By: Rabbi Lori Shapiro
What are we to make of that the very week of Independence Day we are reading a Torah portion about divisive politics in the Torah? The rebellion against Moses in the ancient world is a mirror to our political soul. The language used in Korach is layered in mockery, rhetoric and a verbal one-upmanship. The verse is filled with grammatical parallelism and allusion in vintage B’midbar fashion, as in B’midbar, the Book of Numbers, sometimes a word is more than a word, as the Hebrew name itself might be translated as “in and out of the word.”
The rebellion against Moses is a verbal jousting from various sources of discontent. Dothan and Abiram are descendants from the Tribe of Reuben (Jacob’s eldest); they feel slighted by their lost birthright (an enduring theme in Jacob’s life). Korach himself, as Moses’ cousin, brings a separate grievance, that of the parity of the sons from the House of Amram. The cacophony of discord is brought to symphonic melifluity through the well orchestrated language within the Book of Numbers. Num. 16:13 begins with a callback from another verse: the word “Ha’m’at” – translated as “it is a small thing.” The verse is a mockery of Moses’ earlier statement made with his face to the earth (an act of humility or histrionic display of deference?). Dathan and Abiram’s retort is an act of impudence, followed by a thick layer of cynicism: Egypt, not Israel, is depicted as the land of milk and honey, whinings of despair about Israelites dying in the wilderness are repeated complains as are accusations about Moses as lording over his fellows?!?
We’ve got our own kind of rebellion going on in the United States today. Within all of the divisive politics and pundits, is the potential for human redemption. Open Temple is readying itself to be a source of light as we enter into the media circus of the upcoming election year and a half, and we are rooting ourselves in the holiness of our country, perhaps the greatest human experiment of democracy since Torah. Everyone is invited to a series of house talks, beginning THIS WEEK. Indeed, the Korach rebellion serves as a proof text to remind us that Torah sometimes delivers messages through examples of human conflict; in this case, so timeless that it reads as a contemporary commentary to the world we are living in today. Open Temple wants to begin a dialogue rooted in humanity and the eternal values of covenant founded in the Torah. Through conflicts like Korach and Moses, we are reminded that Torah is the source text for our American Constitution. The Constitution is an aspirational text to inspire us towards realizing our human potential as a polis. Rooted in ancient ideas and wisdom, it is the American Foundation text for how to become One People. Which, in Open Temple-speak, is Godly.