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Zera Shimshon on Parshas Korach

וַיִּקַּח קֹרַח, בֶּן-יִצְהָר בֶּן-קְהָת בֶּן-לֵוִי; וְדָתָן וַאֲבִירָם בְּנֵי אֱלִיאָב, וְאוֹן בֶּן-פֶּלֶת–בְּנֵי רְאוּבןֵ לִפְנֵי מֹשֶׁה, וַאֲנָשִׁים מִבְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל חֲמִשִּׁים וּמָאתָיִם, נְשִׂיאֵי עֵדָה קְרִאֵי מוֹעֵד, אַנְשֵׁי-שֵׁם

“Now Korach, the son of Yitzhar, the son of Kehas, the son of Levi, together with Dassan and Aviram, the sons of Eliav, and Oan, the son of Pelless, sons of Reuvain, took men; and they rose up in face of Moshe, with certain of the children of Israel, 250 men … ”

Chazal—as partially quoted by Rashi—explain that Korach revolted against Moshe due to his envy of his cousin, Elitzaphon, whom Moshe appointed as the leader of Bnei Kehas. Despite the fact that Hashem told Moshe to appoint Elitzaphon, Korach believed he was more deserving of the position than Elitzaphon. To support his argument and gain supporters, Korach presented two points against Moshe: Firstly, he argued that if a single strand of techeles is sufficient to make a garment wearable, then a garment entirely colored with techeles should certainly be exempt from tzitzis. Secondly, he claimed that if one parsha in a mezuzah is enough, then a room filled with sefarim should unquestionably be exempt from a mezuzah.

Zera Shimshon asks: How are the mitzvah of tzitzis and the mitzvah of mezuzah even slightly related to Elitzaphon’s appointmentthat Korach used them as arguments to establish his superiority over Elitzaphon? What is the connection between these mitzvos and his claim for leadership?

Zera Shimshon answers that Korach knew that he was wiser and older than Elitzaphon and therefore he was more suitable for the position that Elitzaphon was appointed to. His overall strategy to gather followers revolved around claiming that Hashem had not issued a specific command regarding the appointment of Elitzaphon. Instead—according to Korach’s argument—Hashem only instructed Moshe to appoint a leader for Bnei Kehas, and it was Moshe’s own biased reasoning that led him to choose Elitzaphon over him, even though that he was more suitable for that position.

Korach applied this argument to the mitzvos of mezuzah and tzitzis as well. The underlying reason for the mezuzah is to protect the house through the two parshios written within it. Interestingly, the letters in the word “mezuzah” can be rearranged to form “zaz mavess,” which means “death, move away!” This indicates the mezuzah’s role in warding off potential harm and this was really the commandment of placing a mezuzah on one’s doorpost; to protect the room through the placing of some portion of the Torah on the doorpost.

According to this, even though Hashem commanded the placement of a single mezuzah on a door, it logically follows that a room filled with sefarim that contain many pesukim and parshiyos would be entirely safeguarded and therefore is exempt from requiring a mezuzah.

The core objective of the mitzvah of tzitzis is to look at the techeles strings and this serves as a constant reminder to fulfill all the commandments, as is clearly expressed in the parsha of tzitzis that we recite in Krias Shema: “… u’reesem ohsom u’zechartem es kahl mitzvos Hashem v’ahseesem ohsom—look at them and remember the mitzvos of Hashem and perform them.” Korach argued that the main mitzvah which Hashem commanded Moshe was to remember to do the mitzvos through gazing at techeles and looking at one strand is the minimum way to perform the mitzvah. However, a garment completely dyed in techeles is a much more impactful and stronger reminder to observe mitzvos, thus logically justifying its exemption from requiring tzitzis.

Thus, when Moshe paskened—that a room full of sefarim needs a mezuzah and a garment dyed with techeles needs tzitzis—Korach snapped back with the above logic, to show that Moshe is obviously not at all a logical thinker and Moshe’s decision to make Elitzafon the head and not Korach the head—even though he is much more suitable for the job—is also wrong and was made because of some bias.

In truth, Korach’s reasoning may have been right that it is logical that a house full with sefarim should be exempt from mezuzah, clothing dyed in techeles should be exempt from tzitzis and Korach is more suitable to be the leader of Bnei Kehas more than Elitzaphon. However, the mitzvos don’t go according to limited human logic and Moshe gave over the commandments and appointments exactly like he heard them from Hashem. We can never fully understand the reason behind the mitzvos and why Hashem chooses one person over another for different tasks. We can only follow exactly what Hashem tells us, and accept the positions that Hashem gives us!

To summarize, Chazal teaches that Korach successfully persuaded others that he was a more suitable leader for Bnei Kehas than Elitzaphon, by asserting that Moshe had a flawed understanding of the mitzvos of mezuzah and tzitzis. Korach argued that it was clear that a room filled with sefarim did not require a mezuzah, and a garment entirely dyed in techeles was exempt from tzitzis. Since Moshe ruled otherwise in both cases, it could very well be that he made an error in appointing Elitzaphon—instead of Korach—as the leader of Bnei Kehas.

Zera Shimshon asks how the mitzvos of tzitzis and mezuzah are at all relevant to the appointment of the leader of Bnei Kehas, which Korach used as evidence to support his claim. He answers that the reason Hashem commanded to put tzitzis on garments is for us to gaze at the techeles of the tzitzis and be consistently reminded to fulfill all the mitzvos. Similarly, the purpose of placing a mezuzah on our doorposts is for protection against evil forces. Therefore, it logically follows that a garment entirely composed of techeles serves as a more effective reminder to fulfill the mitzvos—thus exempting it from the requirement of tzitzis.

The same applies to the mitzvah of mezuzah. The reason Hashem commanded this mitzvah is to safeguard our homes through the parshiyos inscribed within it. Consequently, if a house is filled with sefarim containing numerous parshiyos, there is no need for the two parshios in a mezuzah to provide protection. Moshe—who didn’t pasken like this—obviously made a mistake.

Korach extended this reasoning also to the appointment of Elitzaphon as well. Hashem instructed Moshe to appoint someone, and Moshe decided on his own to choose Elitzaphon. Just as Moshe did not fully grasp the correct understanding of the mitzvos of mezuzah and tzitzis, he also erred in his appointment of Elitzaphon.

HaRav Shimshon Nachmani—author of Zera Shimshon lived in Italy—about 300 years ago, in the time of the Or HaChaim HaKodesh. The Chida writes that he was a great mekubal and wrote many sefarim—including sefarim about “practical Kabbalah”—and asked that all of his sefarim be buried after he passes away, except for Zera Shimshon and Niflaos Shimshon on Avos. HaRav Shimshon Nachmani had one child who died in his lifetime (hence the name “Zera Shimshon”) and in the preface, he promises for people who learn his sefarim after he dies, “ … And your eyes will see children and grandchildren like the offshoots of an olive tree around your tables, wise and understanding with houses filled with all manner of good things … and wealth and honor …

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