Sunday, June 13, 2010

Techeiles I Understand, But Mezuzah?

After ruminating on the Dvar Torah/Sichas Mussar that Rav Cohen (a rosh yeshiva at YU) gave last night during shalosh seudos in the caf (it was the June zman shabbaton), a question developed in my mind. The famous Midrash (quoted by Rashi) expounds the argument that Korach made against Moshe, trying to insinuate that some of the "less sensical" mitzvos were devised by Moshe, not by HaShem, and proved Moshe was unfit to be leader/choose who got to be Kohen Gadol, etc.

The Midrash Tanchumah at the beginning of the parsha says that Korach brough two major questions against Moshe:

1) If an entire four-cornered garment is colored blue with techeiles dye, does it need an additional thread of techeiles on the tzitzis? (Korach also apparently clothed himself and his followers in such attire as another form of protest)

2) If a room is full of seforim (IE Torah scrolls) does it need to have a mezuzah on the door?

Moshe answered both with an affirmative - and Korach went on his merry way, further denigrating Moshe and trying to convince the people to support him.

My question is thus: Korach's question regarding techeiles makes a lot of sense, especially since it was the end of the previous parsha, Shelach. This is further supported by the recognized continuity/running theme among the parshiyos of the past few weeks of picking up idea/concepts where the previous one left off: Miriam saying loshon hara about Moshe -> the spies not learning their lesson and saying loshon hara about Eretz Yisrael -> Korach rebelling because of the pronouncement that the whole generation was going to die in the desert - which was because of the sin of the spies.

However, the challenge regarding mezuzah doesn't quite fit, particularly since mezuzah isn't mentioned until later in Devarim in 6:4-9 and 11:13-21. So is Korach "jumping the gun" here?

True, my question could easily be answered by saying that the entire Torah was given/taught at/from Sinai, but that just side steps the issue without giving it any real thought.

So, after Ma'ariv tonight, I went and asked Rav Cohen himself (I had seen him approached by another student for a similar parsha based question last week, so I figured it was worth a try). Of course, Rav Cohen did not disappoint in the least in answering my inquiry.

Basically, we know that Devarim is a "refresher" of sorts for the Torah in general, which explains the different narrative form, and Moshe recapitulating a lot of stories and mitzvos. But, we also see that there are "new" mitzvos that don't appear elsewhere - like mezuzah. So, what's the deal?

All the mitzvos were in fact given before Devarim. However, Moshe chose to properly teach these mitzvos, or more directly, to (re)emphasize them, at a time when they were intrinsically more relevant. Bnai Yisrael in the desert had no need for mezuzos - no one had any halachic doorways! (This is presuming they lived in tents, or perhaps sukkos). But right before they were to go into Eretz Yisrael, which is when Devarim was "said" by Moshe - on the very day he died - the notion of having a permanent house with a doorway, doorposts, etc. was actually relevant.

In contrast, The mitzvah of techeiles was immediately relevant, because the Jews wore clothing in the desert, so before they had the mitzvah, no four cornered garments had tzitzis or techeiles - after it was given, they put them on.

Rav Cohen compared this to learning the halachos of a specific mitzvah/yom tov at the appropriate time of the year. You don't learn about lulav and esrog before Pesach, you learn about matza and marror! The same concept applies to the placement of mezuzah and other mitzvos first explicitly written about in Devarim.

So Korach wasn't quite "jumping the gun."

It is interesting to note that he chose a practical mitzvah (techeiles) and a theoretical, as-of-yet-unrealized mitzvah (mezuzah) to undermine Moshe's authority. It was sort of an attack on two fronts, kind of like saying: "you're making us do ridiculous stuff now, and you have even more ridiculous stuff saved for us for later!"

Anyway, I thought this was a neat little idea worth sharing.


  1. Very nice answer from Rav Cohen...

    I'd also like to suggest another answer:

    The MaHaRaL explains that these two cases (techelet and mezuza) were meant to bolster Korach's campaign. The thread of techelet represented Divine service while the mezuza represented Torah study, which are epitomized by Aharon HaKohen and Moshe Rabbeinu, respectively.

    Assuming that Moshe would answer his query in the negative (i.e. that a garment comprised of techelet does not need tzitzit, etc.), Korach would use this as damning evidence that a holy nation does not need religious leadership of any kind.
    Naturally, Moshe answered the opposite, to show that even a holy people needs a separate leader.

  2. Rashi only quotes the argument about techles. As the Torah is not recounted in order, it is possible that both mitzvahs were told to Yisrael before this incident.

  3. Shmuel - Both Rav Cohen and Rav Simon said similar things in their Divrei Torah (and Rav Cohen quoted the MaHaRal, I believe). While that works thematically, it also was part of the reason I had the question in the first place. It doesn't answer my textual issue, hence I like Rav Cohen's later answer better.

    Ariella - so that may be further reason to promote my question. Your answer, though, is the one I wanted to avoid because it side-steps the whole issue (no offense intended). I addressed that possibility in the post itself:

    "True, my question could easily be answered by saying that the entire Torah was given/taught at/from Sinai, but that just side steps the issue without giving it any real thought."

  4. OK, Shades of Grey, I know you are taken with your melech. But I see something else here. There is pshat and there is drash, and there is pshuto shel mikra. If Rashi only quotes the midrash about the techles, then he indicates that it fits into the pshuto shel mikra, which not all midrashim do. If you noticed, Rashi on the parsha's opening informs us that it nicely nidreshet but does not quote the midrashim he refers to. As the Mizrachi points out, that shows that Rashi considers the midrash there to be close to pshuto shel mikra as he defines his derech. The Levush Haroach goes on to say that the difficulty with the phrase, Vayikach Korach, cries out darsheni.
    Anyway, I took another look at the supercommentators on Rashi and noticed that the Mizrachi refers to the mezuah argument as a parallel to the tcheles even though Rashi does not quote it. Both, of course, hint at trying to prove that a holy nation does not need designated leaders. But, I believe, that Rashi only quotes the tchelse argument because it fits the text: Korach gathered men to bolster his argument. The Midrash says he dressed them all in tcheles. Rashi quotes this because it strengthens the point about how the gathering of men was used by Korach -- to concretely demonstrate his argument. The argument about the room filled with sefarim needing a mezuzah is the same concept but does not fit in with the narrative of Korach bringing in the men he gathered. That is why Rashi does not refer tot he mezuah

  5. Ariella - I seem to have offended you without meaning to, and if so, I apologize. I'm not sure what you mean that I'm "taken by" my "melech." Rav Cohen is certainly a gadol baTorah and respected Rosh Yeshiva here at YU, but I don't really treat anyone as a "melech."

    I appreciate the expanded explanation and further research you conducted. I totally forgot that Rashi only quoted the first half of the midrash (shows I need to put more effort into Rashi during my weekly shnaim mikra v'echad targum). The overall product of your efforts do seem to fit well with my question - or perhaps it can be better said that I was partially mechaveyn (if even that) to Rashi's original discussion. The techeleis argument DOES work much better in context than the mezuzah one.

    And thank you for the expanded answer - I hope you agree that it more satisfyingly addresses the question than simply that the Torah wasn't written in order.


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