Have you ever been plagued by intrusive thoughts that sought to distract you from your convictions, tempting you to indulge in sin? The Magen Avraham, quoting from an ancient kabbalistic source, reveals that one can ward off these invasive impulses by reciting three times — פִּי פִּי פִּי.

The great and illustrious Rav of Simlau, Rav Shlomo Zalman Ehrenreich, who perished in the holocaust, suggests that this incantation of פִּי three times alludes to: the פי הארץ — mouth of the earth that swallowed up Korach and his cohorts; the פי הבאר — mouth of the well that provided water in the wilderness; the פי האתון — mouth of the donkey which spoke to Bilaam.

Our world is comprised of four strata:  דומם— inorganic, צומח — flora, חי — animal, מדבר — human (speaking).  

Man through his thoughtful speech and free-willed action gives credence to every stratum of creation.

There are times when man fails to live up to his greatness and abuses his godly gifts. At those moments he not only loses his stature as an intellectual being, but he also descends to levels lower than even inorganic matter.

Inanimate earth represents inertia. Inertia can stem from lethargy and lack of ambition. It can also be symbolic of a calm self-confidence that needs no external adulation, secure in one’s relationship with G-d.  

Korach had a desperate need for honor. He lacked a healthy perception of self and craved for greater social standing, not appreciating the unique role carved out for him in life.

The earth responds to G-d’s will instinctively, swallowing up those who have squandered their elevated roles, in testament to the earth’s supremacy to such men.  

When Miriam died, the well that miraculously accompanied them ceased from providing its waters. The nation immediately complained, allowing their thirst for water to overwhelm their clear thinking.

Water represents man’s most base needs. Life begins with a natural hunger for nutrition that G-d implanted within all elements of life that grow, so they may self-sustain. Man though, has expanded that instinct to include desires for things we do not really need.

Water is the ingredient that stimulates all growth, from plants to humans, without it there is no possibility to thrive.

A balanced craving is inherent within every stratum from plant and upward.

But the knee-jerk reaction to the lack of water revealed a flaw in their ability to balance their ‘needs’ from ‘wants’. Once again, the well which symbolized ‘growth’ yielded its waters despite their deficiency, teaching them the vital lesson that when one fails in one’s healthy capacity for growth, then even the natural flora is greater than them.

Finally, when man displays a quest for control and power, as Bilaam did, utilizing his divine intellect to promote one’s personal agenda and strength — not G-d’s will, an animal will put him in his place, ‘speaking’ the true will of G-d, diminishing this power crazed prophet to a level below animal. When animals vie instinctively to protect their turf it is their divinely inspired instinct for self-preservation. But when man abuses his talent to advance his position of power, he is relegated to being even less than an animal.

Every human is comprised of all the lower elements.

It is man’s challenge to utilize these ‘qualities’: inorganic inertia — being impervious to external honor; flora i.e., natural growth — sustaining our lives with balanced ‘nutrition’ focusing on ‘need’ not ‘want’; animal — exercising the instinct to conquer, not others, but ourselves.

How is it that Korach who had achieved such great spiritual heights faltered?

The inimitable Rav Shimshon Pincus makes a startling observation and statement.

He starts off wondering why people are callous about matters that pertain to their personal health, often risking consequences without any concern. He suggests that since there are four distinct groups, in ascending stature that comprise all of creation, there is a natural resistance for those within that upper level, that of communicative humans, to see themselves associated with the lesser strata beneath them — that is shared with animals.

He then adds that there is a fifth echelon — Yisroel/A Jew. There too, he claims, we oftentimes discover an initial resistance to paying attention to common etiquette. This too stems from the instinct to separate ourselves from the natural layers ‘beneath’ us. Of course, he affirms, this is a gross error. We are each composed of all four layers that we must cultivate and refine in consonance to our elevated stature that must define those lesser components.  

Might that be why Korach veered from the right path?

He was so enraptured by the spiritual heights he attained, he neglected to pay attention to the lower strata of his being, that might have taught him a thing or do about neediness and his unrestrained quest for control rather than self-discovery.

May we never get distracted from refining our foundations, both physically and emotionally, so that when we reach new heights of achievement, we remain healthily anchored and balanced.


צבי יהודה טייכמאן