Archive for the '4.05 Korach' Category

Black Lives Really Do Matter: Korach in Words And Actions

Last year I wrote about the rash of police violence which touched off a wave of violence against police. There was and is no excuse for violence in any case, but I have to say that I was and still am particularly outraged by the police. Dealing with difficult situations is their job. I am not saying that it is an easy job, but that is what they signed up for when joining the police force and taking an oath to serve and protect. Mind you, if it was not for cell phones we would not even know about these situations. It is only recently that every citizen has a device to keep an eye on the police who were supposed to be keeping an eye on us. Its makes you think about how deep the history of violence has been beyond the people killed by police this year.

And for us as a society not admitting that there are profound and deep issues around race in this country makes fixing these problems intractable. Confronting or avoiding the history of racism in this country seems to be played out in the tired volley between “Black Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter”. You do not need to be against police to want to see them do their jobs and ensure that black men are not targeted.

I was reminded of these dueling slogans when reading Korach, this week’s Torah portion. There we read:

Now Korach, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men; and they rose up in face of Moshe, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty men; they were princes of the congregation, the elect men of the assembly, men of renown; and they assembled themselves together against Moshe and against Aaron, and said unto them: ‘You take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them; wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?’ ( Numbers 16:1-3)

What does it mean when Korach says,”all the congregation are holy”? On this Rashi quotes Midrash Tanchuma to say that, “All of them heard [the] words [of the commandments] at Sinai from the mouth of the Almighty.” On the surface Korach is arguing that everyone should share power because they are all equal. While his words are noble, his actions are not. In reality he shows up with his posse to demand power for himself.

Like Korach, when people say “All Lives Matter” their language of equality is but a thin veil. While Korach was trying to get power for himself, people who say “All Lives Matter” are trying to preserve a racist status quo and keep power for themselves. If that was not the case the “All Lives Matter Movement” would be leading the protests against the police. Were not Alton Sterling and Philando Castile also people? Did their lives not matter?

The most recent verdict in the case of police violence against black men in this country is deeply disturbing. Noah Trevor gave a very moving summary of the implications of this devastating verdict. Please watch it here:

So lets just say “Black Lives Matter”. It does not mean that their lives are the only things that matter, but it gives voice to the fact that we need to change our racist system. I do believe that words matter too, but in the end we will be judged on our actions. I am afraid that if we do not deal with these issues the violence will swallow us whole.

Black Lives Matter: Korach in Words And Actions

The most recent rash of police violence against black men in this country has touched off a wave of violence against police. There is no excuse for violence in any case, but I have to say that I am particularly outraged by the police. Dealing with difficult situations is their job. I am not saying that it is an easy job, but that is what they signed up for when joining the police force and taking an oath to serve and protect. Mind you, if it was not for cell phones we would not even know about these situations. It is only recently that every citizen has a device to keep an eye on the police who were supposed to be keeping an eye on us. Its makes you think about how deep the history of violence has been beyond the people killed by police this year.

And for us as a society not admitting that there are profound and deep issues around race in this country makes fixing these problems intractable. Confronting or avoiding the history of racism in this country seems to be played out in the tired volley between “Black Lives Matter” and “All Lives Matter”. You do not need to be against police to want to see them do their jobs and ensure that black men are not targeted.

I was reminded of these dueling slogans when reading Korach, this week’s Torah portion. There we read:

Now Korach, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men; and they rose up in face of Moshe, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty men; they were princes of the congregation, the elect men of the assembly, men of renown; and they assembled themselves together against Moshe and against Aaron, and said unto them: ‘You take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them; wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?’ ( Numbers 16:1-3)

What does it mean when Korach says,”all the congregation are holy”? On this Rashi quotes Midrash Tanchuma to say that, “All of them heard [the] words [of the commandments] at Sinai from the mouth of the Almighty.” On the surface Korach is arguing that everyone should share power because they are all equal. While his words are noble, his actions are not. In reality he shows up with his posse to demand power for himself.

Like Korach, when people say “All Lives Matter” their language of equality is but a thin vale. While Korach was trying to get power for himself, people who say “All Lives Matter” are trying to preserve a racist status quo and keep power for themselves. If that was not the case the “All Lives Matter Movement” would be leading the protests against the police. Were not Alton Sterling and Philando Castile also people? Did their lives not matter?

So lets just say “Black Lives Matter”. It does not mean that their lives are the only things that matter, but it gives voice to the fact that we need to change our racist system. I do believe that words matter too, but in the end we will be judged on our actions. I am afraid that if we do not deal with these issues the violence will swallow us whole.

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.

Consuming Role

In Korach, this week’s Torah portion, we learn that Korach, along with Dattan, Aviram, and 250 men from the tribe of Reuven, challenged Moshe’s 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 Moshe’s 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 Moshe 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 Moshe laid up the rods before the Lord in the tent of the testimony. 23 And it came to pass on the morrow, that Moshe 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 Moshe 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. Why did we need to have the whole Korach ordeal and this almond lottery?

Before I discussed this idea and its connection to the story of Esther. This time I wanted to discuss it in the context of the story of Yonah. Near the start of his story we see him on the run from being a prophet for God. God sends a storm to thwart his escape by boat. To preempt the ship being destroyed he and the people drew lots to see who was causing the storm. Just as the almond staff bloomed for Aaron, this lot fell on Yonah. He is thrown from the boat only to be swallowed by a giant fish just as Korach was swallowed up by the ground.

What do we make of this juxtaposition of these two stories? Where this is the end of Korach’s story, this seems to just be the start of Yonah’s story. Korach was never really satisfied with his role as compared to Moshe’s role. From being swallowed Yonah turns his life around and finally fulfills his appointed role.   I often reflect on my role in life. How do I  come to accept it? Figuring that out can be quite consuming.

 

– A special shout out to our friends Ari and Adina on the bris of their son Yonah Shemer. I think that is how I got Yonah on my mind. Mazel Tov.

 

Purim: Korach Remix

In Korach, this week’s Torah portion, we 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 the 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:

 ‘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. 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. And you shall lay them up in the tent of meeting before the testimony, where I meet with you. 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.’ 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. And Moses laid up the rods before the Lord in the tent of the testimony.  And it came to pass on the next day, 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.  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. Why did we need to have the whole Korach ordeal and this almond lottery?

An answer to this question might come by looking at the connections between these stories and the struggle for power in the story of Purim. In Megilah we read about Haman the number two to the king who wanted to kill all of the Jews. There we read:

And Haman said to King Achashverosh, There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of your  kingdom; and their laws are different from all people; they do not keep they the king’s laws: therefore it is not for the king’s profit to suffer them. (Esther 3:8)

Haman paid the king for the right to kill the Jews. He cast a pur–  lot – to determine the day of their extermination. There we read:

Wherefore they called these days Purim, after the name of pur. Therefore because of all the words of this letter, and of that which they had seen concerning this matter, and that which had come unto them ( Esther 9:26)

There was a lottery to determine the day to kill a people who the king’s number two portrayed as not keeping the king’s laws. Clearly on Purim we were spared and this horrible day was transformed into a day of celebration for the generations, but what about the whole ordeal with Korach? Aaron was person of significance, the brother of liberator of the people, and Moses’s interpreter (foreign minister). One could even say that Aaron like Haman was the king’s number two. Korach came forward and clearly represented a challenge to Moses and Aaron and the law/rule of Moses. While Haman is not swallowed up by the ground, he is hung from the etz– gallows that he built for Mordecai. After putting down the Korach insurrection Aaron might have lost his role as the number two, but instead his staff sprouts and his leadership is rejuvenated. While everyone walks around with a dead tree in hand, Aaron’s power in reinforced as the Cohen Gadol and the  staff (etz– tree) in his hand is alive.

It seems that the Purim story itself might be a remix of our Korach story, but what do we make of this juxtaposition?  Regardless of our perception of God’s presence or absence in the world as the authority, the main story line in history is people want power and want to maintain their own authority. We need to learn to swallow our pride or we risk getting swallowed up by our own ambitions. What are better ways of dealing with our insecurities? Do not leave it up to chance or aggression. I say find a way to get your love at home.

Almond Lots

In Korach, this week’s Torah portion, we 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. Why did we need to have the whole Korach ordeal and this almond lottery?

There is an interesting connection between this and Purim. In Megilah we read about Haman the number two to the king who want to kill all of the Jews. There we read:

And Haman said to King Achashverosh, There is a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of your  kingdom; and their laws are different from all people; they do not keep they the king’s laws: therefore it is not for the king’s profit to suffer them. (Esther 3:8)

Haman paid the king for the right to kill the Jews. He cast a pur–  lot – to determine the day of their extermination. There we read:

Wherefore they called these days Purim, after the name of pur. Therefore because of all the words of this letter, and of that which they had seen concerning this matter, and that which had come unto them ( Esther 9:26)

There was a lottery to determine the day to kill a people who the number two to the King portrayed as not keeping the kings laws. Clearly we were spared and this horrible day was transformed into a day of celebration for the generations, but there is still more. Aaron was person of significance. It was not just that the brother of liberator of the people; he was Moses’s interpreter (foreign minister) or you might even say his number two. Korach came forward and clearly represented a challenge to Moses and Aaron. Just as Korach and Haman are interesting foils for each other, so too are Aaron and Mordecai. In the end, Haman is not swallowed up by the ground, but rather hung from the etz– gallows that he built for Mordecai. After putting down the Korach insurrection Aaron might have lost his role as the number two. Instead his staff sprouts. While everyone walks around with a dead tree in hand, Aaron’s is a live etz– tree as the Cohen Gadol .

It seems that the Purim story itself might be a remix of our Korach story, but what do we make of this juxtaposition?  Regardless of your perception of God’s presence or absence in the world as the authority, the main story line in history is people wanting to maintain their own power, role, and authority. People need to learn to swallow their pride or they will get swallowed up. If only we could all learn better ways to deal with these issues? Do not leave it up to chance. I say get your love at home.

Manifest- Nation

In Korach, this week’s Torah portion, we see the most brazen challenge to Moses authority. For Korach there was no Arab spring. His uprising against Moses is put down, way down. Korach and his band get swallowed up by the ground.

It is interesting to juxtapose this story to Aaron’s appointment to becoming the High Priest that we read at the end of the Torah portion. 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 shalt write every man’s name upon his rod. 18 And you shalt 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 tomorrow, 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 unto all the children of Israel; and they looked, and took every man his rod.25 And the Lord said unto Moses: ‘Put back the rod of Aaron before the testimony, to be kept there, for a token against the rebellious children; that there may be made an end of their murmurings against Me, that they die not. Numbers 17: 17-25

As compared to the story with Korach, this process of determining leadership is marked by transparency. While many people died with Korach for the restoration of Moses’s authority Aaron’s authority was established with no harm done to anyone.

From a moral perspective the story of almond blossom seems a lot better than the loss of human life, but in another context it is much worse. When Korach is gone there is no evidence. The miracle of Aaron’s authority is kept as a reminder of his authority. It resonates with the whole tragedy of the sin of the Golden Calf. The Israelite could not sit with the trust in a God or a leader which they could not see, touch, or hold. It was Aaron himself that helped them craft the Golden Calf. Theologically there is a certain strength of Moses who has nothing to show for his authority.

But, it is not just the Israelites. We all seek confirmation and validation in our lives. While compliments are great, a physical representation of that affirmation makes all the difference. It is hard to live with ideas, we all seek a physical manifestation in our lives. While they need not assume that it is idolatry, it is interesting to see in our own lived that we keep these things as totems of our achievements. These need not be expensive to represent excellence. Alas, this is the brilliance of paper plate awards. Happy camping.


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