“What is written immediately before the incident of Korach and his followers? ‘Speak to the children of Israel and tell them to make Tzitzit’ (ritual fringes required on the corners of a 4-cornered male garment.) Korach interrupted and confronted Moshe, as follows: “You told us to dye one string of each of the tzitzit with T’chelet (a blue dye.) Tell me, if the entire garment dyed with T’chelet, would such a garment require Tzitzit?” Moshe replied, “Yes it would still require Tzitzit.” Korach then answered, “You mean that four strings of T’chelet can allow you to wear a garment, but a garment made of Tchelet cannot be exempted from this restriction?” (Tanchuma Korach).
Let us first understand who was this Korach. Korach was a man who had it all. He was wealthy, he was one of the leaders of Am Yisrael, and above all – he was, indeed, a great Tzadik (righteous person). How did he commit such a huge sin? Rashi asks, “How did Korach, a clever man, make such a mistake?” Rashi suggests, “His (Korach’s) ‘eye’ misled him. He saw through Ruach Hakodesh (prophetic vision) a great line of people descending from him, including Shmuel Hanavi who was similar in importance to Moshe and Aharon together…” (Rashi, Bamidbar 16:7)
According to the sources above, Korach was misled two things – his eyes and the Tzitzit. In fact, the purpose of the Mitzvah of Tzitzit is to prevent us from going after our eyes as it is written: “…and you should not follow the desires of your heart and your eyes, after which you use to go astray”. How can the Tzitzit be misleading?
Ramban, in his commentary on the commandment of the Tzitzit provides an insightful point. The danger in the Tzizit, has to do with the T’chelet of the Tzitzit. The Ramban says that the warning: “…And you should not follow the desires of your heart and your eyes” refers to the T’chelet. The T’chelet might be hazardous. In fact, Korach sinned because of the T’chelet. This is implied in Korach’s question: “A talit that is entirely made up of Tchelet – would it require Tzitzit ?’ Why is the Tchelet so dangerous?
The Ramban explains the danger of the T’chelet by quoting the following Midrash: “Rabbi Meir would ask: What makes T’chelet different from other colors? – Tchelet is similar in color to the sea, and the sea is comparable to the sky, and the sky to the throne of (God’s) presence” (Menachot 43b). The T’chelet is a color, which we can perceive only through perspective. The water of the sea actually has no color, it is a transparent liquid. Likewise, air is transparent and has no color. The only way to understand the T’chelet of the sea and of the sky is by seeing them from a distance. In order to perceive the T’chelet of the throne of Hashem, one has to realize that it is impossible yet to realize it. We can behold the שכינה (Divine Presence) only from a distance.
Therefore, Korach’s later claim that “…all the congregation are holy, every one of them”, is quite mistaken. In the future, when the redemption will be completed, we will live in a world of T’chelet, and everybody will be holy, and our entire reality will be completely spiritual. Nevertheless, in order to get to that point we will still need to distinguish between the קודש (holy) and the חול (secular), between the aspirations and the reality.
The root of the sin of Korach and his followers is the misunderstanding of the T’chelet, as well as the mere thought that it is possible to fully grasp Hashem. It is a sin of a Gadol, as much as the sin of the Meraglim or the sin of Nadav and Avihu. Nevertheless the message of the book of Bamidbar is that Judaism cannot be fulfilled in a form of a detached religion, which deals only within the spiritual sphere.
“From what time may one recite the Shema in the morning? From the time that one can distinguish between T’chelet and white” (Mishna Berachot 1:2). The ultimate way to worship Hashem is to develop the ability to distinguish between aspirations and reality. The ideal Judaism is that in which we can appreciate the white threads of the Tzizit, which symbolize the reality, composed with one thread of Tchelet, which symbolizes the שכינה. We are expected to strive for the spirituality of the “Tchelet”, but at the very same time remain grounded to the “white” realty. Then and only then, we can proclaim loudly “שמע ישראל ה’ אלוקינו ה’ אחד”.
Rabbi Ronen Neuwirth is the Executive Director of Beit Hillel and the Rav of Congregation Ohel Ari in Ra’anana. He served as Director of the Overseas Department of Tzohar and as the Rabbi of Bnei Akiva of North America. He also served as a Chief Technology Officer (CTO) and is a former captain in the Israeli Navy Special Forces.
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