Follow by Email

Monday, 12 October 2015

Pure unadulterated motives

Daf Yomi Nazir 51


Moshe Rabbeinu didn’t have an easy time leading the Children of Israel.  They were constantly complaining; forever questioning Heaven; and frequently threatening to turn around and go back to Egypt.  But his greatest challenge came from his cousin, Korach, who initiated a rebellion against him.
‘You have declared that we are all holy!’ cried Korach.  ‘If that is the case, why do you exalt yourself over the rest of us?’

Moshe and Aharon fell on their faces and took a moment to think about the accusation.  Did Korach have a point?  Did his call for complete equality of all individuals make sense?  After giving it serious thought, they concluded: Korach’s call for equality was not rooted in purity.  His words and actions made it clear that once he had deposed Moshe and Aharon, he would seek the top spot for himself.

After initiating a test to demonstrate whom indeed G-d had chosen to serve Him as High Priest, Moshe called upon the Almighty to provide a fitting punishment to the rebels.  The earth opened up beneath Korach and his followers, swallowing them and all their worldly possessions alive.

Mishnah: For coming into contact with the following impurities, the nazir must shave (i.e. atone and restart his nazirite term): for a corpse and for a ladleful of corpse-dust.
The Rabbis taught:  What kind of corpse is liable to the rule of corpse-dust?  A corpse that was buried naked.   But if he was buried in his clothing, he has no rule of dust.
Tosfos explains: The dust is not impure since it is mixed with another substance, namely the dust of the decayed clothing.  And in order to be able to cause impurity, it must be pure corpse-dust.

What an interesting law!  For corpse-dust to cause impurity, it must be pure corpse-dust.  In other words, even for impurity to be effective, it must be completely focused on its mission!  If there are any substances mixed in, it can’t do its job.  It becomes diluted and ineffective.

How much more so for purity to be effective – it must be pure and unadulterated!   Sometimes we believe we are doing the right thing but a little self-introspection leads to the realization that we’re being driven by motivations that are not completely pure.   Korach probably believed his own story that he was pitching, but had he been honest with himself he would have seen right through himself.

What motivated Korach to challenge Moshe?  It was a feeling of inadequacy in his life.  Our Sages teach that he felt slighted when his younger cousin Eltzaphan was appointed as the prince of their tribal family. 

Can you imagine?  Korach is stuck out in the Wilderness, knowing he would be there for the next forty years with no hope of career or social advancement!  It wasn’t as if he could say, ‘Well Jewish communal work didn’t pan out for me, so I’ll go to law school!’ Such feelings of inadequacy are generally what motivate people to rebel.  They feel insecure in their present station in life and seek to improve their social standing and recognition.

Service of Am Yisrael must be approached with the utmost humility.  Moshe was our most effective leader because he exhibited not so much as a hint of self-aggrandizement.  If you want to be effective in serving G-d’s people, you need to make sure that your purity is indeed completely pure.  You need to constantly question the role of your own personal identity in your quest to serve.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t serve, but you must, at the very least, have the self-awareness that is driving your zealousness.   Otherwise you risk destroying more than you are creating, G-d forbid. 


You were placed on this earth to serve G-d and man.  We are all human, however, and often driven by motivations that are not entirely pure.  May you master your self-awareness and be able to judge the most effective and pure way to serve Heaven!