Yom Rishon, 29 Tammuz 5777
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Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah--Korach

Ok, I admit it. I have become too cynical. I am tired of power politics for the sake of power. I know that the tone of public conversation has taken its toll on me, and I know it because of this week’s Torah portion. Korach (a Levite) rebels against Moses and Aaron (also Levites). He argues that the brothers had taken too much power upon themselves. The entire Levitical clan is supposed to share equally in the governance over the people and the ritual at the altar. He was right. As the story presents itself, he only wants his equal share. It seems as though his revolution is popular; he was speaking for many and not just himself. At the end of this episode, thousands of folks will perish for having supported him and/or the revolution itself.

I get stuck because Korach was right. As the Torah presents the story, all of the Levites were originally priests. The rest of the people had no investiture in the fight, other than to pick sides over who they wanted to be the priest.

As it turns out, God makes the decision. Even while having promised the priesthood to all of the Levites, God decides to vest power and control in only the descendants of Aaron (alienating even Moses from priestly power). All dissenters got swallowed up when the earth opened to punish them.

Now, we know, as per my dear and most beloved mentor and teacher, the late Dr. Ellis Rivkin, that the purpose of the story is to demonstrate the transition between first Temple Levitical Control and Second Temple Kohen (subset of Levy) control. Coming back from diaspora, God made a different decision as to who was to be in charge. I get it; there is historical context to the story. That said, we are not in Biblical Days, and I am reading this story now. As I am reading it, I cannot help but be stymied by the end of the portion. After the rebellion; after the earth swallows the rebels and their followers; after a plague attacks those who were on the fence, we learn about the underlying cause of the fight. The Rabbis separated the Torah into weekly portions, and in doing so sent us messages about how to look at a text with holistic eyes. Where the Rabbis "lumped" certain chapters together, it is not by random choice. Some portions are longer than others; it is not as if the sages divided the text equally.

I cannot ignore that the portion begins with this major revolution to which Torah devotes over 100 verses. It ends with the triumphant display that Aaron wins. Aaron’s staff miraculously blossoms and brings forth almonds, to prove that his designation as high priest is divinely ordained.  So, he gets the T’rumah; the best from each crop of grain, wine and oil, as well as all firstborn sheep and cattle, and other special adornments due the priest. Here is my cynicism … in the end, this battle was not about service to God … it was about the personal comfort and spoils that the winner got to have for his own group. The people weren’t being served, the politicians were … OOPS … I meant the Priests were (hey, they both begin with a “p” … an honest mistake). Ok, the story tells us that God made the decision. The Rabbis, however, end the story (portion) by telling us of the spoils that Aaron got because he won the war: a war for religious power that cost thousands of lives.

I have no idea whether or not the story editors intended this cynical thought, but It certainly affirms the truth that Torah is timeless. More importantly, it affirms another truth: when we pick sides against each other, we all lose. No war ends without damaging everyone involved. To fight a war over the ego based conflict of other people makes zero sense. The priest/politician is supposed to serve us, not create strife between us. The war of rhetoric did not end with the last election. It will not end until you and I decide to stop bludgeoning each other with someone else’s rhetoric. Here is a surprise. There is a lot of “fake news” out there. A lot of it drove the election rhetoric that kept us in exile from each other … on both sides. How about we do something really radical? The Talmud teaches us, “Aelu v’Aelu divrae Elohim Chayim – “these” words and “these” words are both the words of the living God.” We can hear the truths from each other (without the “fake fluff”) and still love and respect each other. Shabbat Shalom.

Ok, I admit it. I have become too cynical. I am tired of power politics for the sake of power. I know that the tone of public conversation has taken its toll on me, and I know it because of this week’s Torah portion. Korach (a Levite) rebels against Moses and Aaron (also Levites). He argues that the brothers had taken too much power upon themselves. The entire Levitical clan is supposed to share equally in the governance over the people and the ritual at the altar. He was right. As the story presents itself, he only wants his equal share. It seems as though his revolution is popular; he was speaking for many and not just himself. At the end of this episode, thousands of folks will perish for having supported him and/or the revolution itself.

I get stuck because Korach was right. As the Torah presents the story, all of the Levites were originally priests. The rest of the people had no investiture in the fight, other than to pick sides over who they wanted to be the priest.

As it turns out, God makes the decision. Even while having promised the priesthood to all of the Levites, God decides to vest power and control in only the descendants of Aaron (alienating even Moses from priestly power). All dissenters got swallowed up when the earth opened to punish them.

Now, we know, as per my dear and most beloved mentor and teacher, the late Dr. Ellis Rivkin, that the purpose of the story is to demonstrate the transition between first Temple Levitical Control and Second Temple Kohen (subset of Levy) control. Coming back from diaspora, God made a different decision as to who was to be in charge. I get it; there is historical context to the story. That said, we are not in Biblical Days, and I am reading this story now. As I am reading it, I cannot help but be stymied by the end of the portion. After the rebellion; after the earth swallows the rebels and their followers; after a plague attacks those who were on the fence, we learn about the underlying cause of the fight. The Rabbis separated the Torah into weekly portions, and in doing so sent us messages about how to look at a text with holistic eyes. Where the Rabbis "lumped" certain chapters together, it is not by random choice. Some portions are longer than others; it is not as if the sages divided the text equally.

I cannot ignore that the portion begins with this major revolution to which Torah devotes over 100 verses. It ends with the triumphant display that Aaron wins. Aaron’s staff miraculously blossoms and brings forth almonds, to prove that his designation as high priest is divinely ordained.  So, he gets the T’rumah; the best from each crop of grain, wine and oil, as well as all firstborn sheep and cattle, and other special adornments due the priest. Here is my cynicism … in the end, this battle was not about service to God … it was about the personal comfort and spoils that the winner got to have for his own group. The people weren’t being served, the politicians were … OOPS … I meant the Priests were (hey, they both begin with a “p” … an honest mistake). Ok, the story tells us that God made the decision. The Rabbis, however, end the story (portion) by telling us of the spoils that Aaron got because he won the war: a war for religious power that cost thousands of lives.

I have no idea whether or not the story editors intended this cynical thought, but It certainly affirms the truth that Torah is timeless. More importantly, it affirms another truth: when we pick sides against each other, we all lose. No war ends without damaging everyone involved. To fight a war over the ego based conflict of other people makes zero sense. The priest/politician is supposed to serve us, not create strife between us. The war of rhetoric did not end with the last election. It will not end until you and I decide to stop bludgeoning each other with someone else’s rhetoric. Here is a surprise. There is a lot of “fake news” out there. A lot of it drove the election rhetoric that kept us in exile from each other … on both sides. How about we do something really radical? The Talmud teaches us, “Aelu v’Aelu divrae Elohim Chayim – “these” words and “these” words are both the words of the living God.” We can hear the truths from each other (without the “fake fluff”) and still love and respect each other. Shabbat Shalom.