Pushing Beyond the Confines of Our Understanding
When my father Rav Berg lived in the United States, and his teacher, Rav Brandwein, lived in Israel, they would study in many different ways; one being through letters. I have spoken before about the letters we have that Rav Brandwein wrote to my father, and in them, there’s only one teaching that Rav Brandwein repeats twice, and it has to do with the portion of Korach. This teaching, therefore, must be very fundamental and important.
In the portion, Korach comes to Moses with two basic arguments. He stands all the Israelites around him, wanting to prove the falsehood of Moses’ interpretation of the words of God, of the Torah. He says to Moses, if there were a room filled with books, at least some of those books would mention the section of the Torah that’s in the mezuzah countless times. So, he asks, does that room still need a mezuzah, the piece of parchment that mentions the Sh’ma, even when it is already there countless times within the books in the room? Moses says yes; even in such a case where there is a room filled with books, there still has to be a mezuzah. Then Korach brings up the next point. The tzitzit, a garment we wear, has one string of blue attached to it. And he asks Moses, if the entire garment is blue, then do we still even need that last string of blue? And Moses says yes. Korach then goes on to tell all the Israelites gathered around him that these answers are stupid, as they don’t make any logical sense, and are, therefore, interpretations that Moses himself must be making up.
So, Rav Brandwein explains what the secret of those two questions truly is. A room filled with books, he says, represents somebody who has all the knowledge and information he or she needs. But that type of person also needs to maintain the level of what’s called emunah, a level of certainty in the Light of the Creator such that with everything he or she sees, no matter what it is, they always maintain the consciousness that, “Even with all my understanding, I still don’t understand.” It is the same explanation Rav Brandwein gives for the blue string; it also represents the level of emunah, of certainty. Even if a person already has it, he still has to add that last level of additional certainty.
Often, there are people who follow the spiritual path because it makes sense to them. However, this is not the path to becoming truly connected. Because we have to ask ourselves, “What part of my work am I doing that doesn’t make sense to me?” Maybe it’s uncomfortable for us, and that’s why we don’t want to do it, or maybe it doesn’t make logical sense to us, and that’s why we don’t want to do it. But an individual whose spiritual life is within the confines of his or her understanding and comfort, but not beyond, is not somebody who is truly connected.
Therefore, Moses was trying to teach Korach that unless we are able to open ourselves up to the understanding that our spiritual work has to constantly go beyond what we understand, that we have to push ourselves to grow, change, and develop to always be going beyond what is comfortable and logical to us, none of our spiritual work is accomplishing the purpose for which we came into this world.
As such, Rav Brandwein tells Rav Berg that when we’re doing our spiritual work, of course we have to do what we understand, and we have to push ourselves within the confines of that, but much more importantly, we have to always make sure that there’s an aspect of our spiritual work that we’re pushing to do that makes no sense to us, that we do not understand, and that makes us uncomfortable. Because only if our spiritual work encompasses that next step as well, are we on the path of manifesting and revealing the purpose for which our soul came into this world.
This is a lesson, unfortunately, that Korach did not understand, and that Moses, on Shabbat Korach, taught all the Israelites, and teaches us. And I hope that all of us not only hear this lesson, as my father heard it twice from his teacher, but also have the ability to live it constantly: to push beyond the confines of our understanding and comfort in our spiritual work. Because that is the only way for it to truly bring us to live the purpose for which our soul came to this world.