03 July 2019
Bat Kol alumni have internalized the phrase “We will hear and we will do.” Our call to regular Torah study is loud and clear. Parashat Korakh and its Haftarah add another call: “Haverim friends, let’s take a look.” In this parashah we see rebellion against the authority of Moses, a mutiny led by Korakh, joined by Datan, Abiram and On as well as 250 chieftains (or are they Levites? see Lieber p.862). This is a large group of people! Moses responds prophetically and calls on G-d to execute a punishment that appears dramatic and unusually severe (even women and children are included in the punishment). But even as the divine right to punish collectively is assumed, it is also challenged (Lieber p.863)
What is the message to the Israelite people? One answer may be that a challenge to the authority of G-d who chose Moses as leader, cannot and will not be tolerated. But, haverim, let’s keep searching.
Verses 17:2-3 describe how the firepans used by the rebels have now become sacred and are to be used as plating for the altar. Rav Kook taught that the holiness of the firepans symbolizes the necessary role played by skeptics and agnostics in keeping religion honest and healthy (Lieber p.866). It is worth reading Lieber’s entire note on this section.
The episode of the plague with devastating numbers of dead leads to Moses calling for twelve staffs from twelve ancestral groups, which Moses then takes into the Tent of Meeting. The next day the staff of Aaron had sprouted and produced blossoms. The purpose of this demonstration was, “so their mutterings against me may cease, lest they die” (17:25). But, haverim, I skipped over an essential aspect! Moses and Aaron step in between the punishment threatened by G-d and Moses and Aaron intervene on behalf of the people (17:11-12). Even though the anger of the people is directed towards them, Moses initiates the use of incense which now averts destruction when used by those in rightful authority (Etz Hayim p.867).
In the Haftarah we read about the inauguration of the monarchy when the people together with Samuel declared Saul king before the Lord (1 Samuel 11:14-15). The main event is Samuel asking for testimony about his proper conduct according to the code of honor. Lieber shows a clear connection between the leadership of Moses and the leadership of Samuel in terms of justice and respect for the life and property of others. In fact, in Psalm 99:6 they both are intercessors before G-d (Lieber p.876). Bat Kol alumni, haverim: the call we hear in this parashah and in this Haftarah is the call to selfless service on behalf of justice and a commitment to do right in societal affairs (Lieber p.876).
Bibliography: Frankel, Ellen, The Five Books of Miriam, San Francisco 1996; Lieber, Etz Hayim, Torah and Commentary, New York, 2001;
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