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Title: Intellectual Exercises

Major Focus: Torah, observance of

Minor Focus: Pride and Arrogance

Abstract: Korach challenged Moses with pseudo-intellectual questions about Torah observance, but had not been refined by the Torah. For some, the Torah is no more than an intellectual exercise.

Format: Midrash


"Korach, the son of Izhar, the son of Kehat, the son of Levi, took himself, along with Dathan and Aviram, the sons of Eliab (the son of Pallu, the son of Reuben), and Ohn, the son of Peleth -- descendants of Reuben -- to rise up against Moses, together with two-hundred-fifty Israelites, chieftains of the community, chosen in the assembly, men of repute."

"They combined against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, 'You have gone too far! For all the community are holy, all of them, and God is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above God's congregation?'"

Numbers 16:1-3

According to the midrash, Korach challenged Moses with a number of questions, not just the one stated in the Torah. Korach said to Moses, "You have taught us that every Jewish home must have a Mezuzah on the doorpost. You have said that this Mezuzah must contain the first two paragraphs of the Shema Prayer. Does a whole house filled with Torah scrolls also require this little snippet of Torah to be posted on the door?"

Moses answered, "The contents of the house are immaterial. The Mezuzah is required on the doorpost. It has to be on the doorpost, not in a drawer, not on a library shelf, not anywhere else but on the doorpost."

A home may be filled with holy Torah scrolls or books, but the Mezuzah is to remind those who live there that it is people's behavior, not their taste in literature, that interests God. When a person goes out, or comes in, through the portals of the door, they are reminded of what is written in the Torah, the contents of the Teaching. The contents of the Torah do not belong on a bookshelf alone, a place of study only, nor are they to be relegated to an intellectual exercise. Torah is a factor in life at all times, in all actions, guiding us by its teachings.

Once a person was boasting about how much Torah they had learned and memorized. A wise rabbi asked this person, "You only tell us of the Torah you have learned, but what has it taught you? I would rather see you less concerned with how much Torah knowledge you have memorized, but how much the Torah has trained, educated, and refined you."

(Midrash Tanhuma)

Challenge Questions

  1. What was Korach trying to do by taunting Moses over the Mezuzah issue? Was he asking a serious question about religious observance, or was he scoffing at Torah and God as well?
  2. What was Moses' explanation of why the Mezuzah is posted on Jewish door-posts? Do you have one on your door? Do you follow the custom of touching it on the way in and out? What do you think the significance of that custom is meant to be?
  3. Why did the wise rabbi put down the person who had memorized so much of the Torah? Wasn't that a commendable effort? Do you think the rabbi was upset about the boasting part in this story?