Doomsday Scenario: Korach 2016

by Adam J. Rosenbaum

Pre-Game Chatter: How can we prevent ourselves from drowning in negativity during difficult times? Do we seek out the comfort of other people for reassurance? Or do we have internal tools to keep ourselves focused when we face life’s greatest challenges?

By the end of the Torah portion of Korach, the Israelites have seen (and caused) enough dissension that they only speak with despair.

The Pitch: “But the Israelites said to Moses, ‘Lo, we perish! We are lost, all of us lost! Everyone who so much ventures near Adonai’s Tabernacle must die. Alas, we are doomed to perish!’” (Numbers 17:27-28)

Swing #1: “Serving as the bridge that leads from one to the other, the Israelites complain that they cannot survive in Yahweh’s presence. The result implies that Yahweh accepts his people’s appeal and in response to it establishes laws that will cushion their proximity to him by transferring accountability for their trespass to the Levites. But as the narrative stands, from a topical point of view, the segment as a whole still appears relatively tangential to the Korah episode.” – Simeon Chavel, Oracular Law and the Priestly Historiography in the Torah

Swing #2: “Instead of embracing the monitory mnemonic of Aaron’s staff that has just been offered them and accepting God’s assurance that if they renounce their murmurings, ‘they shall not die,’ the people conclude that they are about to be utterly destroyed. The panic they feel is etched in the stark simplicity and the repetitions of their expression of fear: in these two concluding verses, they say ‘perish’ twice, ‘lost’ twice, and (in the Hebrew) ‘approach’ twice. This whole story, like so many others in Numbers, marks out a borderline between the sacred and profane, stressing that only the consecrated can cross into the zone of the sacred. The people, however, who live alongside the sacred precincts, are gripped with fear that at any time they might step over the line and be struck down.” – Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses: A Translation With Commentary

Swing #3: “‘We are lost’ is a reference to Numbers 16:33, when the people swallowed by the earth during Korach’s uprising had been described by the Torah as, ‘they became lost.’ The people now felt that a similar fate might befall them on any day if the Tabernacle was so inaccessible to them.” – Rashbam

Late-Inning Questions: Is there something inherent to the Jewish experience that causes many to fear the worst? Based on the commentaries above, do the Israelites have good reason to feel anxious? While we often make poor decisions when we are fearful, are there times when distress leads to sensible choices? If so, when?

On-Deck at Emanu-El: There is always a need for blood donations, and our synagogue is helping out Friday, July 15th. Please RSVP with our office (843-571-3264) to reserve a donation time between 1:00-6:00PM. All donors that day will receive a complimentary Shabbat dinner following 6:00PM services. Join us – if not for our sake, then for the sake of those in medical need.

The Big Inning at the End: Here is a brief story about the late Elie Wiesel that certainly is insignificant compared to the enormous contribution he made to the Jewish people and all of humanity: In 1986, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. That October, the New York Mets played in (and won) the World Series, and Mets ownership wanted him to throw out the first pitch before one of the games. Wiesel declined to do so prior to Game 1, since it interfered with a Jewish holiday. And he only was able to do so prior to Game 2 after checking with rabbinic authorities and receiving a police escort so he could arrive at Shea Stadium on time. You can read the whole story here. It may have been an inconsequential episode to Wiesel, but it was yet another example of a God-fearing man upholding his principles. Certainly, the world is a diminished place without Elie Wiesel.

Shabbat Shalom!