Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Korach
This week’s Torah portion gives us the story of a challenge to Moses’ authority. Korach (also a Levite) argues that all power and control should never centralize in one or two people. According to the Torah, the whole Levitical tribe was supposed to share in service to God. As it stands in the Torah’s story, though, only Moses and Aaron held power. Korach argued that power should be shared. Tradition asserts a great many positions on whether he was justified or wrong for having rebelled. Whichever the ultimate ethical answer, this week’s portion vests all Levitical authority in Aaron and Moses.
No sooner does the Korach rebellion conclude when God affirms that even if Moses and Aaron are the designated leaders of all Israel, it does not relegate the rest of the tribe to being or going without. This portion not only affirms the idea of tithing giving one-tenth of someone’s assets to the active Priesthood), but secures it for the entire tribe and for the poor in the community. (Numbers 18:21-22). Everyone amongst the people has to set this one-tenth aside, it is the “God tax;” the requirement to share with the community solely for the privilege of the many blessings it provides to you.
Of course, in keeping with the notion of “five Jews – twelve opinions), the sages ask how one is supposed to determine what that “one-tenth” share is and when is it due? While the debate revolves around the time one actually gains possession of assets (such that they are to subject to tithing), our sages draw a consensus around the idea that one’s obligation to share begins at the moment of possession. There is no grace period during which one can have property or income and not owe this “tax.” However much or little one earns or possesses becomes immediately subject to the one-tenth tithe. Conversely, until one has property or income, they do not have to pay for these services.
Built into our Torah system, we find the precept that as one community, we provide for each other according to our means. The standard does not take into consideration our personal likes or dislikes. Everyone must care for everyone – no exceptions. Indeed, the wealthy deserve the benefit of enjoying what they have earned. However, because of the opportunity afforded them to obtain wealth in a big community, they have a moral obligation to bear a greater responsibility for the community’s well-being.
In the Torah, God is the alleged commander and enforcer. In interpreting scripture over the last 2000 plus years, we understand that while we cannot know what God is, we do understand that the Biblical “God” is, at best, a compilation of our best “human” guesses. God cannot be boxed into our limited human abilities to see and understand passed the horizon of our sight. We have to take responsibility for ensuring that the moral rules presented in our sacred texts get debated and honored.
Perhaps as a prophetic social commentary, Korach rebels because he believes that Moses and Aaron have taken too much power for themselves. Tradition teaches that he did not want to live by these moral rules and sought to overthrow Moses and Aaron for pushing this moral agenda onto people. What if the Biblical authors/editors understood that we would always face those amongst us who did not feel the need to care for the needy amongst us? Maybe they sought to warn us about people who failed to recognize this moral imperative? The law may or may not provide this requirement (humans make laws), but God requires it.
Certainly, we celebrate people who work hard to live more comfortable lives. At the same time, if we are faithful, we hear God’s call to help each other find celebration in life, as well. Whichever seat one has in a rowboat if one person’s oar is malfunctioning, it costs everyone. If a hole exists under one person’s seat – the impact for all is the same. Caring for each other is not an option for everyone we let fall through the cracks only opens the crack wider putting more people at risk. Torah commands us to choose life for ourselves and each other. Works for me. Shabbat shalom.