(The following drosha was given at the Saranac Synagogue in Buffalo by thr Rabbi Yaacov Haber
on Shabbos Korach, 5747 (1987), and transcribed from memory by Jeffery Zucker)
In this week’s parsha we read about the rebellion of Korach and his followers, 250 prominent men, against Moses. They were pro- testing against the privileges of the kohanim. Moses told them to take fire-pans with incense to the altar, along with his brother Aaron, so that it would be seen whose offering would be accepted. He also tried to negotiate with Korach’s allies Dathan and Aviram, but they refused to meet him. This so angered him that he prayed to G-d not to accept their offerings (Num. 16:15).
We may ask the following question. Moses was certainly sure that he was right, and the rebels wrong. After all, he had direct communication with G-d! Why should he then pray that the rebels’ offering not be accepted? The rebels were not kohanim, they had no business at the altar, their offerings were absolutely illegi- timate. How could their prayers possibly be accepted?
Later, after the rebels’ offering had indeed been rejected, and they had been swallowed up by the earth, the L-rd instructed Moses to tell Elazar, the son of Aaron, to collect their fire- pans, since they were holy, to be beaten into a copper covering for the altar (Num. 17:2-3). We may ask a similar question again: What could be holy about these fire pans, since they had been used for such a bad purpose?
An answer is given by the Ramban: the fact that the rebels had brought their fire-pans at the suggestion of Moses means that they were obeying their Rabbi, and this gave the fire-pans some merit — a tiny bit of merit, in the midst of such a monstrous abuse, but enough to make them holy.
The same explanation can be given for the first question. This tiny bit of holiness was enough to make it conceivable that G-d would accept the rebels’ offering!
The moral of all this is that if there is a situation which is mostly evil, but has one redeeming feature — even a small one — that tiny redeeming feature may be enough to make the whole situation somewhat acceptable to G-d.
The reverse state of affairs is also possible, as is illustrated by the following story told by the Jerusalem Magid (taken from the ArtScroll book on this great man).
In a village near the city of Barditchev lived a very poor man, Reb Zvi. So poor was he that one year, as Yom Kippur approached, he was not able to buy food for the meal before the fast, and had to go hungry to the synagogue on Kol Nidre evening. As the congregation was busy with the Tefila Zaka (an important prayer before Kol Nidre in which the person forgives everyone who has wronged him in the past year) Reb Zvi noticed Reb Boruch, a rich man, sitting near the front of the shul, and he thought: “Even though I don’t have food, at least I can get a shmeck taback (whiff of snuff) from him.”
So he went over to Reb Boruch, tapped him timidly on the shoulder and said: “Reb Boruch, a shmeck taback, please!” Reb Boruch looked out from under his tallis at Reb Zvi and answered: “Reb Zvi, please! I’m in the middle of Tefila Zaka!” Reb Zvi returned, embarrassed, to his seat.
During the following months, a strange thing happened: Reb Zvi’sfortune changed for the better. He managed to borrow money, invested it wisely, and started succeeding in business. At the same time, Reb Boruch’s fortune took a turn for the worse. He continued to lose money, and eventually he decided to consult the famed Barditchever Rebbe, Reb Levi Yitzchak.
After Reb Boruch had explained the situation to the Rebbe, the latter said to him: “Let’s see what may be causing your loss in fortune. Let’s go over your daily and weekly activities.” They did so, and Reb Levi Yitzchak said: “I’m puzzled! You observe the mitzvos, learn, and give to tzedaka. I don’t see what you are doing wrong.” Then Reb Boruch said: “And do you know, it’s a strange thing, but as much as I am losing money, so much is Reb Zvi gaining money.” “Aha,” exclaimed the Rebbe, “have you had any dealings with Reb Zvi?” “Not that I can recall,” replied Reb Boruch. “Think carefully!” said the Rebbe. “Oh yes, I remember now,” Reb Boruch replied after a few moments’ thought. “Once, while I was busy davening Tefila Zaka before Yom Kippur, Reb Zvi came over and asked me for a shmeck taback! Of course, I told him to go away.” “That’s it!” the Rebbe exclaimed. “That’s what is causing your problems!” “But what can I do about it?” asked Reb Boruch. “The only thing I can think of,” replied the Rebbe, “is that you should do something similar to him — ask him for a shmeck taback when it’s inconvenient for him. Then, if he re- fuses, you might pray that the heavenly decree be annulled.”
Well, as the years went by, Reb Zvi became quite wealthy, and eventually a marriage was arranged between his daughter and the son of the Rav of Barditchev. The Rav himself would be the “mesader kidushin”. The wedding day came, and at the moment that Reb Zvi, under the chupa, was about to hand over the kesuva to the Rav, a shabbily dressed man rushed over to the chupa, to the consternation of the guests, stood between the bride and groom, and said to Reb Zvi: “Reb Zvi, a shmeck taback, please!” It was, of course, Reb Boruch. Without a moment’s hesitation, Reb Zvi took out his snuffbox and replied: “Of course, take some.” Reb Boruch was so overcome that he fainted.
Later, he explained the whole affair to Reb Zvi. They decided to go together to consult with Reb Levi Yitzchak. The Rebbe proposed that, since Reb Zvi’s wealth had actually come, as it were, from Reb Boruch, and since Reb Boruch had done teshuva for his past bad behavior, Reb Zvi should give half of his wealth to Reb Boruch, which he did. So the story ended happily for both men.
What happened here is that although Reb Boruch’s behavior was on the whole very good, in fact almost exemplary, one inconsiderate act ruined his whole account in Heaven.
Both these stories show the importance of details, and how a de- tail can fundamentally affect a situation, for good or for ill.
My Rebbe once observed that there are two great instruments in the world, the telescope and the microscope. They have both con- tributed greatly to the accomplishments of mankind. However it is clear that although with the telescope man can see light-years away, the accomplishments of the microscope have been far greater. Many diseases were cured and lives saved with this tool, which does nothing but show you the tiny things which are right
under your nose.