Parshas Pinchas; Stolen Waters : This week, we shall compare and contrast three episodes from Chumash Bamidbar; they seem to be very similar but produced very different outcomes. We’ll begin by outlining the three events. The common thread is that in each of the three events the participants attempted to create something innovatively novel which in the Torah’s eyes did not exist yet.
In our sedra we have the daughters of Tzlofchad (looks like a Russian Czar when you write his name in English), who come to Moshe to ask if they are to get any inheritance in the Land of Israel. Their father had died leaving no sons, and until now this would have meant that the daughters would not get the inheritance. However, Moshe puts the case to HaShem on behalf of these five ladies, and HaShem proceeds to lay down the (‘new’) laws of inheritance, stating that a daughter shall inherit if there are no sons. Thus, the daughters of Tzlofchad essentially ‘changed’ a portion of the Torah. Indeed, we find another precedent for such an event. In parshas Beha’aloscha
, HaShem commanded that Bnei Yisrael perform the korban pesach. However, there were some people who were tamei (‘impure’) and as such could not perform the korban pesach (they had to sacrifice this privilege J). These people come to Moshe Rabeinu and argue ‘why should we miss out on this mitzvah,’ and again, Moshe brings their claim to HaShem. And just like in the case of the daughters of Tzlofchad, HaShem accedes; He says that from now on there will be something called ‘Pesach Sheini,’ whereby anyone who could not perform the initial korban pesach on night of the 15th Nissan would get a second chance on the 15th Iyar. Now the thing to note here is that before these impure people came to Moshe, there was no such thing as Pesach Sheini; it was these people’s argument that essentially caused this whole new Yom Tov to be established. Just like the daughters of Tzlofchad, they merited to ‘add’ a portion to the Torah. In fact, we can deepen our understanding of this event somewhat. If you think about it, the argument of these impure people was quite astounding; they missed Pesach, and now argue that they should be given a second chance; why should they have such a new opportunity? It would be like someone who slept all the way through Shabbos to then go to the leader of the Jewish People and argue that this Sunday should be a ‘second-chance Shabbos’ because he missed the first one. And to make matters worse, Moshe agrees with their argument and poses this dilemma to HaShem. And to make matters even more baffling, HaShem agreed with their argument, and innovated a new second-chance festival called Pesach Sheini. Why did HaShem and Moshe agree? The explanation is that HaShem saw that these people genuinely wanted to perform the mitzvah of korban pesach so much that He essentially allowed them to create this new festival and thus ‘add’ a new portion to the Torah. So far we have seen two similar events with one common thread; people succeeding in adding portions to the Torah (via Moshe and HaShem) – and this is seen as a positive thing in that these ‘instigators’ have been portrayed in a positive light by the Torah.
However, a problem arises when we look back at parshas Korach through the eyes of the Netziv. The Netziv points out that, unlike Korach himself, his 250 followers acted with good (leshem shamayim) intentions. They felt lacking in their service of HaShem in their not being Kohannim (and could not serve in the mishkan), and so joined Korach’s argument purely to try and become Kohannim in order to upgrade their service of HaShem. And what was the outcome? They were burnt alive by a Heavenly fire. Here’s our dilemma: The daughters of Tzlofchad, the Pesach Sheini crew, and the 250 followers of Korach all acted out of good intentions and all had innovative ‘Torah-changing’ ideas. Yet the former two received great merit and achieved their aims, whilst the 250 Korach-followers were punished with death. What is behind this apparent inconsistency.?
On a basic level, one could argue that the difference is that the bnos Tzlofchad and the Pesach Sheini clan went to ask Moshe, whilst the 250 Korach-followers took matters into their own hands. This is a true distinction, but it is merely symbolic of a deeper difference, as we shall explain…
The Netziv writes that the fault of Korach’s 250 followers was that they tried to reach a spiritual level which was not meant for them and was impossible to get to. Kehunah was not meant for them; one can only be a Kohen if one’s father is a Kohen. However, this gives rise to two difficulties. Firstly, how were the 250 followers of Korach supposed to realise that being a Kohen was beyond their capabilities; Pesach Sheini would also have been viewed as beyond one’s capabilities to establish before it was made? Furthermore, in our sedra we see that Kehunah can be achieved even if one’s father is not a Kohen; Pinchas was rewarded with Kehunah, despite his familial deficiency in this respect. So our dilemma boomerangs back; what was the sin of the Korach’s followers, and why did they suffer a different fate than the bnos Tzlofchad and the Pesach Sheini instigators?
The key to this issue is a foundation which Rav Dessler lays down via a gemara at the end of Nedarim; a story of intrigue, suspense, romance, and horror (fitting to have occurred in Walford!). The gemara records a story of a suspected adulterer who was found alone in the house of a (married) lady. The husband walked in, and the alleged adulterer hid behind the door. As the husband was about to take a drink, the adulterer noticed that a snake had crawled into the drink and had left deadly poison there. Risking the wrath and suspicions of the husband, the adulterer leapt out from hiding and warned the husband of the danger to his life should he proceed to drink. The case was brought before Rava, who ruled that no adultery had taken place, for if there had been adultery, the adulterer would have let the husband drink and die so the wife would be free for the adulterer to marry. The gemara then asks that Rava’s reasoning is obvious, so why did the gemara bring the story in the first place? It is from the gemara’s answer and Tosafos’s comment there that Rav Dessler builds his principle. The gemara answers that this is not obvious; for you might have thought that there’s a principle of mayim genuvim yimtaku – that stolen water tastes sweeter. This means that water which one has stolen tastes much better than one’s own water. In the gemara’s case, this means is that perhaps the adulterer really did do the suspected act, but kept the husband alive because his desire for this woman was only because she was out of bounds as a married woman. If the husband would die, his desire for the woman would evaporate for she would no longer become out of bounds to him. And the gemara ends that (as Tosafos spells out) this concept of mayim genuvim yimtaku is still true, but the adulterer is unaware that this is what is motivating him. In other words, the adulterer is unaware that he only desires the lady because she is married to someone else, (he thinks he desires her because she is attractive, etc.) and thus he would not have come up with the above thought process to keep the husband alive unless he really was innocent, as Rava ruled.
Rav Dessler takes out of this gemara this fundamental principle of mayim genuvim yimtaku, and that it is a subconscious motivation. Often, the reason why we want something is only because we cannot have it, but we are unaware that this is the pull, and fool ourselves into thinking that we really want the object in question. The consequence is that when we do manage to obtain the object in question, we are not satisfied, for the object is no longer out of bounds and so the desire for it is deflated. In short, there are two reasons why one might want something that seems beyond them; either because one genuinely feels a lack and has carefully weighed up things (this is positive), or because one wants it due to the very fact that it is beyond you (mayim genuvim yimtaku).
This is the key to our distinction between the followers of Korach and the bnos Tzlofchad and Pesach Sheini people. The Pesach Sheini people and the bnos Tzlofchad genuinely wanted what they strived to achieve, and did it for correct spiritual reasons; as proof of this, they checked with Moshe first. However, the 250 followers of Korach wanted the Kehunah purely because it was beyond them, not because they felt a spiritual lack without it. Their motivations were not as pure as it seems; they exhibited the concept of mayim genuvim yimtaku.
The lesson is to realise that often we only want things because we do not have them, or because they are beyond us. If we looked at what we do have as opposed to what we do not have, then we will end up being more genuine and happy people. To quote one psychology experiment: in 1995 Medvec, Madley, and Gilovich published their research, in which they found that the 1992 Olympics bronze medal-winners were happier than their silver medal-winning counterparts, for those who won silver upwardly compared themselves to the gold-winners. Their despondence came from the fact that they were wanting that which they did not have.
Have a great Shabbos
 Bamidbar 27:1-11
 Bamidbar 9:6-14
 The Lubavitcher Rebbe said this explanation
 Ha’amek Davar; the opening paragraph on parshas Korach
 Rashi Bamidbar 25:13
 Michtav Me’Eliyahu, chelek alef page 41-42; kuntrus hachesed, hosafa leperek 7
 Gemara Nedarim 91b
 Mishlei 9:17