Parashas Korach: Redemption of the Priest
Rabbi David P. Katz
In this week’s Torah Portion of Korach, we come face to face with the drama and personal response from Hashem when one encounters or even challenges the Priesthood of Hashem. The Priesthood has an interesting and historic heritage, one that ultimately both ends and begins with none other than Shem son of Noah. When Shem launched the New World, [one that would be built from Kindness and Righteousness, as an oath to Hashem] and began to disseminate Torah in a way that the Earth would witness a final redemption in the merit of Torah Brilliance, he was no longer acting as an ordinary man, but had now began to identify himself as Malki Tzedek. What separates Shem son of Noah from Malki Tzedek, is that Malki Tzedek is a Priest to God Above. Shem, in the New World had fathered an eternal Priesthood, one that would not only begin with him – but end with him as well!
The Torah speaks about the Redemption in a way that describes Four Redeemers, each of which is a Craftsman. These Craftsmen are Messiah son of David, Messiah son of Joseph, Elijah, and “The Righteous Priest” [Talmud Sukkah 52b]; The Bible commentator Rashi lists these men as Craftsmen in that the Messiah’s help build the 3rd Temple, Ezekiel’s Messianic Temple, Elijah was a craftsman in his famous episode of building an altar on Mt. Carmel, and the Righteous Priest is Shem, who was perhaps the greatest Craftsmen of all of them, based on his efforts with his Righteous father Noah when they built the Ark. The Ark according to the Midrash was an aspect of the Holy Temple as well, thanks in part to the mastery of “Melacha” / “Spiritual Labor” that was contributed by Shem. Thus what we have is essentially all of Jewish History, beginning with Abraham and extending until this very day and beyond, until the Prophesied Redemption, embedded in the life, mystery, and Priesthood of Shem. Shem gave the Priesthood directly to Abraham who would give birth to what the Torah calls: “A Kingdom of Priests”, a Nation that apparently waits to be redeemed by the four Messianic figures that are headlined by Shem himself.
In the Torah Portion of Korach in particular, we learn two essential lessons by the Priests: The penalty of ill-will towards the Priest and Respect to the order of the Priests. Korach as we know, challenged the High Priesthood of Aaron and this carried with it the two lessons that we can apply to the Priesthood of Shem as well: Aaron being restored to order by Hashem Himself, as the ground was called upon to swallow Korach and his rebellion and as a result Aaron was respected for all of eternal time by the degree of Sanctification of God’s Name, simply by Aaron being the true and proper High-Priest. Shem as well, when we look into what Shem stood for in the beginning and for what he stands for at the end of time, will be sanctified from any ill-will, and the result will be respect that reaches Messianic proportion. The first issue that must be understood and in common between Korach [and his followers] and Shem [and his detractors] is the nature and concept of ill-will as an apparent byproduct of the High Priesthood. Just as Korach challenged Aaron in what was a one-way ticket to the desecration of God, [the integrity of the entire Torah was at stake!] Shem fights this very war until this very day!
To first examine the plight of Shem, we must follow his Priestly roots to where he bursts onto the scene of the New World and his meeting with Abraham. As we know, Shem is being identified here as Malki Tzedek [My King of Righteousness] and is listed as a Priest to God Above. This is of course where the identification within Scripture gets very difficult to say the least in tracking what exactly was the “exchange” [as there was an exchange on many levels, the most basic of such was their dialogue and passing of Blessings] within Shem’s Blessings towards Abraham, upon which Abraham it seems ended the spiritual transaction with tithes to Shem constituting 1/10 “from everything.”
In the Talmud [Nedarim 32] the Torah makes one simple statement that has lingered in the study halls for thousands of years:”Abraham took the Priesthood from Shem, as a result of the ‘order’ of Blessings.” When one looks to the text in the Scriptures themselves in juxtaposition with the Talmud, it can be seen very clearly that the infamous order of Blessings bestowed by Shem towards Abraham was the manner of which Shem offered the tradition of Torah to Abraham; the order of Blessings was paramount for Abraham to learn the rites of receiving the Priesthood. Abraham did indeed take the Priesthood from Shem, but this was simply Abraham’s Kindness, as Shem was not only offering the Priesthood to Abraham but literally giving it to him, such that anything short of Abraham taking what was being given to him would be the opposite of Kindness! We can learn from Korach in this very matter about the dangers of ill-will towards a Priest, and a High Priest for that matter! Yes it is true, that the Priesthood was now being routed through the seed of Abraham, but Shem was never removed from his role, nor will he ever will be, as evidenced by his status as “Righteous Priest!” The ground may not open up and swallow he who character assassinates Shem simply out of ignorance, yet we can fathom and even safely assume, it does not please Hashem to hear for thousands of years all that “has come upon Shem the Great!” If Aaron suffered by the hands of Korach, and the integrity of the Torah was at stake in that episode, how much more so can we believe that understanding Shem and his Priesthood [High] weighs at least as much as the threat against Aaron. And if it were not for the laws of logic, one could surmise that Creation itself depends on righting this crime! For the Redemption is contingent upon the success of Shem, and as long as Shem is guilty, can the Four Craftsmen come if there is no one there to receive all four of them?! This brings us to our final point: the Priesthood must and will be fully respected. Just as Aaron was restored to full Glory after Korach and his rebellion were swallowed, we must find it to be paramount to honor the Priests, and that falls nothing short of Shem son of Noah, Malki Tzedek. Once Shem is seen in a good light, his honor will be restored, as it should amongst all Priests, High Priests no less. Shem should serve as the hero when it comes to honoring the Priest, which happens to be one of the 613 Commandments that all Jews must acknowledge. Under these terms the Noahides will find their honor, as the Talmud states: “A Noahide who is busy with Torah is likened to the High Priest.” Aaron reminds us, that God remembers his Priests, just as the Torah was commanded to capture the moment for Aaron. Whether it is returnees to Judaism, Noahides, or even Shem himself, the priests have honor, and it is incumbent for all believers in Torah to the Priests as does Hashem intimate. As we see from the Talmud, the Redemption is at least partially built on the concept as in reference to the Righteous Priest [Fourth Craftsman - Shem] along with a Midrash in Parashas Nasso that states: “King Moshiach comes not for the sake of the scholarship within the Jewish People, but for the delivery of Thirty New Commandments to the Noahides!”
The Vilna Gaon explains that most Torah concepts contain two sides that are really one thing. For example, “I am Hashem Your God – You should have no other gods.” If you look carefully, you will see it is a reiteration! It is explained that there is much Kabbalistic meaning to this perception, however it applies nicely to our scenario with Aaron and the Priests: do not have baseless ill-will towards Priests and honor the Priest. Aaron suffered tremendous ill-will, and strangely enough this is what it took to give eternal honor for everything that he stood for. Yet when we look to Shem, he lacks a certain Korach, but he suffers at the hands of what seems to be endless adversaries. When we learn the Torah, and we come upon the numerous references of Shem within Torah, one must do his best, to not only find merit in a Man who is one of the few perfectly Righteous Men in Torah literature, but break the habit of baseless ill-will [to a High Priest no less], and sanctify the other side of the coin as well: give and restore honor where honor is do – this is Shem the Great, Shem My Lover [says Hashem], Malki Tzedek, A Priest [High] to God Above…May he be sanctified in Truth, forever, and usher in the Redemption among the Priests, as the Righteous priest, Shem ben Noah.