Rabbi Yitzhak Meir Rotenberg (1799-1866) is known by the title of his writings,
Hiddushei Harim (the novellae of Harav Yitzhak Meir). He was the founder of the
Gur dynasty – a hassidic sect that is still a major force in the hassidic world,
and particularly in modern Israel politics. The Hiddushei Harim offered an
innovative insight into a cryptic verse; a reading that suggests an important
lesson about Jewish practice and the coveted goal of unity.
The Book of
Deuteronomy – Moses’s parting speech to the Israelites – opens with the verse:
“These are the words that Moses addressed to all Israel on the other side of the
Jordan, through the wilderness, in the Arabah near Suph, between Paran and
Tophel, Laban, Hazeroth, and Di-zahab” (Deut. 1:1). The introductory line is
understood, but the meaning of the second half of the verse is unclear: Why are
these specific places mentioned? Moreover, some of the places listed do not
appear in parallel biblical passage that detail the journeys of the Israelites
through the desert (Num 33:16-36). Where are these places? Commentators over the
ages have grappled with this list. One approach has been to read this verse as
innuendo of various episodes of delinquent behavior during the 40-year
wilderness journey. As Rashi explained: “Because of the honor of Israel” it was
preferable to hint at these events rather than spell them out. Thus, for
instance, Rashi explains that Hazeroth – one of the places that is mentioned
earlier in the biblical narrative (Numbers 11:35, 12:16, 33:17-18) – refers to
the Korah rebellion.
But this explanation is surprising, for Hazeroth is
not mentioned in connection with the Korah episode! The Hiddushei Harim
explained why Hazeroth alludes to the Korah dispute.
The Talmud relates
that King Solomon was responsible for two rabbinic institutions: Washing hands
before eating bread and eruv (B. Shabbat 14b). Eruv is a legal mechanism that
redefines a semi-public space as a private domain. Such a redefinition allows
carrying within that redefined domain on Shabbat. Today, many Jewish communities
(but not all) have such an eruv that allows people to bring a tallit or a baby,
for instance, to the synagogue on Shabbat. An eruv can only be erected under
certain preconditions, and through a number of prescribed actions.
most visible requirement is the need for a fence or virtual fence to surround
the area. The string between poles that encircles many Jewish communities is
exactly that – a virtual fence constructed of series of
Another, less well-known requirement is a common kitchen. In
cases of an eruv for a small number of families, each person would contribute
some food to create the common kitchen. In a larger community where this is
impractical, the common kitchen is set up in a different manner: community
leaders legally acquire foodstuffs – generally matzot because of their shelf
life – on behalf of all the community inhabitants. The joint-ownership – even if
people are not aware of it – affects a communal kitchen.
The Talmud tells
us that when King Solomon instituted these two innovations, a heavenly voice
resounded: “My son, if your mind gets wisdom, my mind, too, will be gladdened”
(Proverbs 23:15); “Get wisdom, my son, and gladden my heart, that I may have
what to answer those who taunt me” (Prov. 27:11). What is the connection between
wisdom and these innovations? The Hiddushei Harim explained the link between
eruv and wisdom.
King Solomon demonstrated that the Jewish people has the
power to join forces and be unified through a small amount of food contributed
by each person or acquired on behalf of each person. This meager, seemingly
insignificant contribution suffices to draw a common bond between the people and
change the status of a semi-public domain.
Korah represents the exact
opposite. The opening verse of the Korah narrative begins “And Korah took” (Num
16:1). The verse is strange for it does not say what Korah actually took!
Onkelos translated the Hebrew not as the standard “took”; rather, he translated,
“And Korah stirred an argument.” Korah instigated a fight and thus tore down the
unity that should characterize the Jewish people.
Korah’s actions can
therefore be viewed as the opposite of the eruv: An eruv binds the people; Korah
sought to tear us apart. Korah’s intention was to disrupt unity; an eruv is
built on a legal construct of unity, and may also further the goal of
With no unity-based eruv, we have nothing more than individual
courtyards – hazeroth in Hebrew. Thus – explained the Hiddushei Harim –
Hazeroth, courtyards, alludes to Korah’s divisive attempts. ■ The writer is on
the faculty of Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies and is a rabbi in Tzur Hadassah. He is currently a post-doctoral fellow in Bar-Ilan University’s Faculty of Law.
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