Then Moses became very angry and said to the LORD, “Do not accept their offering. I have not taken so much as a donkey from them, nor have I wronged any of them.” — Numbers 16:15
The Torah portion for this week is Korach, which means “Korah,” from Numbers 16:1–18:32, and the Haftorah is from 1 Samuel 11:14–12:22.
Between the rebellion led by Korah and the standoff between Korah and Aaron that Moses ordered the following day, we find a peculiar request. Moses asked God, “Do not accept their offering . . .”
Now, even if Korah was able to fool a few of Israel’s leaders and his many followers, surely he could not have fooled God who sees into the hearts of men. Undoubtedly, God knew that Moses and Aaron were humble and righteous, while Korah was jealous and arrogant. Korah’s followers were misguided at best or evil at worst. So why was Moses concerned that God might accept the offerings of these rebels over Aaron’s sacrifices?
The Jewish sages teach that when Moses asked God not to accept the rebel’s offerings, he was referring to their prayers. Moses asked God not to accept the prayers of these men. But again, why would Moses think that God would consider the prayers of such men in the first place?
We find a similar situation taking place during the time the Temple stood in Jerusalem. The High Priest would enter the innermost sanctuary on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and perform a most sacred service. After the service was over and he left the sanctuary, he would utter one more prayer. That prayer was that God not listen to prayers of the travelers.
Travelers would pray to God, asking that it not rain while they were on their journey. However, if God answered every traveler’s prayer, it would never rain and the crops would not grow. Therefore, the High Priest needed to intervene. But again, why would the High Priest be concerned that God would even consider answering these prayers at all?
The sages teach that from both scenarios we learn about the awesome power of sincere, heartfelt prayer – a power that perhaps we cannot even comprehend. Even though the prayers of the rebels and the travelers may have stemmed from a place of self-interest, the fact that they completely acknowledged God was in charge and the depth of their dependency on His intervention could send their prayers soaring into the heavens. Such was the power of those prayers, and that is why their prayers had to be stopped.
Friends, if heartfelt prayers stemming from self-serving intentions can pierce the heavens, imagine what our sincere prayers for the sake of heaven can accomplish. Judaism teaches that prayer is like a bow and arrow. The farther back an arrow is drawn, the farther it will travel. So, too, when our prayers come from the deepest depths of our hearts, they pierce the heavens and land before God’s holy throne.
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With prayers for shalom, peace,
Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein
Founder and President