Korach (Numbers 16:1-18:32) The Journey To Holiness

            Our portion begins with one of the great challenges to authority in our tradition. Korach and allies rant against Moses and Aaron: “You have gone too far! All the community are holy, all of them, God is in their midst. Why then do you raise yourselves above the congregation? (Numbers 16:3) So the rebellion begins. Was this a projection of Korach’s own frustrations? Was the work of a power-hungry coup? No doubt your Torah study will unpack many of the commentaries. The punishment of the rebels, after the appropriate test, was, as you can imagine death. Likewise, a following uprising was met with a plague.

            This week, however, I want to ask you to think about this concept of holiness. Korach attacks Moses and Aaron for setting themselves apart from the community, saying that all the community is holy (kulam k’doshim). Yet, we have the tradition reminding us that this may not be true, indeed, as one commentary states “The Torah’s position is that all the community is challenged to be holy (Lev.19:2) It is a future goal, not a present boast.” (Etz Hayim. P.861)

            This is an interesting idea that the tradition promotes. The ideal and value of holiness (k’dushah) is an evolving concept, a journey. Do we ever, can we ever achieve such a state? Is our tradition telling us or challenging us to be reminded that this journey to holiness is a lifelong journey and is both external (mitzvot) as well as internal. Let me suggest that this idea relates to our own aging. Many of us look back to review what we have become and the choices and challenges that made us who we are today.

            Were these choices for holiness? And now, as engage the third and fourth stages of life, how do we incorporate this idea of holiness into our own life? Is it through increased activity with sacred causes? Is it a return to spiritual search? Is it a re-prioritization of our own soul and life? The implication is that the achievement if a pure state of holiness may not be possible, but the journey to the attempt is what is sacred. Maybe the portion is telling us that it is not enough to just declare that one is holy, the declaration must be matched by deeds, action, living in a way that brings a sense of the sacred to the world as well as our own soul. That is the goal. How many of us rebel?

Shabbat shalom,

Rabbi Richard F Address

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