Parashat Korah: The Flowers and the Fruit
Following Korah’s ill-fated revolt against Moshe and Aharon, during which he and his followers demanded the right to perform the service in the Mishkan which G-d had assigned to the Kohanim, G-d proceeded to prove that Aharon was assigned the exclusive role of Kohen Gadol. He instructed Moshe to take a staff from the leader of each tribe, including from Aharon, the leader of Levi, and to then place all the staffs inside the Mishkan. The next day, Moshe brought out the staffs, and everyone saw that Aharon’s staff had blossomed. The Torah describes how Aharon’s staff "produced a flower, sprouted a blossom, and yielded almonds" (17:23). This miracle proved that G-d has chosen Aharon and his tribe to minister before Him in the Mishkan.
Normally, a tree begins budding and sprouting before the fruit is produced, and once the fruit appears, the flowers fall off the branch. The impression given by the Torah, however, is that Aharon’s staff had the flowers and almonds together, at the same time. Whereas usually the flowers fall once the fruit grows, the flowers on Aharon’s staff remained even after the fruit was produced.
One of my teachers from Yeshiva suggested a meaningful explanation of this phenomenon. The flowers signify the preparatory stage, before the emergence of the fruit. In virtually every field, in practically any area of life, the flowers "fall off"; the effort and preparation invested in reaching a desired goal are insignificant in relation to the goal. Only the "fruit," the end result, is meaningful, and so once the result is achieved, the "flowers" – the process that led to this result – fall away and are forgotten. When it comes to Torah, however, this is not the case at all. The "flowers" are just as important and valuable as the "fruit." If a person works all day to understand a difficult passage in a Torah text, he has used his time well and will be rewarded regardless of whether in the end he arrives at the correct explanation. A salesman will not receive any commission if he does not make any sales, regardless of the effort he invested. Our genuine efforts for Torah, however, are rewarded irrespective of the outcome.
It has been suggested that this principle underlies the otherwise peculiar passage in the Haggadah in which we say, "If He had brought us to Mount Sinai but did not give us the Torah – this would have been sufficient for us." Many commentators asked, why would it have been sufficient to have arrived at Mount Sinai without receiving the Torah? Was not the entire purpose of encamping at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah? The explanation might be that the intensive preparations for receiving the Torah were precious and invaluable in their own right, independent of the end result. For fifty days after leaving Egypt, Beneh Yisrael needed to work to elevate themselves from the depths of impurity to which they had fallen in Egypt, and reach the spiritual heights required for Matan Torah. These efforts, this process of growth, was immensely meaningful and significant, and would have been meaningful and significant even if it had not resulted in receiving the Torah.
Moshe was instructed to store Aharon’s blossomed staff inside the Mishkan. It teaches us that Kedusha stems from the efforts that we invest, the hard work that we do in the pursuit of religious growth and achievement. We will not always achieve our goals, and will often fall short of the level to which we aspire. However, as long as we are sincere in our efforts, then they are very significant and valuable. Even if we never see the "fruit," the beautiful "flowers" that we produce through our hard work and efforts will always remain.