Parashat Korach, 2020

Several stories, one story

This week’s Parasha is called Korach, and it tells two stories of rebellion that merge into one.

The first is the story of Korach, a cousin of Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam. Korach was from the tribe of Levi, and his rebellion had to do with a claim to power and religious authority. Korach wanted to be the religious leader, and his claim was directed mainly towards Aharon. According to Bible scholars, this story comes from a priestly source, the P (Priest) source. The end of the story is that Korach and his people were struck by a plague, and a divine fire consumed them all.

The second is the story of Dathan and Aviram, from the tribe of Reuven. Their rebellion had to do with a claim to civil and political power, and authority directed towards Moshe. Reuven was the first son of Yaakov, and he supposed to have rights and authority over the other tribes. According to Bible scholars, this story is from a J / E source (Adonai Elohim). At the end of this story the rebels were swallowed up by the earth.

The biblical compiler (or compilers) brought these two stories together, from two different sources, into one story. The central theme is power, ambition, and trickery that lead to rebellion only for a selfish cause. In both cases, whether struck by a plague and consumed by a fire, or swallowed by the earth, it seems to me that the tragic ending speaks to us symbolically, of how the quest for power by power itself, and not for a fair cause, ends.

The story of George Floyd, who became the flashpoint that caused protests to flare up against police brutality and racism in our society, is the story of a man, of his family that was destroyed, of his African-American origins and his truncated human destiny. Like the stories of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks, it is a personal story. But I think there is something that unites all these personal stories, and that turns them into a single story of social struggle against brutality, racism, and in claiming justice and equality before the law.

In this same unified story are the Supremacists, and their aberrant notion that some are better than others by nature. And in that same unified history, I include all kinds of discrimination: sexual, ideological, economical, religious, and social.

When I think of our Jewish history, there is also a common denominator in all the various stories that are apparently different. I think of Pharaoh who subjugated the Hebrews in Egypt, of Amalek who went to war against them, of the Philistines who wanted to expel them from their land, of the Assyrians who made 10 of the 12 tribes of our people disappear, I think of the Babylonians who destroyed the First Temple and created the first exile, of the Greeks who desecrated the Temple in the time of the Maccabees, of the Romans who destroyed the Second Temple and the brutality with which they tortured their victims to death, among them many of our sages, of the Haman of Purim and in the Hamans of all times, of the Crusaders and their killings, of Torquemada and the so-called “Holy” Inquisition, of the Czars and the Pogroms in the former Soviet Union, of Hitler (Yimach sh’mo) and his minions, who created and put into practice their incomparable systematic method of mass extermination.

All these stories are different, but they have something in common, which takes them beyond the dimension of history, towards an existential and even philosophical, and of course to me, a religious dimension.

Why do we put together these stories from different times and geographies? Perhaps, because they represent essential ideas, concepts and values, on which we base our own being.

There is an essential human value in the belief that each person is original, unique and unrepeatable, but at the same time, all human beings are equal before God, and that recognition make us brothers and sisters.

All of these stories are one story, like the oneness of God. “Adonai Echad”. When we understand this, all of these stories become one.

During Pride Month, and in every age, we celebrate diversity, we condemn brutality, we recognize the social epidemic of racism, we proclaim that black lives matter, we recognize that there is a problem to solve, and that it is essential to unite in the sacred task of trying to make a Tikkun, and fix it, all together.

 Several stories, one story.