It also leads to laziness and conceit as one may then claim that there is no work to be done on character and /or relationship development.

Living life as if one has already reached the pinnacle is the Korach way, as opposed to God’s decree to live life in constant aspiration of doing more and being better.

This idea is especially true in the area of personal character traits. Alan Morinis is his book, Climbing Jacobs Ladder, teaches the following about the goal of mussar practices. “ It assures us that we are not condemned to live forever with every aspect of the personality we happen to have right know, but that we can make changes that will set free the radiance of our inner light.”

The idea of aspiring for more is an important way to view the development of Halacha. For example, Eliezer Berkowitz in his book, Jewish Women in Time and Torah, distinguishes between stances that the Torah tolerates and those that the Torah aspires to. More recently, this approach has been adopted and expanded by Rabbi Nachum Rabinovitch.

Their claim is that some of the laws within the Torah itself are not the “end of the road” since they represent positions that are tolerated by the Torah due to historic realities while rabbinic legislation helps Halacha get closer to the ideal position.  For details of Rabbi Rabinovitch’s application of this idea go to –

God had to show that Korach’s approach was doomed to moral, ethical and even legal failure. It was an approach that could have only left the Jewish people, and anyone who accepts such an approach, stuck and stalled in their present condition. Perhaps the punishment of being swallowed up by the earth was God’s way of showing that Korach’s approach was the equivalent of getting stuck in the sand, with an inability to move forward and aspire to even greater heights.


One Response to Are We There Yet…?- Rabbi Barry Gelman

  1. Moshe says:

    A very timely and beautiful insight. The polarity you describe is parallel, perhaps, to the polarity of being simultaneously chosen and commanded, the polarity of keva vs. kavannah, and, ultimately, to the polarity of God’s simultaneous transcendence and immanence.

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