May 30, 2024
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Of all the symbols or signs that Hashem could have sent to convey to Bnei Yisrael that Ahron’s children and the tribe of Levi were Divinely designated for exclusive service in the mishkan, why were almonds chosen?

Korach, in the parsha bearing his name, deludes 250 men into thinking they had a right to serve in the mishkan. Moshe attempts to dissuade the 250. When that fails, Moshe proposes a test. The 250 could attempt to bring in incense offering. Such offerings, except for a one-time exception, were not allowed to individuals. The results were disastrous.

Hashem causes Korach and his immediate followers to be miraculously swallowed by the mouth of the Earth while fire consumes the 250 incense offerings. Thereafter, some of the nation protest the death of the 250 and Hashem sends a retributory plague. It is only through Moshe and Aharon’s quick action that the plague abates. Hashem then declares His Intention to demonstrate that Aharon, his sons and the tribe of Levi are the only ones designated to serve in the Mishkan. Moshe is instructed to gather the tribal princes’ staffs and place them at the Mishkan’s entrance. The staff that will blossom will reflect Hashem’s choice.

By the next day, it is Aharon’s staff that has blossomed. It bears not just blossoms, but also buds and mature almonds. In nature, these three things would not appear together. Rashi, commenting on 17:23, tells us that it was the almond that was selected because it is the quickest to blossom and anyone raising objections to the Kehuna will have a swift punishment.

Why, however, the blossom, the bud and the almond? Any one of these would have been sufficient to prove who was to serve in the Mishkan. Why all three? What do they represent?

The menorah, as we saw two weeks ago in Parshat Behaalotecha, is associated with Aharon and his descendants. The menorah is representative of Torah. In Parshat Va’yakahel (Shemot 37:19), we learn that the menorah had ornamentation related to almonds. (Having the menorah with almond-like decorations is intended to convey that Torah observance is not limited to the land of Israel. Although almonds are associated with the land of Israel, indeed, they are among the gifts that Yaakov had his children bring down to the Egyptian viceroy in Bereshit 43:11, they are not intrinsic to the land of Israel. They are not numbered among the seven species. Torah is optimally fulfilled in the land of Israel, but similar to the almond which can be found in other lands, Torah can be fulfilled in other places as well.)

The fully grown almonds on the staff represent the Kohanim. The buds — from which the almonds develop —represent the Levi’im. The flowers and the blossoms, represent the rest of Israel. The nation as a whole is often compared to a flower, and all of Israel has the potential to raise themselves to the level of the Levi’im. (Rambam Hilchot Shemitah V’Yovel 13:13).

Although the nation has the spiritual potential to rise to the level of Levi’im, that does not mean they are permitted to fill the actual role of the Levi’im and Kohanim. Everyone has a specific role, and a specific time when to perform that role. (See Pirkei Avot 4:3 and Kohelet 3:1). The events of the haftarah reminds us that there is a time and place for everything.

The haftarah deals with Shmuel’s farewell and the selection of the king. Shmuel wants to emphasize to the people that their ultimate allegiance must be to Hashem and the consequences of forgetting who is the true King. It is the middle of the wheat harvest and Shmuel requests Hashem to send rain —, an event that would not normally occur. Rain at this stage would destroy the crop and bring famine. Rain arrives and the nation begs to be forgiven of their sins, so that the rains abate. (The sin was presumably the inappropriate nature of the request for a human king.) Hashem grants their request.

The haftarah again reminds us that there is a time and place for everything. If we act at the wrong time, or in the wrong place, we court disaster. When the events of our parsha took place — more than 3,300 years ago — people were more attuned to agriculture. Any person of that era would have known that these blossoms, buds and almonds could not occur at the same time. Just as it was impossible for these things to coexist in nature, so also is it impossible for Kohanim, Levi’im, Yisraelim, to perform the same duties.

Another example in the parsha of the wrong action, at the wrong time, is the 250 incense offerors. Incense is not offered as a personal korban. The only time when this occurs is the princes’ offerings at the Mishkan’s dedication in Parshat Naso (7:14). There, however, the offerings were part of a national dedication. The offerings were part of the display of unity. The unity involved was not just of the nation of Israel, but of all mankind. As Rashi (7:19) explains, these gifts represented Adam HaRishon, Noach, and the 70 nations. In our parsha, however, the incense was not offered as a sign of unity, but as an act of self-aggrandizement. Consequently, it was doomed to failure.

The parsha, however, is not about failure. It reflects the power of teshuva. The 250 fire pans were integrated into the mizbeach, through which the nation were able to obtain atonement. Although Korach sinned, his sons repented and from their descendants came some of our greatest tzaddikim and the prophet, Shmuel. The blossoms, buds and almonds on Aharon’s staff never faded, never rotted and were never lost. The staff was hidden away before the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash (Horayos 12a). We will see Aharon’s blossomed, budded and almond-studded staff once again, just as we will see his descendants serving once more in a restored Beit Hamikdash. May that day come quickly, speedily, soon and in our time.


William S.J. Fraenkel received a Bachelors of Arts in Religion and a law degree from NYU and served as a Board member and officer of several orthodox shuls. The opinions expressed in this dvar Torah are solely his own.

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