KORACH (Numbers, 16:1-18:32) — “Flat Tax”

The Torah assigns different jobs to different people. If you are a Kohain (Priest), your job is to conduct the Temple Service.  If you are a Levite, you play a supporting role to the Kohanim in the Temple.  And everyone else?  The rest of us have to work for a living!

The descendants of Levi dedicated themselves to G-d’s service.  Each tribe, with the exception of Levi, received a portion of Israeli real estate. The other tribes supported themselves by working the land. The Kohanim and Levites were “civil servants,” and as such, lived off the tax payers:

G-d said to Aaron, “I have given you the responsibility for My gifts. I am giving the holy gifts from the Israelites to you and your children…as an eternal portion.” (Numbers, 18:8)

The Priests ate many of the sacrifices in the Temple. Redemption money for the Firstborn (“Pidyon HaBen“) was given to a Kohain. Firstborn animals, first sheerings of wool from a lamb, the first portion of dough about to be baked into bread (“Challah” – See the end of  “I’m Gonna Do What You Want … Whether You Like It or Not!”) — in all, twenty-four gifts — were given to the Kohanim.

Their cousins, the non-Kohain members of the Tribe of Levi, were also provided for:

To the descendants of Levi, I am now giving all the tithes of Israel as an inheritance.  This is in exchange for their work, for the service that they perform in the Tabernacle.” (Ibid. verse 21)

Crops grown by the Israelites were subject to gifts and tithes.  First, a gift, approximately 2% of the crop, was separated as a gift for the Kohain.  Then 10% of what remained was separated as a tithe for the Levi.

The Levite also had to tithe.  He had to separate 10% of what he had received and help support the Kohain:

You, too, must set aside G-d’s gift from the tithes that you receive from the children of Israel, and from it you will give G-d’s gift to …the Kohain. … It (the remainder of the tithe, after the Kohain’s gift has been separated) will be yours; like the produce of the threshing floor and wine vat…. You may eat it… because it is like a wage for you in exchange for your work in the Tabernacle.'” (Ibid, verses 28, 29, and 31)

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In American law, someone who receives Welfare and food stamps does not have to pay income taxes on those sums.  In Jewish Law, EVERYONE is required to give 10% of his income to charity. A person who earns $1,000 should give $100 to Tzedakah. The poor person who receives the $100 should give $10 to Tzedakah.  The recipient of the $10 should give away one dollar, etc.

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There are two very important lessons to be learned here.

1) The Levite, in receiving tithes from the Israelites, should not view himself as a “schnorrer,” a deadbeat living off other people’s earnings.  Those tithes are, as the Torah says, like the produce of the threshing floor and wine vat.  The Israelite earns his livelihood by planting grain and grapes. The Levite earns his livelihood in the service of G-d and His children — “in exchange for your work in the Tabernacle.”

The tithe that the Levite receives is not charity.  It is “taxable income.” Therefore, he must give 10% of what he receives to the Kohain.

2) We can also look at it from the exact opposite perspective.  The farmer works hard to grow his crops.  Along comes “Mr. Levine” (or Levy or Levitt, or possibly even Goldstein!) who didn’t work the fields and says, “I’m a Levite; I’d like my 10% please.” Mr. Levine, who has received his 10% of the farmer’s produce, must then give 10% of HIS take to “Mr. Cohen” (or Katz, or Klein, or Goldstein.)

Why should the farmer and the Levite give the same percentage?  The farmer had to break his back to grow that wheat! The Levite gets a windfall! Let him pay more!

Similarly, if I work hard 40 hours a week, I have to give 10% of my income to charity.  The recipient, who didn’t have to work for the money, should be “taxed” at a higher rate! (Lottery winnings are taxed at a higher rate than earned income.) Why is the worker treated the same as the gift recipient?

The answer is really quite simple.  The Levite and the poor receive “gifts” because G-d told us to give it to them. They express their gratitude to G-d by passing a percentage on to others.  We are no different.  A farmer plows and plants and harvests, and a dentist fills cavities.  It is easy to delude ourselves into thinking that WE are the ones who are producing our income.  The truth is that the farmer and the Levite are on an equal footing.  The Levite, who received a gift from the farmer, has to give away 10%.  The farmer, whose success on his farm comes as a gift from G-d, gives 10% as well.

There are poor doctors and lawyers, and there are rich sanitation workers.  We have to make the effort, but it is only through G-d’s blessings that our attempts at earning a living are successful.

We are all recipients of G-d’s charity.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

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From the Archives

“A Good Fight With Your Wife” (2010)

 Ah, there’s nothing like a good fight with your wife!  … You DO fight with your spouse, don’t you?  You really should, you know…

Read more.

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“Caleb, Korach, and Me” (2009)

Never hit a guy when he’s on a roll; you have to try to get him when he’s down.

You couldn’t put anything on Moses; he was at the top of his game.  He was The Man!  He straight-talked the Pharaoh, and led us out of Egypt.  He led us through the split-open waters of the Red Sea, and presided over our nation’s receipt of miraculous manna from Heaven.  Even when we sinned he was there for us.  He caught us worshipping the Golden Calf, but negotiated our forgiveness from G-d.

Moses was great.  You just HAD to love him!

Most people did.  One of the exceptions was Korach…

Read more.

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“Behind Every Successful (and Unsuccessful!) Man…” (2007)

… Ever since the beginning of time, from Eve’s offer of fresh fruit to her husband to this morning when your wife asked you (again!) to take out the garbage, our wives have been right there telling us what we need to do.

… Korach, along with his fellow Levites, (including Moses’ sons) had their hair shaven.  Korach came home looking like Yul Brenner.  Mrs. Korach reprimanded her husband for allowing Moses to degrade him like that … By the time she finished with him, he was prepared to take Moses on in an uprising designed to “take back our religion.”

Korach ended up being swallowed alive by an opening in the ground.  (“Thanks for the advice, dear!”) …

Read more.

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“Dead Wrong?” (2006)

Some people are just exasperating.  They take positions that are totally devoid of logic.

We, on the other hand, are paragons of correctness, totally removed from error.  Right?…

Read more.

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“Almond Joy” (2004)

… How far should we go for positive PR? …    Any intelligent person HAD to understand by now that Moses was on the level…Why didn’t Moses tell them to take it as it is or leave it?  “I’m in charge and that’s the way it is.  If you don’t like it, go find yourself another desert!!” …

Read more.

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“True Blue” (2003)

…  What difference does it make whether the blue is on the string or on the clothes?  For that matter, does it really matter what type of dye you use?  You want blue?  You’ve got blue!  What difference does it make whether the Mezuzah paragraphs are on the doorpost or in the room?  You want Shema Yisrael?  You’ve got Shema Yisrael!…

Read more.

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“Flat Tax” (2002)

… The farmer works hard to grow his crops.  Along comes “Mr. Levine” (or Levy or Levitt, or possibly even Goldstein!) who didn’t work the fields and says, “I’m a Levite; I’d like my 10% please.” Mr. Levine, who has received his 10% of the farmer’s produce, must then give 10% of HIS take to “Mr. Cohen” (or Katz, or Klein, or Goldstein.)

Why should the farmer and the Levite give the same percentage?  The farmer had to break his back to grow that wheat! The Levite gets a windfall! Let him pay more!

Similarly, if I work hard 40 hours a week, I have to give 10% of my income to charity.  The recipient, who didn’t have to work for the money, should be “taxed” at a higher rate! (Lottery winnings are taxed at a higher rate than earned income.) Why is the worker treated the same as the gift recipient?…

 Read more.

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“There’s More to Being Right Than Just Not Being Wrong” (2001)

Every rabbi has a few.  There’s always someone looking to challenge the leadership with complaints of imagined misdeeds.  Moses certainly had his share of detractors.  Most noteworthy in the group are Dathan and Abiram, adversaries since Egyptian days, and Korach, the star rabble-rouser of this week’s Torah Portion…

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2011 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on June 13, 2002 at 8:05 am  Leave a Comment  

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