Shabbat Shalom with a Heart Healthy Dose of Torah – Sh’lach L’cha

“Ani Ma-amin b’emunah shlaemah – I believe with perfect faith.” Thirteen times Maimonides intones these words to speak about what he called the basic unwavering tenets of faith. Centuries of scholars debate his intentions and nuanced writings and come to philosophic blows over the “pilpul-minutiae” of each statement. What ultimately matters is the statement that one must be of perfect faith.

Faith is not an absolute. Instead, it is the evolving and flowing understanding of one’s place in the world that grabs on and holds tight to the soul of each believer. Who is a believer? One who loves. Love is intangible and indescribable. People of faith understand that the world is not about us, and know in the depths of one’s heart that we cannot exist without some interconnectedness with the world. A person of faith has to believe that even while the world can exist without us, each of us has unique gifts to share that make the world better for everyone because we are here to engage – with love.

I believe with perfect faith, that there is a force beyond me that has a whole lot more to say about how the universe operates than I can fathom. I am not a wholly ignorant person, but I may be a holy ignorant person. I have more letters after my name (degrees) than in my name, and yet, the mystery of “God” is beyond explanation. My tradition teaches that saying what God is – is blasphemy. Saying what God is not – borders on blasphemy. How can I, however intelligent and spiritual I may be, begin to understand the dimensions of some entity or force that brought the world into its current order and who continues to evolve it around us. It would be an exercise in utter folly to quantify the forces of nature and super-nature that provide the resources that give and sustains life.

This week, Korach rebels against Moses, Aaron, and God. Korah is a Levite. He argues that God promised that all the Levites had a place in service of God. Of course, according to the literal text (Numbers 16:3 and Leviticus 19:2), he is correct. According to the Torah, God calls all of the tribe of Levy to serves as Priests in one place, and then in another, God singles out only the descendants of Aaron.

My loving Rabbinical thesis, the late Ellis Rivkin zt”l, argued that the purpose of this text is to demonstrate that while the Levites controlled the First Temple ritual, when the Second Temple opened for business, only the “Aaronides (Kohanim)” controlled the altar. It is a story written into the text for the purpose of justifying a later history of change in power.

Perhaps Ellis was correct in his assertion of the text’s origin, but many see it as a call for a debate as to the motivation behind one’s behaviors. Did Korach want to serve God or to enjoy the power of one who gets to serve God? The text remains silent as to his motivation. The rabble that jumped on the rebellion bandwagon experiences punishment for their actions.

What separates Korach from those who followed him? Perhaps nothing; perhaps he just sought status and power. On the other hand, what if his heart was turned absolutely to serving God? Maybe his act was righteous. Perhaps his integrity explains why when God opened up the earth to swallow the rabble; the text says that Korach’s followers fell into the abyss, but it does not say that he did. He may have been right – he may have been wrong. If his complaint was from the heart, it had to be dignified – Moses and Aaron –and God needed to dignify him. Our tradition stands firm in teaching that even the fiercest disagreements that are “L’shaem shamayim – for the sake of heaven” uphold human dignity.

When we turn a disagreement into the justification to destroy another’s dignity, we separate ourselves from God. It really is just that simple. If we cannot hold love in our hearts, we cannot be people of faith. If we cannot be secure enough in our own skin without demeaning someone else in theirs, then we cannot be people of faith. We can certainly call out ill behavior. We must call out bigotry and bias. We cannot remain silent in the face of anyone’s oppression. We must, Torah teaches us, pursue justice. If we want to celebrate a Shabbat shalom, we must make sure that others can, as well.

Shabbat Shalom l’koolam (for the world).