Chassidic Story #242

242 (s5762-38/ 25 Sivan)
The Korach Syndrome
"For that you didn't have to meditate," he challenged his father, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Chabad

The Korach Syndrome

A misnaged once came to Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi and expressed his antagonism to the Chasidic movement by confronting him with allegations of pride - for did he not have an attendant at his door, and so forth?

The tzadik rested his head on his arms, as he often did when in deep contemplation. After an interval of silence he sat up and replied: "The expression the Torah uses for the leaders of the people is, 'the heads of thousand of Yisrael,' from which we see that our leaders are known as 'heads.' Now even though the head and body are joined to each other, nevertheless they are clothed separately, and differently. Why so? Because the head must be distinct from the body, just as the head of any generation must be separate from the people."

The questioner found the answer satisfactory, and went on his way. But the rebbe's son, later to be renowned as Rabbi Dov Ber of Lubavitch, successor to his father, was left with a different question: "In order to give that answer there was no need to rest your head on your arms. Why did you not give him his answer immediately?"

Replied his father: "In the episode of Korach, first we read 'Why, then, do you raise yourselves up over the people of G-d'; then we read 'And Moshe heard, and he fell on his face.' Only later did Moshe have his answer - that in the morning G-d would make the matter clear. The same question could be asked there. Why did Moshe first fall on his face, before giving his answer? But our exalted teacher, Moshe, suspected for a moment that perhaps this question was really being asked of him from Above, while Korach was no more than a messenger. If this were so, and he were to give an answer at once, then some other questioner would no doubt be summoned from Above to pose the same query afresh. He therefore fell on his face first, in order to meditate a while as to whether there really was any fragment of pride in himself. After he had found that this was not the case - as the Torah itself avers: 'The man Moshe was very humble' - he knew now that this was no divine messenger confronting him, but simply quarrelsome Korach. Only then could he go ahead and give his answer.

"And a similar thing happened here today."

[Adapted by Yrachmiel Tilles from the rendition in A Treasury of Chassidic Tales (Artscroll), as translated by the incomparable Uri Kaploun.]

Biographical note:
Rabbi Shnuer Zalman [18 Elul 1745-24 Tevet 1812], one of the main disciples of the Maggid of Mezritch, is the founder of the Chabad-Chasidic movement. He is the author of Shulchan Aruch HaRav and Tanya as well as many other major works in both Jewish law and the mystical teachings.

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