Parshas Korach - OOF!

By Rabbi Zvi Teichman

Posted on 07/04/19

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Dasan and Aviram lace into Moshe, cynically accusing him of having brought them out of Egypt, a ‘land flowing with milk and honey’, to die in the wilderness, abusing his authority to dominate them. They add one more indictment.  

 אף לא אל ארץ זבת חלב ודבש הביאתנו...(במדבר טז יד), Also, you did not bring us to a land flowing with milk and honey...

After castigating Moshe for callously jeopardizing their lives, what significance is there in their adding, “by the way you ‘also’ didn’t keep your promise to bring us to the Holy Land either?”

The Midrash points out that there were four individuals who prefaced their words with the word אף, and were afflicted with the, חרון אף; wrath, of G-d, in retribution. (ב"ר יט ב)

The serpent began his seduction of Chava to partake from the Tree of Knowledge with his introductory query: אף כי אמר אלקים לא תאכלו מכל עץ הגן (בראשית ג א), “Did G-d really say that you may not eat from any of the trees of the garden?”

He was cursed for his insolence.

During the incarceration of Yosef in Egypt, the Chamberlains of the Cupbearers and Bakers each have a dream. After favorably interpreting the Chamberlain of the Cupbearers dream, the Chamberlain of the Bakers exclaims:  אף אני בחלומי... (שם מ טז), “I, too, In my dream...”, going on to depict his exact dream, seeking Yosef’s interpretive skills.

His interpretation though forebodes his doom.

The congregation of Korach, as quoted earlier, who began their plaint with אף, were decimated by His anger.

Haman cannot tolerate Mordechai’s gall in not bowing down to him. Fuming and seeking to calm his ego he arrives home and boasts about his wealth and stature, adding how:  אף לא הביאה אסתר המלכה עם המלך אל המשתה אשר עשתה כי אם אותי וגם למחר אני קרוא לה עם המלך (אסתר ה יב), “Also, Queen Esther invited no one but myself to accompany the king to the banquet she had prepared, and tomorrow too I am invited by her along with the King”.  

He too, succumbs to the wrath of G-d.

Is this merely a cute play on words? The word אף although in its simplest interpretation means ‘also’, alternatively is used to imply anger, as the nostrils of our nose which are termed אף, flare with wrath when enraged.

So was it simply their careless use of the term אף that was used in their own contexts to mean ‘also’, that forebode their doom?

Rav S.R. Hirsch ponders the usage of the word אפיך, in the description of man’s curse to eat bread בזיעת אפיך, by the sweat of your face, rather than the more common פניך, your face, when describing the sweaty beads of moisture that flow when laboring hardily in the production of the literal and proverbial ‘bread’.   

The אף is the nostril, the portal through which G-d breathed life into our souls. אף additionally means, ‘also’. He writes: Hence אפים means the opening of the body through which man greedily take in the stream of life necessary for the maintenance of life, i.e. the nose and also used in a broad sense, in general, the striving, wishing, longing, face, hence ארך אפים, patience, קצר אפים, impatience, and אף unsatisfied desire, anger. But פנים in general, is the face turned in any direction... And בזעת אפיך תאכל לחם, not פניך. אפים, the effort to absorb the world in oneself to gain a little piece of the universe to oneself, is the object of all work. (בראשית ב ז)

Ironically, the same nostril that was the portal through which life, the spirit of G-d, was infused within man, that should fill us with gratitude and joy in the knowledge that we live by His breath, is so often the same conduit for expressing our unhappiness with life when things do not go our way. We symbolically reject His force, by which all circumstances of life are directed, with exasperated frustration.

What exactly frustrates us in life?

The serpent by rhetorically questioning Chava whether she was prohibited from eating from all the trees in the garden was deviously asking her a more pointed question.

“Is it possible that G-d denied you the greatest pleasure on earth, that of eating from the Tree of Knowledge?”  Can a human be expected to be aware of exquisite delights that are denied to him and yet withhold the uncontrollable urge to experience it? The notion that it is simply not reasonable to expect man to control that was is so instinctive to him, is poisonous idea the serpent sought to plant into the mind of Chava.

The Chamberlain of the Bakers thought logically he would surely be exonerated, since the crime of the Chamberlain of the Cupbearer was certainly the greater offense, since it was the Chamberlain who carelessly held the fly infested cup himself, placing it into the very hand of Pharaoh,  as opposed to the Baker who unwittingly served bread in which a not visible pebble had previously fallen into.

We often rely on our own logic and understanding to determine our expectations. When circumstances confound that logic, we erupt inappropriately with agitation.

The Congregation of Korach’s gravest error wasn’t simply the accusation against Moshe for bringing them to die in the wilderness. It was their misguided thinking that one’s personal objectives must be met in order to appreciate life. They had longed to finally put stakes down in the promised land and settle there. This became their overriding goal in life. When they sensed that goal eluding them, they broke down and angrily lost all faith.

We, too, create dreams and define goals and expect them to be achieved. When they are foiled, or the timetable is delayed we get angry and frustrated.

Haman was upset with Mordechai’s defiance. But what disturbed him even more was that to all the evidence around him, things were going his way. He brought proof to that from the special treatment he received from the Queen herself who invited him exclusively to accompany the King at her feasts.

Another grave mistake we make in life is in drawing conclusions from the circumstances in our daily lives that things are going our way assuming we are riding in first class with nary a fear that it may abruptly change. When it does, we react with utter disappointment wondering how G-d could have abandoned us.

Instead of taking a deep breath in, savoring the joy and fortune of live, we angrily spew our frustration back at G-d.

The great Tzaddik, Reb Efrayim’l of Pshedvorz, reports having heard from a disciple of Breslov, that אף, is the same gematriya/numerical equivalent as טבע, nature.

(Essay based on מנות לוי-רבי שלמה אלקביץ and עונג שבת פרשת בראשית-ר' אפרימל מפשעדבארז)

We have natural expectations in life. We assume we have physical limitations we cannot go beyond. We think that logic rules supreme. We expect personal goals are a personal right. We even believe that we determine our standing before G-d by judging the favorable station we find ourselves in.

We are mistaken. One must live without expectations, for no one can fathom G-d’s greater plan for our good.

אף is also a contraction of the two most important words we need to live by: אמונה פשוטה, simple belief.

Reb Efrayim’l brings that the sum total of the years of the lives of our patriarchs, Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov, 175,180, and 147 respectively equals: א-מ-ו-נ-ה פ-ש-ו ט-ה, 502!

There is a common expression when experiencing frustration to blurt out ‘OOF’!

The next time you face difficulty and ‘life’ lets you down, take a deep breath and contemplate the value of life. Remind yourself how much G-d loves you and cares about your welfare like no other can. Don’t permit the rush of air ‘naturally’ escaping in angst to scream out in anger ‘OOF’. Instead, exhale slowly letting the thoughts of your trust and faith in G-d encompass you and allow you to happily and calmly accept the goodness that you receive every moment of your life.


צבי יהודה טייכמאן