Korach (Numbers 16:1-18:32) Is It Rebellion To Ask, To Doubt, To Search?

"Word of the Lord" Photo by Tanner Mardis on Unsplash
"Word of the Lord" Photo by Tanner Mardis on Unsplash

I want to ask you to look at this week’s portion with a different eye. Korach, as you will discuss this Shabbat, showcases a fight for power couched in the form of a rebellion or populist uprising aimed at the established power structure. Of course, in the end, the REAL power rests with God who simply kills all those who dared challenge Moses, and, by extension, God. Much has been written about the portion, the ego of Korah, the righteousness of Moses and the judgement of God.

But as I was looking this, I began to think of how natural it is to rebel. Children do it to their parents as a step to individuation and maturity. Many of us “rebelled” against certain beliefs and ideologies we found in our lives. How many of us marched or sang in protests 50 some years ago as an act of our own rebellion? How many of us, rebelled against a theology that we were  taught as children? How many of us contiue to rebel against that theology today?

Let me suggest that we can draw a lesson from this discussion, a lesson that does emerge from Jewish thought today, which is to not fear to question, even rebel against a theology or concept of God that does not speak to us. We are actually witnessing much of this as we seek to create a new “American” Judaism that reflects shifts in much of what we knew. Just look at last month’s updated Pew study of American Jews. We are not called on to “accept” a fixed definition of God other than the concept of what a professour of mine once called “the unity principle”. Indeed, part of a mature Jewish spirituality is the idea of the search. We are called on to search for that relationship with the Holy throughout our life, to never stop that search, for int hat search we will find our own sense of meaning. “Jewish life”, as Rabbi Daniel Gordis has written, “is life with a mission: to grow religiously, to question life’s meaning, and to leave the world a better place than we found it”. (God Was Not InThe Fire. p.217)

To question our place, to rebel against the expected in order to change the world, to doubt s as to grow as a human being and a Jew; this is a calling from our tradition. These are arguments “for the sake of heaven”. Indeed, Pirke Avot, in 5:20, channels the Torah portion as it claims that a controversy for the sake of heavan is sacred, and not like Korach’s which was motivated by power and ego. It is quite a challenge that our tradition poses to each of us, a challenge to doubt, question and rebel against the status quo. We are called on to search so as to bring the sacred to our lives and to the world. How many of us are up tot his challenge? Again, the choice is ours.

Shabbat shalom

Rabbi Richard F Address

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