23 Jun Torah Wellsprings: Parshas Korach
“They Fell on their Faces”
It states in this week’s parasha (16:20-21), Hashem said to Moshe and Aharon”, Separate yourselves from this assembly, and I will destroy them in a moment.’”
Moshe and Aharon prayed. As it states, (16:22) Moshe and Aharon fell on their faces and said, ‘G-d, Who knows all the thoughts of mankind; if one person sins will you become angry with the entire public?’”
Rashi explains, “You, Hashem don’t act in the ways of human beings. When people rebel against a king, the king can’t know who they are, so he will punish everyone when he becomes angry. But You know man’s thoughts, and You know who sinned…”
Hashem replied, “You said well. I will reveal who sinned and who didn’t sin.”
When Moshe and Aharon prayed for the nation this time, “they fell on their faces.” The Rabbeinu b’Chaya writes, “This is the source for tachanun in the tefillah (which is said when one lowers his face to his arm).”
There are several forms of tefillah, and this is one of them. As the Tur (Orach Chaim 131) writes, “…we daven in any way we can: sitting, standing, and falling on our face. Moshe Rabbeinu did that, as it states (Devarim I sat on the mountain,’ and it’, states (ibid. 10:10), ‘I stood on the mountain,’ and it states (ibid ‘I fell before Hashem.’”
The Bach explains that we first daven sitting down [for Shema and its brachos], then we stand up for Shemonah Esrei, and then we fall on our faces for tachanun, to fulfill davening in these three ways. Then we say, we don’t know of any other form of tefillah. If we did, we would daven in those ways too, as we are seeking to pray and to beseech Hashem in every way we can.
The Rabbeinu b’Chaya explains the concept of davening with a fallen face, and he writes that such a prayer demonstrates three things: “(1) It shows that one is afraid of the Shechinah. (2) It demonstrates distress and humility. (3) It expresses that all one’s strengths are bound and tied, and that he is helpless without Hashem’s help.”
The Rabbeinu b’Chaya elaborates on these three intentions of prayer, implied when one falls on his face for tachanun.
The Rabbeinu b’Chaya writes, “Covering the face expresses tznius and bushah (shame and fear of Heaven). Because, when one prays, he must imagine that the Shechinah is before him. As it states in Tehillim ‘I place Hashem before me, always.’ Covering the face demonstrates that one is embarrassed before Hashem’s honor. As it states about Moshe ‘Moshe hid his face because he was afraid to look at Hashem.’
As the Rabbeinu b’Chaya wrote, a second reason for falling on one’s face is to show distress and humility. When one הענכהו†expresses his pain and agony as he prays fallen on his face, his tefillah is very powerful. The Rabbeinu b’Chaya quotes the Gemara Bava Metzia 59:) that tells the story of This is a specific type of oven –made from earthenware and clay – which Reb Eliezer and the chachamim debated whether it could become tamei or not. Reb Eliezer was insistent that it couldn’t become tamei because it was made from clay. The chachamim disagreed. Reb Eliezer kept bringing proofs that the oven is tahor, and he was very persistent, until the chachamim, led by Raban Gamliel, put Reb Eliezer into cherem. Raban Gamliel said, “Ribono shel Olam, You know that I didn’t do this for my honor or the honor of my family. I did it for Your honor that there shouldn’t be machlokes in Bnei Yisrael.” Rashi explains “It shouldn’t become the style that an individual disagrees with the majority.” If every individual has the liberty to argue with the majority, there would be chaos in the halachic system. Therefore, Reb Eliezer, who insisted his halachic ruling was correct, was dealt with in this very severe manner.
Reb Eliezer was married to Raban Gamliel’s sister. Ever since Raban Gamliel placed Reb Eliezer in cherem, she made sure that Reb Eliezer never said tachanun. She feared that her husband’s prayers, praying while fallen on his face, would be very powerful, and it would harm her brother, Raban Gamliel.
Once, she miscalculated. She thought it was rosh chodesh, but really rosh chodesh would be a day later. She was sure her husband wouldn’t be saying tachanun (because she thought it was rosh chodesh) so she didn’t think it was necessary to stop him from saying tachanun. (According to another opinion, stated in the Gemara, she went to bring bread to a pauper and therefore she wasn’t present when Reb Eliezer said tachanun.) When, at last, she came to the room where her husband was davening, she saw her husband saying tachanun. She said, “You can get up. My brother just died.” Indeed, soon afterward, a shofar was blown in Raban Gamliel’s home, announcing the levayah.
Reb Eliezer asked his wife how she knew that Raban Gamliel was niftar. She replied, “I received a tradition from my grandfather’s home: All gates are closed, except before someone who was insulted.” Rashi explains ,because the heart feels the distress” תועמד†and he is likely to drop tears.”
This Gemara shows us the power of tefillah said with a fallen face. As the Rabbeinu b’Chaya writes, “This woman wasn’t afraid that Reb Eliezer’s tefillos would punish her brother, but she was afraid of his tefillos that he said fallen on his face.” This shows us the strength of such tefillos, said amidst distress.
The third benefit (that the Rabbeinu b’Chaya wrote) for a tefillah said fallen on the face is that it shows that one doesn’t have any strength on his own, and he is dependent on Hashem’s mercy to save him.
The Rabbeinu b’Chaya elaborates, “When one falls on his face and closes his eyes and mouth, this demonstrates that he isn’t able to see what can help him or to view the matters that will harm him. He doesn’t know how to take care of any of his needs. He can’t help himself unless Hakadosh Baruch Hu agrees to it… It is like his senses are annulled, tied, his eyes and mouth closed, and he can’t see or speak, unless it is Hashem’s will.
“For this reason, we pray with our feet placed together, as though they are tied up. This shows that a person can’t go out and take care of his needs [on his own]. The gentile nations do this, as well, because they put their hands together when they pray. They don’t know why they pray that way. But the reason is to show that they don’t have any strength. It is like their hands are tied, and they are giving themselves over to the One they are praying to [to help them]. To receive one’s needs and to be protected from harm, the feet play a greater role than the hands do. Therefore we put our feet together and not our hands.”
The Chida writes, “Erev Shabbos afternoon is a dangerous time for machlokes between a husband and wife… The sitra achara strives with all its might to initiate a dispute between them…”
The Gemara (Gittin 52.) tells a story of a couple who would fight every Friday. Reb Meir came to their house on Fridays, for three weeks, and in his presence, they wouldn’t fight. By the third week, Reb Meir heard the Satan say, “Woe, Reb Meir drove me out of this house!”
Reb Chaim Palagi zt’l (Kaf HaChaim 27:35) writes, “I affirm that every household that has a machlokes on Friday afternoon or Friday night it is certain, proven, and true that something bad will happen to them during the week. Check it, and you will see that it is so.”
The Ben Ish Chai adds that if someone in your home does something wrong on Friday regarding Shabbos preparations and the like, don’t be angry with them, because it isn’t their fault. The Satan caused them to make that error, to provoke a machlokes. He writes, “Know if one fights with his wife, children, or maid, he thinks that he is right for saying those sharp words because of their error. However, if he were wise, he would understand that if a mistake happened in his home, it wasn’t their fault — it happened because of the Satan, who seeks to instill disputes at that time… Therefore, if some chore at home wasn’t completed properly, don’t blame your wife or your maids. Understand what is being stated here, because it is the truth. And then you will not be angry with them…and it will be good for you in this world and the next world.”
The Chasam Sofer (Likutim Vayakhel) writes, “Sixdays of the week receive their blessings from Shabbos. A vessel is needed to contain those brachos, and that vessel is peace (see Uktzin 3:2). The yetzer hara, therefore, tries hard to create a dispute on Shabbos, the day that brachos abound so that we won’t have a vessel to receive those blessings, thereby ruining the entire upcoming week. With these ideas I explain the pasuk (Shemos 35:2-3), Six days’, do your work and the seventh day will be for you.’ This means your success in the six weekdays comes from the seventh day — the Shabbos. Therefore don’t ignite the fire of machlokes on Shabbos, so that you will have a vessel to hold the brachos.”