Korah -- Numbers 16:1 – 18:32

DFacebook_CoverDesign_Korahuring a brief visit to Dublin, the birthplace of Oscar Wilde (October 16, 1854), I was struck by the author, playwright, and poet's quick wit and keen observations about human nature. Wilde once quipped that, "Arguments are extremely vulgar, for everyone in good society holds exactly the same opinion."

Torah, on the other hand, teaches us about respecting a diversity of opinions. Such respectful but creative tension [makhloket] comes to be understood in the aftermath of Korah.

By inciting a mutiny against Moses, Korah is justly decrying a hierarchy that he sees as unfair. He proclaims his own brand of spiritual grandeur — "We are all holy!" This is a very real, egalitarian challenge to the hegemony of Mosaic leadership and its preferential granting of the priesthood to Aaron. In the end, Korah and his mutineers are consumed by fire as the earth swallows them up. Why then does Scripture later mention (Numbers 26:11) that "the children of Korah never died?"

The sages of the Mishnah picked up on the cues from Korah and went on to teach the following in Tractate Avot 5:20: "Any dispute [machloket] for heaven’s sake will ultimately endure; while any dispute [machloket] which is not for heaven’s sake will not endure. What is a dispute for heaven’s sake? This is a debate between Hillel and Shammai. What is a dispute that is not for heaven’s sake? This is the dispute of Korah and his assembly." In other words, there is a difference between petty squabbling and good arguments that allow for growth amidst real difference. Shammai and Hillel exemplify what it means to be involved in disputes for heaven’s sake, given that before either one would launch his own argument, his first step was to cite the opposing position; only after having done so would he then make his own argument. This posture displays a deep respect for opposing points of view and the realization that truth is discovered as part of a process that emerges in civil dialogue.

The vibrancy we yearn for in our Jewish lives comes by living in that creative tension between the Mosaic path and the Korahite path. The challenge before each of us is how to create that single vessel within community – to make space to foster the creative tension to enable our moral grandeur and spiritual audacity to be fully lived.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork is an illustration of tzitzit tied with a thread of techelet, wool dyed blue with blood extracted from a sea snail. Why this image? At the end of last week’s parsha, Moses was tasked with telling the Israelites that God commanded them to "make for themselves fringes on the corners of their garments, throughout their generations, and they shall affix a thread of sky blue on the fringe of each corner." (Numbers 15:38) Many of our traditional biblical commentators believed that this "unbearable law" (Pseudo-Philo) was the final straw for Korah and his allies, and therefore gave rise to Korah’s rebellion. But, as James Kugel points out in his How To Read The Bible (2007), "Korah was not really interested in changing the system, merely in taking it over. He was thus a dangerous demagogue." Here, we see the techelet tied to the tzitzit according to the instructions given by Rabbi Abraham ben David (c. 1125–1198), also known as the RaBad or Raavad. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Korah -- Numbers 16:1 – 18:32

Facebook_CoverDesign_KorahRenowned meditation practitioner and founder of Plum Village Retreat Center, Thích Nhát Hanh (b.1926) once remarked:

"It's very important that we re-learn the art of resting and relaxing. Not only does it help prevent the onset of many illnesses that develop through chronic tension and worrying; it allows us to clear our minds, focus, and find creative solutions to problems."

How does Torah teach us about such creative solutions if not through creative tension [machloket], which is symbolized by the story of Korah?

By inciting a mutiny against Moses, Korah is justly decrying with his own brand of spiritual grandeur — "We are all holy!," he proclaims. This is a very real, egalitarian challenge to the hegemony of Mosaic leadership and its preferential granting of the priesthood to Aaron. In the end, Korah and his mutineers are consumed by fire as the earth swallows them up. Why then does Scripture later mention (Numbers 26:11) that "the children of Korah never died?"

The sages of the Mishnah picked up on the cues from Korah and went on to teach the following in Tractate Avot 5:20: "Any dispute [machloket] for heaven’s sake will ultimately endure; while any dispute [machloket] which is not for heaven’s sake will not endure. What is a dispute for heaven’s sake? This is a debate between Hillel and Shammai. What is a dispute that is not for heaven’s sake? This is the dispute of Korah and his assembly." In other words, there is a difference between petty squabbling and good arguments that allow for growth amidst real difference. Shammai and Hillel exemplify what it means to be involved in disputes for heaven’s sake, given that before either one would launch his own argument, his first step was to cite the opposing position; only after having done so would he then make his own argument. This posture displays a deep respect for opposing points of view and the realization that truth is discovered as part of a process that emerges in civil dialogue.

The vibrancy we yearn for in our Jewish lives comes by living in that creative tension between the Mosaic path and the Korahite path. The challenge before each of us is how to create that single vessel within community – to make space to foster the creative tension to enable our moral grandeur and spiritual audacity to be fully lived.

- Rabbi Aubrey Glazer

Artwork note: This week's artwork is a depiction of the chasm which opened under Korah and his allies. Numbers 16:32: "The earth beneath them opened its mouth and swallowed them and their houses, and all the men who were with Korah and all the property." Although the text of the parsha does not describe the chasm in any detail, it is imagined here as a great, volcanic sinkhole. Illustration by Christopher Orev Reiger.

Max Lederman's Bar Mitzvah

Facebook_MaxLedermanShalom! My name is Max Lederman and I am entering 9th grade at the Lycée Français de San Francisco. So, yes, I am fluent in French and working on Spanish and Latin.

I’m an avid soccer player and have been playing since I was a toddler. You’ve probably seen me in synagogue in one of my soccer jerseys! I play on a competitive travel team and practice several times a week. But I also love baseball, basketball, and football. Beyond sports, I can be found reading history or science fiction, playing video games or watching TV. I also love spending time with my family and am excited to have them by my side when I am called to Torah.

I have been preparing for my bar mitzvah for a whole year now, and in only a few days the wait will be over! I have learned a lot over this past year about my history and myself. I will be reading from Parashat Korah, which is found in the Book of Numbers. The parsha is full of blood, as G-d and Moshe (Moses) must confront Korah, the leader of a rebellion. Although many die by the hand of G-d in this parsha, we also learn of G-d’s peaceful side when Aaron’s staff blooms.

Thank you, Mom and Dad, for helping me on this wild ride with my sister by my side. Thank you, Rabbi Glazer, for teaching me about the Torah, especially my parsha, Korah. And thank you to my tutor, Marilyn, for helping me study blessings and giving me haftarah and Torah lessons.