Korach remains one of our most famous portions. Open rebellion against Moses! Korach, with Datan and Abiram foment a rebellion based on their declaation that Moses “has gone too far”, overstepping, to them, his power abd seemingly placing his needs over the peoples’. (18:1ff). Was this a “populist” rebellion? Was this declaration by Korach an attempt to seize power for his purposes? Pirke Avot reeminds us that a controversy that is done for “the sake of heaven” will stand the test of time, but one that is not for the “sake of heaven” is doomed. There are, as you would imagine, countless commentaries on the Korach rebellion. It does not end well for him. After a test of faith, which Korach loses, he and his followers are swallowed up by the earth. As we have seen in our life time, it is often easy to be “swallowed up” by arguments and controversy, closing off our ability to listen to and hear other sides. We are, in fact, living in such a time now. Once again, Torah teaches timeless messages.
In his recently published commentary on Pirke Avot, Rabbi Shmuely Yanklowitz comments on this passage of Pirke Avot by reminded us that “Arguing “for the sake of heaven” means that the argument is beyond one’s own ego; the argument is to perpetuate good.” Indeed, in another commentary, which reflects this emphasis on ego, a question is asked about why the verb “took”, when referring to Korach , Datan and Abiram, is used in the singular? Because, as as a teaching from Tzvi Hirsch Kalischer said, “each and every one of them was in this battle only for himself.” (Sparks Beneath The Surface. Olitzky and Kushner. p.189) Arguing, rebelling out of one’s ego needs removes the act from a sense of the sacred. What the passage and comment also teaches is that in disputes that are for “the sake of heaven”, it is important to be able to adapt, to listen to all sides and not be so fixed in an idea or position that you close off options. We learn this as we get older. There are not only two sides to an issue, but many, and the wisdom is to try and see all sides.”Remain ideologically isolated, and one’s ideas will never be challenged and one will never learn to argue. Remain intellectually engaged, and one’s thinking will adapt and one’s skills in argument improve as new information emerges.” (Pirke Avot: A Social Justice Commentary. Rabbi Dr. Shmuely Yanklowitz. p.334) **
As elders, we are gifted with life experience. The acquisition of wisdom as a result of that experience, is always a work in progress. It takes an ability to step away from one’s own ego to allow us to see all sides of an argument. Jumping to confrontation and rebellion may seem like the immediate solution, however, we need to first try to listen and hear and understand, so that the controversy can remain “for the sake of heaven”.
Rabbi Richard F Address
** Join Rabbi Yanklowitz as he discusses his new CCAR Press commnetary of Pirke Avot on the Seekers of Meaning podcast to post on Friday June 26. Available on the Seekers of Meaning section of jewishsacredaging.com
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.