Friday, June 30, 2006

Combine Korah with Huqqat

There are fifty two weeks in a year and fifty-four Torah portions. When you toss in the inevitable holy days that fall on Shabbat and require special Torah readings, it is inevitable that on some Shabbatot you end up doubling up and reading two Parshiyyot. In addition, because we celebrate most holy days for only one day (with the exception of Rosh Hashanah) and in Galut they observe two days (change in verb intentional), the amount of twinning is greater there than here. In addition, sometimes this situation puts the Exile out of sync with Eretz Yisrael. This week, for example, we are reading Huqqat, while in Hutz La-Aretz they're back at Korach. Things will even out next week when the exiles double up and combine Huqqat with Balaq.

This brings me to my point. Why wait until next week? Why not combine Korach with Huqqat? In fact, I saw somewhere that there was an old practice to do just that? I, personally, would be in favor of such a switch.

Why, you may ask?

The answer is that both are about intellectual humility. As the Rov זצ"ל taught us, Korach's sin lay in his intellectual arrogance. He set himself up as judge and arbiter of the logic, value and justice of God and His Torah. In truly demagogic form, he inveighed against the Torah because it goes against 'Common Sense.' His sin lay in a deadly combination of Intellectual Narcissism and Cognitive Egocentrism. Both are insidious forms of self-worship, and result inevitably in Idolatry.

Huqqat is the direct response to Korach. The much maligned, enigmatic, 'Red Heifer' (Parah Adumah) is the embodiment of the need for inellectual humility. This is where polar opposites coincide, where parallels meet: Tumah and Taharah, Life and Death, Sacred and Profane. The coincidence of opposites is beyond human ken, an intellectual black hole that is no less true for its elusiveness. The Parah Adumah requires of man that he submit to the superiority of Divine logic. There are, it teaches, places where he cannot go. All he can do is surrender.

On the other hand, the encounter with the Parah Adumah is also liberating. In his commentary to the piyyut for Parshat Parah, the twelfth century German scholar R. Ephraim of Bonn connects the lesson of the Parah Adumah with the oft-cited statement in Midrash Tehillim
(מדרש תהלים (בובר) מזמור יב ד"ה [ד] אמרות) that every disputed law in the Torah has 49 valid arguments for each position. When Moses asked about this, God replies: אמר ליה אחרי רבים להטות.
Or, as R. Yom Tov Al-Isbili (ריטב"א) puts it in his comments on Eruvin 13b: ואמר שיהא זה מסור לחכמי ישראל שבכל דור ודור ויהיה הכרעה כמותם . In other words, submission to the higher logic of Heaven, actually allows for greater intellectual and spiritual freedom (within the clearly delineated boundaries laid down by the Torah).

Korach wanted freedom from Torah. Huqqat teaches what R. Meir would pithily state 1300 years later (Avot 6, 2): שאין לך בן חורין אלא מי שעוסק בתלמוד תורה.


Anonymous said...

"In fact, I saw somewhere that there was an old practice to do just that?"


Jeffrey said...

I wish I could remember where I saw it.