Tuesday, May 18, 2010

My Shavuot Contribution

My conservative Rabbi sent out the following notice:

"For this year´s Tikun L´Eyl Shavuot the theme will be, "My Most Favorite Torah Portion or Torah Story." I´m recruiting volunteers to speak at our Shavuot Torah Study Session on this topic."

This Is My Contribution

Brief Overview

Korach stages a rebellion against mosha, accusing him of a power grab. He and his entourage are swallowed up by the earth. Others are burnt to ash. The people protest, and a plague ensues. staffs are submitted by all the tribes, only Aaron's blossoms; proving that he is G d's chosen. The Israelites are instructed about the various presents due to the priests and Levites.

Why this Parsha, this story?

From the first time I heard it read, remember that is only three year ago, this story has remained for me one the most dynamic, confusing and difficult stories of the torah. The issue of the complete and total annihilation of Korach and everyone and everything associated with him is for me the major example of the wrathful deity taking it out on the innocent. I remember sitting in synagogue on that Saturday and turning to Robert, my husband, and saying babies and dogs too?

Thus starts my musings about Torah, and this parsha in particular. If taken literally with only the torah as a reference , this is a devastating story who’s message to the modern ear is one of repression “DO NOT question authority" and “everything is preordained.”

On first glance Korach’s statement, his blasphemy:

"The entire community is holy, and G-d is within them; why do you raise yourselves over the congregation of G-d?"

sounds somewhat progressiv, almost democratic. It is only in the response attributed to Mosha in the parsha that we get a glimpse that something else might be afoot.
Mosha’s response "Is it not enough for you that the G-d of Israel has distinguished you from the community of Israel, that you also desire the priesthood?"

Yet from a purely torah interpretation of the events there are no other hard and fast facts given. The next place to go is the vast amount of commentary and Midrashim on this parsha.
The paradox of korach appears time and again in the various accounts of the mutiny. Korach comes across a champion of equality, railing against a "class system" that categorizes levels of holiness within the community. Yet, in the same breath, he contends that he is the more worthy candidate for the High Priesthood. He is both described in the most negative terms, but surprisingly also in positive terms.

To confuse this even more a large portion of the Midrashim, particularly Midrash Hagadol, focuses on creating an entire moralistic back story for the behaviors alluded to in the actual torah portion.

Briefly, this back story consists of a compare and contrast between two woman, the wife of Korach, and the wife of a once mentioned conspirator Ohn ben Pellet. This is a technique seen over and over again in the various texts books and torah. The wife of Korach fueling his greed and ambition and the wife of Ohn Ben Pellet who dragged" him out of danger and saved his life, by giving him strong drink to make her husband sleep and by sitting at the entrance of the tent with her daughter, each with uncovered hair to keep the messenger from getting him to join in.

Although I found these commentaries interesting and compelling none of them truly go to the heart of my issue, the total destruction of innocence, babies and dogs.

Therefore I am compelled to take on this story more in the realm of metaphor and parable. I see this story as the eternal tension between two distinct paradigms.

This tension was described by a modern commentary as follows:
Whether Korach spoke out of ego, or because he proposed a new communal and religious structure for which the people weren't remotely ready -- Korach erred, and the earth swallowed him up. The resulting communal furor plagued the community, yielding grave casualties. What ended the plague was Moses and Aaron's willingness to step up and to smooth things over, to facilitate forgiveness for everyone. Only then did the staff, symbol of power-over, flower and bear fruit. Only when those in positions of leadership are able to rise above the conflicts of the community can leadership reach its fullest potential and flower-forth something remarkable and new. Thusly the tension between the two forces the emergence of a new third paridghm.

Psychologically speaking The tension between change and status quo is an on going for most humans and it is inherent in most relationship and in our spiritual communities as well.
From the more spiritual stand point I offer the following in conclusion
Later in the book of Numbers we read “B’nai Korach lo maytu” “The children of Korach did not die,” concretely this could mean they did not die in the great disaster that ended their father’s rebellion. Yet In many of the midrashirm and commentaries there is a more metaphoric suggestion made that this means that in every generation there are people who are ready to assume autonomy because they believe that they are as close to God as they need to be.

We live in a state of constant tension between listening to the voice of God and answering our own inner conscience sometimes it is the same, yet sometimes the interpretations of our leaders diverge from our own. There are no easy answers or simple solutions. We continue to struggle with this tensions of status quo vs change in Jewish life and in our lives in general.

Dunking Rachael

Love, Faith and Life