The Lottery: Shirley Jackson and Korach

In her 1948 short story “The Lottery”, Shirley Jackson describes a small town in contemporary America which has an annual ritual known as “the lottery”. In a small village children gather stones as the adult townsfolk assemble for their annual event, which in the local tradition is practiced to ensure a good harvest. The lottery preparations starts with making paper slips and the list of all the families. Once the slips are finished, they are put into a black box, which is stored overnight in a safe at the coal company. The next morning the townspeople start close to 10 a.m. in order to have everything done in time for lunch. First, the heads of the households draw slips until every head of the household has a slip; Bill Hutchinson gets the one slip with a black spot, meaning that his family has been chosen. The second round is for the family members to draw. For the first round, the men have to be over sixteen years of age; however, in the second round everyone is eligible, no matter their age. In keeping with tradition, each villager obtains a stone and begins to surround the “winner” of the lottery.

Clearly this the root story that inspired the Hunger Games. It also seems like it has a connection to Korach, this week’s Torah portion.  learn that Korach, along with Dattan, Aviram, and 250 men from the tribe of Reuven, challenged Moses and Aaron’s leadership. Eventually Korach, Dattan, and Aviram, along with their entire families were swallowed up by the earth, while the 250 men were consumed by a heavenly fire. While they repressed a threat to Moses and Aaron’s authority their extreme nature of their punishment seems out of proportion. At the end of the Torah portion we read that Aaron is appointed as Cohen Gadol, high priest. Aaron’s election is confirmed through a test of the staffs. There we read:

17 ‘Speak to the children of Israel, and take of them rods, one for each fathers’ house, of all their princes according to their fathers’ houses, twelve rods; you shall write every man’s name upon his rod. 18 And you shall write Aaron’s name upon the rod of Levi, for there shall be one rod for the head of their fathers’ houses. 19 And you shall lay them up in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you. 20 And it shall come to pass, that the man whom I shall choose, his rod shall bud; and I will make to cease from Me the murmurings of the children of Israel, which they murmur against you.’ 21 And Moses spoke unto the children of Israel; and all their princes gave him rods, for each prince one, according to their fathers’ houses, even twelve rods; and the rod of Aaron was among their rods. 22 And Moses laid up the rods before the Lord in the tent of the testimony. 23 And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moses went into the tent of the testimony; and, behold, the rod of Aaron for the house of Levi was budded, and put forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and bore ripe almonds. 24 And Moses brought out all the rods from before the Lord to all the children of Israel; and they looked, and took every man his rod. (Numbers 17: 17-24)

This seems like such a more reasonable way to resolve conflict. Each loser takes his staff home, no one gets eaten by the earth or burned to death, and the winner gets an almond treat.  It seems that the Levi bracket in the tournament was really tough. There is a lot to be learned by the juxtaposition between the whole Korach ordeal and this almond lottery.

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