Parashat Korach 5780 – The cleansing power of being calm and still
“You shall place the staffs in the Tent of Meeting before the Ark of the Testimony where I commune with you. The staff of the man I choose will blossom, and I will calm down (turning away) from Myself the complaints of the children of Israel, and all of their chieftains gave him against you.” Bamidbar 17:20 (The Neuwirth Edition Chumash)
Rashi comments on this pasuk that, “והשכתי – and I will calm down / cause to subside is like “וישכו המים – and the waters subsided (Beraishit 8:1)”.
After Korach’s rebellion, the people were in a state of panic. Much like when we were coming out of Mitzrayim, and we were cornered at the Yam Suf, we were scared and panicked. Our emotional reaction to the very real, seemingly hopeless, situation of the Mitzriyim bearing down on us on one side and the sea on the other. Moshe’s response to Am Yisrael in this moment was to tell them to “Be Still.” This created the space for HaShem to show His salvation.
So too at this point in our Parasha. Korach and his followers were just swallowed by the earth and thousands had been killed by a plague that Hashem sent. HaShem stopped the plague through Aaron’s actions but the people were terrified, scared and emotionally reactive. Like the story by the sea, HaShem knew that he had to create space by calming the people in order that they could see the potential for a different outcome then their panic was dictating.
The Torah speaks of two types of water, water that is flexible and full of potential and water that is chaotic and possibly even destructive without the proper boundaries. On the second day of creation, HaShem separated the waters to upper waters and lower waters. The Zohar teaches that the upper waters represented the waters of unlimited potential, the potential that existed before creation. The lower waters, on the other hand, enabled and represented our free will which was a primary ingredient of the created world. The unification of the waters is part of our avoda in this world to unify the potential chaos of our free will to the unchanging and unlimited potential of HaShem’s plan and Divine will.
When the Torah alludes to water in this case, it could be that it was summoning Am Yisrael to shift from the type of water that is unstable and chaotic to the “primordial water” that was full of potential and to be able to envision a different outcome then they had imagined. The Piaseczna Rebbe vividly describes how our thoughts can go out of control and how to remedy them.
“When disturbing thoughts grow wild and you cannot control them, then it is doubtful whether you can remove them by force. In fact, at times attempting to do so will strengthen them. At such a moment, pause and grow calm… with a calm heart look at your thoughts. Gaze in your mind at these scattered distractions, at how one thought connects to another and one leaps upon the other, at how suddenly… it rushes to you like a wild donkey.” – Hachsharat Ha’Avreichim
As the Rebbe says, force will only strengthen the thoughts of panic and reactivity. We see in both cases above that it was not forceful leadership that gave way to a change in the people’s perspective but a call to calm and stillness of heart, to create the mental space to receive something new from HaShem. From this place of calmness we are able to create space and calm inside of our minds, a space through which HaShem can show us an alternative outcome to the one that was dictated to us by our emotional reaction.
Sometimes we are faced with challenging situations that are real and sometimes even truly frightening, and this should be acknowledged. The Torah is teaching us that if we calm our minds and create space, we will be able to see with a new perspective and access the potential for a different outcome.
Many times in my own life, I have found myself feeling cornered by my emotional reaction to a situation- whether regarding my parnassah, my wife or my children. Without fail, when I have allowed myself to be trapped into the singular perspective of that reaction the outcome is not favorable. The Piaseczna Rebbe teaches further in Hachsharat Ha’Avreichim, “that emotional reactivity makes a doormat of your soul”. But, when I am able to work on myself and create space between my actions and my emotional responses I can see the reward of broadened perspective. In those times, I have been able to use calmness to change the situation not only for myself but for those that I influence. This is the root of very real salvations that I have personally experienced – the ability to be calm and to observe my own emotional reaction before acting.
The unified water (like in mikveh) is unique in that it has the power to change something from tameh to tahor. As Rav Shlomie Twerski taught, tameh is a limitation of potential while tahor is the activation of potential. Through Rashi’s words we can take the liberty to interpret this to mean that calmness of mind has the ability, so to speak, to change a situation from tameh to tahor. To return a situation to a place of potential, a place of growth and a place that HaShem’s light and salvation can be revealed.
Master of the World, Creator of all things. I come before you with a humble and open heart. I desire you so much, I desire only you and to only be a servant to you and never to my emotions. Thank you for giving me the Torah and the Tzaddikim to guide me toward being the best version of myself that I can be. I know that so many times I have allowed my emotions and my reactions to get in the way of what is emet. That through my emotional reactions, anger, depression and sadness that I was blinded and could see nothing but one option and the poisonous pigum that they left on me bring me pain to this day. But I know through a broken heart shines the light of t’shuvah and the avoda of doing the work to stay away from the danger of reactivity. The avoda of being calm, please HaShem bless me with the strength to examine my feelings closely and to always put space between the roaring lion that is emotional reactivity and the ability to choose to still my heart and seek your guidance. Thank you for your eternal and everlasting love that continues to draw me to you. Amen