Saturday, June 20, 2015

Welcome to My World: Wrestling with Rebels

The Torah portion that Noah Carton-Smith spoke about at his bar mitzvah today at Temple B'nai Brith has fascinated me for years. You can read five of my earlier posts about it at:

Welcome to My World: Wrestling with Rebels.

Two years ago, my bat mitzvah student Abby Kehoe (may her memory be a blessing) said:

"The rabbis often filled
in gaps in the text of the Torah by writing their commentary or stories known
as midrash. And so, I decided to write this midrash, trying to explain why
Korah revolted against Moses."

Once, in the land of
Egypt, there was a young boy named Korah. 
He had the difficult life of an Israelite slave.  One hot, sunny day, he saw the taskmaster
beating a slave, which was not uncommon. 
Suddenly, a peculiar thing happened. 
While Korah watched from the shadows, a young man ran up to the slave
and the taskmaster, and killed the taskmaster. The young man happened to be

Korah was in awe.  If
only I had that power, that control,
thought.  Having no authority as a slave
made him fume.  After the Israelites
escaped Egypt, his hunger for power only grew stronger. He was seen as noble in
the community, but that wasn
t enough. He decided to
gather followers, and rebel against Moses and Aaron.  He blamed them for acting too holy.  Very soon after, he and the other rebels

Some said that slavery
made him bitter.  After the difficult
life of labor, he wanted some respect, some power.  Others said he was envious of Moses and Aaron
s authority.  But in one thing the community was
certain:  he wanted leadership.

Today, without knowing it, Noah returned to Abby's theme. He said: there are good and bad leaders. There are good and bad reasons to rebel. 

The people of Israel protested against Moses' decisions many times, not just in this Torah portion. And Moses protested against God's decisions...and apparently, persuaded God and changed God's mind. (At least, that's how it looks from a human perspective.)

I cannot agree with Chairman Mao's blanket statement, "To rebel is justified." But sometimes it is. All the Abrahamic religions descend from a man who argued with God. Abraham said, "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do justly?", and held God to account.

And Judaism takes as its greatest teacher the man Moses, who in this Torah portion--not for the first time--talks God into accepting the imperfect, impatient, easy to frighten, slow to learn people Israel as the raw materials for a nation devoted to holiness. As Noah pointed out, Moses was a rebel just as much as Korach. 

So it is not as easy as it looks to praise one and blame the other. To understand when to rebel may be the work of a whole life. 

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