Archive for June, 2018

Korach

In this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Korach, Korach and his band stage a rebellion against Moses and Aaron saying, “You’ve gone too far.  Why do you raise yourself up above us?”  When Moses hears, he falls on his face.  He puts it to G-d to decide.  This ends badly for Korach and his followers.  History views Korach as a jealous demagogue, and we are meant to learn from his mistake continually.  His fire pans are incorporated into the alter as a reminder to be humble.

Korach presents us with a challenge.  He is arrogant and tries to take power from Moses.  On the other hand, some of what he says rings true.  “All the community are holy,” he says.  Well, isn’t that true?  Doesn’t the Torah tell us in Parshat K’doshim, “You shall be holy, for I, G-d, am holy”?  If you look closely, though, you will see that there is an important difference between Korach’s words and those in K’doshim.  The Israeli philosopher Yeshayahu Leibowitz notes that Korach doesn’t understand that holiness is a process.  Holiness isn’t something that we are, it is something that we strive to become.  If we are already holy, as Korach believed, we have no more work to do, no more purpose in our lives.  Holy means set apart for a sacred purpose – the act of setting ourselves apart, of seeking sacred purpose to our days, is a process, not a state of being.

Korach missed something else.  In the wilderness, Korach had a role, a job to play.  Moses did too.  Korach’s  jealousy blinded him to the importance of his own work, of what he had to offer.   Strange to think that arrogance and jealousy would actually mean that he wasn’t valuing himself enough, but by refusing to see the significance of what he was already invited to do, he doomed himself to always be less than his potential.

On this Shabbat, let us think about how we can engage in the process of holiness, becoming more true to our own best potential, so that in the end, we will leave this world better than how we found it.

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Kvetching…

keep-calm-and-dont-kvetch

A famous Buddhist parable tells of a group of blind men who heard that a strange animal, called an elephant, had been brought to the town. Since none knew what an elephant was like, they endeavored to describe it based on their sense of touch. The first man, standing near the trunk of the elephant declared, “an elephant is like a thick snake.” The second, standing near the ear declared the first wrong, “an elephant is like a fan.” The third, standing by a leg said that the elephant is like “a tree-trunk.” The fourth, standing by the side of the animal said that an elephant is “like a wall.” The fifth standing near the tail said an elephant is “like a rope.” The last man, near the tusk said, “an elephant is hard and smooth like a spear.” Focusing in only on that part of the animal that they could immediately experience limited their understanding of the whole.

In this week’s Torah portion, B’ha’a lot’cha, the Israelite people in the wilderness complain bitterly. They weep and cry saying, “If only we had meat to eat!! We remember the fish that we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. Now our gullets are shriveled. There is nothing at all! Nothing but this manna to look to.” (Num 11:4-6) The manna that they refer to, the Torah tells us, came free with the dew, could be made into cakes, and tasted “like rich cream.” (Num 11:8) Because they are so focused on one single aspect of their past, they ignore the fact that the food they got in Egypt came along with slavery, torture, and subjugation. They forget that the manna they eat in the wilderness comes abundant, free, and tastes good. Like the blind men in the story, their attention on only the one thing right in front of them prevents them from experiencing the entire wondrous animal. Now perhaps manna got tiresome after a while, but widening their scope would have allowed them to witness the miracle and appreciate its essence.

We Jewish people love to kvetch. Sometimes I think it’s almost like a social lubricant. We can all relate to misfortune so easily. We can laugh together at the little things that go wrong, the shared indignities of life. Talking about our joys can seem a little like bragging, but sharing our troubles does not. It can go too far, however. Kvetch too much and you are a whiner, someone unpleasant to be around. The literal meaning of the word, kvetch, is to squeeze or press. This Shabbat, let us take a moment to press a little less, to broaden our vision to encompass the many blessings abundant in our lives despite our valid reasons to complain. In short, let’s not let our kvetches turn us into wretches but rather focus on our b’raches (blessings) and share our naches (sources of pride).

Shabbat Shalom!