OH, WHAT A BEAUTIFUL MORNING
Rabbi David Walk
There are many ways to divide up the denizens of our world; rich versus poor, old versus young, or men versus women. However, I'd like to suggest that one of the more fascinating and common ways of categorizing humans is larks or night owls. According to Shakespeare: the lark at break of day arising from sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven's gate (Sonnet 29). Of course, Ben Franklin already told us that these early risers are healthy, wealthy and wise. So, even though the night owls claim that people who go to sleep the same day they woke are losers, studies show differently. Christopher Randler, a professor of biology at the University of Heidelberg in Germany, explains in an article entitled Why Morning People Rule the World (that title sort of takes the suspense out of the piece, and describes deep-seated German urges) that "When it comes to business success, morning people hold the important cards, they tend to get better grades in school, which gets them into better colleges, which then leads to better job opportunities. Morning people also anticipate problems and try to minimize them. They're proactive." By the way, the traditional definition of a lark is someone who is up with the dawn, but Randler says that it's someone who gets up at roughly the same time on weekdays as on weekends. Now all of this talk about morning isn't just to explain why I'm usually yawning by 9:00 PM and feel like conquering Poland before breakfast, but really is, I believe, integral to understanding a major episode in this week's Torah reading.
At the beginning of our parsha, Korach and his cohorts approach Moshe to complain that Moshe and Aharon have taken too many roles upon themselves, and that since the entire Jewish nation is holy, there should be some sharing of the jobs in leadership, especially the portable temple. Moshe prostrates himself in prayer before God and then announces: Then he said to Korah and all his followers: "In the morning the Lord will show who belongs to Him and who is holy, and He will have that person come near Him. The man He chooses He will cause to come near Him (Numbers 16:5). This introduces a test for the two hundred and fifty followers of Korach. They must bring the incense offering first thing the next morning. My question is, of course, why must they wait until the next morning? Why can't they just do the test right away?
There are many answers to this question within our traditional sources. A number of answers are given in the Midrash Tanchuma the most famous of which is that Moshe wanted to give them overnight to think about their position in case they come to repent. This idea is in keeping with a Talmudic statement that if you see a Torah scholar sin you must assume that by the next day he will have repented for the act (Berachot 19a). Remember Korah and the others were amongst the leadership of the nation. Another answer in the Tanchuma is that their arrogance may have come from overeating or over drinking, and that by the morning they will have regained their senses. This answer is also in Rashi on the verse.
In some more modern commentaries there are also some creative suggestions. The Ketav Sofer (Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Binyomin Sofer, son of the Chatam Sofer, 1815-1871) noticed that in this sin as in many others the women didn't participate, therefore Moshe was giving them time to talk to their wives overnight and, hopefully, to withdraw from this sinful challenge to God's chosen leaders. Actually, according to the Talmud (Sanhedrin 109b) one was, indeed, convinced to recant and was saved from the fate of the others. There must be a message for us in this, but I'll lose some friends if I go there. The Admor of Slonim (Rabbi Sholom Noach Berezovsky, 1911-2000) made a general observation about going to sleep, which he applies to the crisis in the desert. The Rebbe teaches that when you go to bed with thoughts of Divine worship on your mind you wake up to spend the next day as Jews properly should. That should inspire us all, but had special meaning for those men who were going to bring the incense offering first thing the next morning. Sadly, it was the last thing they ever did.
All of these answers are fine and instructive, but, I believe, miss the point. Moshe's instructions emphasize that this competition must be in the morning. Those answers ignore that there's something special about the morning. First of all, morning is the time for the bringing of the incense. As many Jews recite every morning: Aharon must burn sweet-smelling incense on this altar every morning (Exodus 30:7). However, we must go one step further. What is significant and extraordinary about the morning?
The Jerusalem Talmud provides an answer: "Rabbi Hiyah Rabbah and Rabbi Shimon Ben Halafta were walking in the Arbel Valley at the break of morning before the light of day. They watched the dawn as the light began to shine. Rabbi Hiyah, the great one in wisdom, said to Rabbi Halafta, 'Rabbi, so too unfolds the Redemption of Israel – in the beginning, little by little. And the more it
progresses, it increases and grows (Berachot, 1:1). Dawn is the great metaphor for the final and complete redemption of the Jewish nation. That's why the Vatikin (ancient pious ones) timed their morning prayers to recite the blessing that God is the Redeemer of Israel with the break of dawn. Morning breaks the dread grip of doubt and exile represented by the dark of night.
Those who wake up early aren't more successful only because they got a head start, but because the morning is inspiring. Moshe knew that and so did our Sages. Again, Shakespeare understood it as well, when he said in Sonnet 33: Even so my sun one early morn did shine, With all triumphant splendor on my brow. May we also be moved to spiritual greatness by the beauty of the rising sun.
You can subscribe to Rabbi Walk's weekly articles at WalkThroughTheParshafirstname.lastname@example.org