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Shabbat Parashat Korach 5774

Parashat Hashavua: Sticks, Almonds, and Machloket

Harav Yosef Carmel

Even after Korach and his cohorts were punished, the “fire of dispute” was not extinguished, and the people complained to Moshe and Aharon that they had killed the “nation of Hashem” (Bamidbar 17:6). In response, Hashem commanded Moshe to prove his/His point with a test, involving the staffs of the tribal heads of all the tribes including the staff of Aharon as the leader of the Tribe of Levi. Aharon prevailed in the test, as his staff grew almonds (shekeidim) overnight (ibid. 17-23). This proved that Hashem had chosen Aharon for his special mission as kohen gadol.

This episode can also shed light on another section of Tanach – the opening prophecy of the book and the career of Yirmiyahu (Yirmiyahu 1:11-12). Yirmiyahu saw a vision of a stick growing almonds, which was interpreted through an etymologically significant play on words as Hashem’s message that He would diligently act to bring doom upon the nation (according to Rashi and the Radak’s translation of shaked). The next vision that Yirmiyahu had to interpret was of a cauldron that was open to the north (ibid. 13-14). This foreboded the coming of the doom from the north of the country. We will deal with two questions. Why was there a need for two visions? What in the appearance of almonds on a staff is an indication of the coming of tragedy?

A comparison to the parallel from our parasha can give us clues. Yirmiyahu was very young and lacked social standing when he began receiving prophecies. Many people asked vociferously why they should believe that this youngster was the messenger of Hashem. Yirmiyahu’s first vision reminded the people of the historical parallel. Members of the nation had, hundreds of years before, scoffed at Moshe and Aharon and denied that Hashem was the one who chose them for their responsibilities. This is what we can learn from the use of the same symbol, the almonds on a staff, in the two contexts.

We will conclude our words with a warning to people in our time. The fire of dispute can consume sacred and cherished “valuables” within the fabric of our nation. It does not help that the combatants hide behind claims that they are acting on behalf of the correct cause for the welfare of Hashem. The underlying spiritual phenomena and lessons seem to always be true, even as the specific debates change periodically. As Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook said about the different approaches of different segments within society: “Differentiation does not require there to be separation.”

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