There are many lessons in this week’s portion. We are reminded again that, you do not mess with the God of the Torah. The punishment is often death. Korach, and his followers find that out quickly. (16). Korach and his followers, rebel against the leadership of Moses and Aaron, accusing them of not sharing the power of leadership and asking: “Why then do you raise yourselves above the Lord’s congregation?” (16.3) Was this a sincere desire to democratize leadership, or was it a desire to seize power by introducing false, self-serving ideas?
I was thinking about this “rebellion” in light of our own age and our own aging. There is no doubt that we can see parallels in today’s society. That is just too obvious. One can wonder what motivates someone to rebel and how do they act out that desire? One scholar cites that rebellion “is a reaction against someone else’s authority” (“The Biblical Path to Psychological Maturity”. Vivian Skolnick. P.185). Why do we seek to overthrow that authority, is it motivated by a higher calling or by one’s own sense of envy and jealousy? Is it based on one’s own misguided sense of entitlement or is it based on a true feeling for the health and future of a community? Rabbi Twerski (z’l) notes that Korach is an example of envy, his own insecurity motivated his actions. Twerski quotes Talmud (Kiddushin 70a) that says “one who seeks to disqualify another projects his own defects (flaws) upon him”.
There are many types of rebellion that we encounter in life. Our children “rebel” against parental authority as they seek to become their own individuals. That is normal. Some of us rebelled against work environments or social injustices. Our motivation was a higher value. It was a rebelling that included a sense of personal creativity and growth.It was, as Skolnick wrote: “an intuitive psychological awareness of one’s own power and ability to find solutions without necessity of taking it away from someone else” (185). This is a rebellion of the true self in seeking to grow. And there is another rebellion that many of us come to encounter as we get older. That is a rebellion against time.
This is, perhaps, the most frustrating rebellion, for it is a no-win rebellion. The reality of mortality is more present as we age. We may know some people who rebel actively against this reality. But, as we all know in our souls, it is a rebellion that no one has won. Maybe this portion can be seen as an invitation, on a very personal level, to move from trying to deny or fight the reality of our mortality, to a higher level of existence. It is that level that teaches us to value and celebrate life, to cherish each moment, to realize that the material world is emptiness and that what really counts is our own sense of worth, our own creative soul and the embrace of the relationships that give us meaning.
Rabbi Richard F Address
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.