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June 10, 2021

Ping Pong Strings (Korach)

I love the game of Ping Pong. Yes, I know it’s really called Table Tennis, but between you, me and the fly on the wall (hold on one second, let me just go get the fly swatter), no one calls it that. During a tournament, for example, one of my greatest motivations to win is because I fully understand that if I dare lose, I will have to suffer the terrible consequence of having to watch the next two opponents play. Let me tell you something about Ping Pong. In the realm of sports spectators, being a spectator of Ping Pong is by far the most painful.

If you are not sure what I mean, just watch one live Ping Pong game and you will know exactly what I am talking about. As you watch the little white ball go back and forth, your delicate neck will be forced to turn left and right, left and right, and so on, about 100 times! When you wake up the next morning and can hardly move your neck, you now know why!

Let’s take a step back now, using this Ping Pong spectating analogy as a lesson for us in our own lives. How often do we become spectators and keep turning our heads to watch this person and that person? How often do we neglect to feel confident in ourselves and instead focus on what others have? We are constantly looking at Yaakov and his athleticism, at Shimon and his amazing abilities, at Dovid and his wonderful learning skills, and at Aryeh and his success.

We wake up the next morning and we feel sore, not physically, but emotionally. We feel like everyone else has a perfect life, and we don’t. We look this way and that way, but we fail to look inwards and feel value within ourselves.

The Baal HaTurim points out how the Torah’s discussion of Tzitzis (at the end of last week’s Parshah) is juxtaposed to Parshas Korach. Why is this? Because it was regarding Tzitzis that Korach disputed against Moshe Rabbeinu.

The Shulchan Aruch (8:7) brings a fascinating Halacha from the Gemarah in Menachos 42a: צריך להפריד חוטי הציצית זה מזה – a person has to separate the loose strands of Tzitzis from each other. The Mishnah Berurah explains that the reason for this is so that the Tzitzis strings should not be tangled with each other. He then brings the Arizal who says that the word ציצת is an acronym for: צדיק יפריד ציציותיו תמיד – a righteous person constantly separates his Tzitzis strings.

We all know what Tzitzis looks like. About 1/3 is twisted and tied together, and the other 2/3 consists of 8 separate strings. We are told to make sure that those 8 loose strands do not become entangled; rather, each string should stand on its own. Each string has its place and should not “infringe” (yes pun intended) on one of the other strings.

If you think about it, the design of the Tzitzis can be likened to the Jewish people. Chazal say: כל ישראל ערבים זה לזה – all Jews are intertwined with each other. We are all deeply connected, twisted, and tied together, like the 1/3 twisted part of the Tzitzis! But then what happens? It branches off. Each string goes its own way; each string has its own path. This too is like the Jewish people. Although we are all connected at our core and we are serving the same G-d, we each branch off separately; we each have our own lot in life, unique mission, and personal path. We each have a specific set of strengths and weaknesses.

Perhaps the message of the Arizal can be understood as follows: A righteous person understands this fundamental idea and realizes that what he has – what Hashem gave him – is unique and precious to him. What he is good at and not good at is unique and special to him! G-d assigned him a certain role, and he must keep to that, and not look at others and be jealous of what they have.

This is where Korach went wrong. He figuratively did not “separate the Tzitzis strands.” He did not value his own self; rather, he was spectating and jealous of Moshe and Ahron. He was entangled with the other strands instead of being separate and seeing his true uniqueness, greatness, and value.